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Country Grammer tops the likely fields announced March 13 for Dubai World Cup night at Meydan Racecourse, but to repeat in the World Cup he will have to defeat a field that includes an eight-deep squad of impressive Japanese runners. Japanese horses, in fact, are prominent through much of the $30.5 million program March 25, which also includes entries literally from around the globe.
"We are very excited about the strength of the fields for the 2023 Dubai World Cup meeting," said Major General Dr. Mohammed Essa Al Adhab, general manager of the Dubai Racing Club. "We have horses arriving from 12 different countries and it is especially fantastic to welcome back runners from Hong Kong and Australia after a break of a few years."
Country Grammer, a 6-year-old son of Tonalist, seeks to become just the second repeat winner of the Dubai World Cup after Thunder Snow in 2018-19. The Bob Baffert trainee comes off a second-place finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup, just missing to Japan's Panthalassa, whose name also appears on the list of likely runners.
Despite Panthalassa's Saudi triumph, other Japanese stars seem more likely to shine on World Cup night. The team includes a mix of turf runners and dirt specialists like 2022 U.A.E. Derby winner Crown Pride, Cafe Pharoah, T O Keynes, Geoglyph, Jun Light Bolt, and Vela Azul.
The 2022 Saudi Cup winner, Emblem Road, is listed as a likely Cup starter along with locals Salute The Soldier, Bendoog, and Remorse. Algiers, representing England, was the most impressive World Cup contender throughout the Dubai World Cup Carnival.
The $1.5 million Group 2 U.A.E. Derby is a fascinating mix, including three of the current top placings on the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve" leaderboard and the No. 1 on the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby." Trainer Doug O'Neill is represented by Tall Boy, winner of the Group 3 U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas in his last start, and owner-breeder Charles Fipke fields Shirl's Bee, who finished second in that race. Bob Baffert sends Worcester, last seen finishing third in the all-Baffert Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
Japan has four 3-year-olds in the likely U.A.E. Derby field. All are early nominees to the U.S. Triple Crown and all should be taken seriously as Kentucky Derby candidates.
Cairo, trained by Aidan O'Brien for the Coolmore Partners, tops the "European Road" standings. While he is bred for turf and holds entries for the English and Irish Classics, O'Brien has a history in this space. In 2018 he trained Mendelssohn to win the Patton Stakes, part of the initial "European Road." He went on to win the U.A.E. Derby only to find the Run for Roses a bit too rough, finishing last of 20.
The $6 million Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic at 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) on the turf, has perhaps the best of all the Japanese in Equinox, winner of the Group 1 Arima Kinen, and defending champion Shahryar. Hong Kong sends two, Senor Toba and Russian Emperor. Group 1 Irish Derby winner Westover is among the UK entries.
Lord North seeks a historic three-peat in the $5 million Group 1 Dubai Turf at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles). He won the race outright in 2021 and dead-heated with Panthalassa last year. Here, too, Japan will stand in the way with the likes of Do Deuce and Vin de Garde, the latter already twice placed in the race. Fipke is in this, too, with Shirl's Speight, back on a familiar surface after a quixotic tilt at the Group 1 February Stakes on the Tokyo Racecourse dirt, where he finished ninth.
Gunite, trained by Steve Asmussen, enters the $2 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at 1,200 meters on dirt, off a second in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint behind Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Elite Power, who does not reappear. C Z Rocket, second in the Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint, is in the expected field along with fellow American trainees Sibelius and Super Ocho. Again, Japan looms large with four expected to compete, including Lemon Pop and Red Le Zele, and defending champion Switzerland seeks the repeat.
Bathrat Leon won the $1 million Group 2 Godolphin Mile on the dirt last year, didn't fare so well in four subsequent starts in Europe and back home, but then jumped up to win the Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint in Riyadh last month and now switches surfaces again in search of back-to-back wins.
The $1.5 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint is run at 1,200 meters on turf and has a diverse group, including two from Hong Kong but none from Japan. Brendan Walsh brings Cazadero. The $1 million Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup is contested at 2 miles on the green course and has runners from France, Germany, and Ireland but none from Japan or the United States.