12:20 Meydan – 1m Godolphin Mile Sponsored By Nakheel (Group 2) (Dirt) (3yo+)
#1 AL NEFUD heads the market here. A Godolphin cast-off, he didn’t look much good in three runs in the UK but has thrived since being switched to dirt by Bhupat Seemar, winning two conditions races in emphatic fashion before chasing home Hot Rod Charlie on his most recent start in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2. The pair bossed that contest from the outset and it looked as though Al Nefud might spring a surprise turning into the lane, having travelled slightly better than Doug O”Neill’s colt. Class told late on, however, with Al Nefud weakening late on, but he still finished well clear of the third and that run represented another step forward in his career. The drop back to a mile should be ideal and he’s well drawn for his style of racing, for all that he will face pace pressure. Figures prominently on ratings and should run a big race.
#12 SECRET AMBITION represents the same trainer as Al Nefud. Well into the veteran stage of his career aged 9, he looked as good as ever when romping in this race last year and comes into this year’s contest in solid form. He shaped nicely behind Golden Goal on his return and ran better than the finishing position in the Saudi Cup last time out. He was able to make the lead against some top class horses there and was still in the lead as they went into the final two furlongs. He got tired late over a distance that stretches him – all 11 wins have come over a mile or shorter – but that was a pretty damn good run all things considered. Like his stablemate, he is a well drawn, front-runner and looks the more likely of the two to press on. Will take a good one to beat him if allowed to get into a rhythm on the lead and probably ran as well as the favourite before stamina gave way last time.
#15 STORM DAMAGE caught the eye of clockwatchers with an impressive win on debut last year. Thrown into the deep end at Royal Ascot, he barely kept his head above water there, finishing 9th of 18, but has since justified the faith connections put in his ability with that entry. He ran really well in a Group 2 on his return to action this year and has won both starts since, annexing a Listed race by a wide margin before landing a conditions event – quality event that was probably Group 2 standard – in impressive style. Much to like about him and if these were priced up on pure ability he would likely be favourite, but he has one big question to answer: the dirt. He is a winner on synthetics, but has done the rest of his racing on grass, although his breeding offers some hope – his sire has already produced a UAE 1000 Guineas winner here at Meydan, and his dam sire is Sunday Silence. With that said, my hunch is this strong-travelling horse with a wicked turn of foot might not want this sort of test.
#10 MUBAKKER was a progressive sprinter for Sir Michael Stoute in the UK and it’s no surprise this American-bred gelding has continued his improvement on dirt this winter. He landed two conditions races prior to a fine second in the Group 3 Burj Nahaar last time out. It was a tad disappointing that he was beaten by 33/1 short Desert Wisdom, but that horse had only finished a couple of lengths behind Al Nefud two months earlier and could clearly run. What’s more, Mubakker was clearly unlucky there, as he was trapped very wide around the bends, covering 20 metres more than the winner who saved all of the ground. That was Mubakker’s first run over a mile and it’s easy to say he didn’t stay, but he would have gone close to winning with a better trip and has a shot.
#5 DESERT WISDOM reopposes here. As mentioned, he got a dream run up the inner there, but travelled well and quickened up nicely when asked. He has built up a good rapport with Adrie De Vries and shouldn’t be underestimated here at double-figure odds.
Stall 12 is a bit of a problem for #9 GREAT SCOT, but otherwise the market looks to have overlooked him a little. He is a prolific winner in Saudi Arabia and finished a superb third in the Saudi Cup last year, beating the likes of Knicks Go and Sleepy Eyes Todd. Admittedly he was no match for the front two, but it’s difficult to see many of his field faring any better in that spot. On his most recent start, Great Scot finished second to 2022 Saudi Cup hero Emblem Road, the pair a mile clear – not bad form at all. The draw is a concern, but he is a famed quick-starter who could easily cross over and his form entitles him to plenty of respect.
Verdict: A super competitive opener, but I think there’s some scope to take the favourite on here. You’re currently looking at 9/4 Al Nefud and 7/1 Secret Ambition, and I simply don’t think there is that much of a discrepancy in ability between the two. Great Scot and Desert Wisdom, at bigger prices, could go well.
12:55 2m Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored By Al Tayer Motors (Group 2) (Turf) (3yo+)
This is all about the #12 MANOBO. Unbeaten in five starts, he beat Epsom Derby and St Leger runner up Mojo Star on debut and hasn’t looked back since. He looked a machine on his return to action, although admittedly he only beat some horses rated in the high 90s there. Should win but will be long odds-on and doesn’t make any betting appeal.
#9 STAY FOOLISH does, however. He look rejuvenated last time out upped in distance and ridden from the front, and took the Red Sea Turf handicap on the Saudi Cup undercard in emphatic style, beating three good horses without any hint of a fluke. He should get the lead again and Japanese horses have a great record at this meeting.
Both #3 BARON SAMEDI and #8 RODRIGO DIAZ should step forward from their seasonal debuts, but they have a lot of ground to make up with Stay Foolish and Manobo respectively.
Verdict: Manobo is clearly the one to beat here, but at the prices the suggestion is Stay Foolish, a very good horse himself who should be favourably positioned.
1:35 6f Al Quoz Sprint Sponsored By Azizi Developments (Group 1) (Turf) (3yo+)
Not a crazy amount of pace signed on here for a big-field sprint and that shouldn’t bother the likely chalk, #10 MAN OF PROMISE, who likes to be handy. He looks a more complete individual this season and has won both starts in 2022 emphatically, most recently by nearly five lengths from the reopposing A Case Of You in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint. Tanked through that contest and readily quickened clear when asked to win his race – a repeat of that should be enough with a fitness edge over some of his key rivals.
#16 SUESA fits into that category. She rates right up there with Man Of Promise, and a flat six furlongs should play to her strengths, but she might have bigger targets down the line than this one.
Similar comments apply to #4 CREATIVE FORCE, a stablemate of the winner who should go onto even better things this season. This horse is unexposed over six furlongs, travels strongly and should be well placed, so merits plenty of respect.
Several of these contested the 1351 Turf Sprint on Saudi Cup night, including #3 CASA CREED, #15 HAPPY ROMANCE, #9 LAUDA SION and #12 NAVAL CROWN. The last named went off favourite for that contest but was too keen early from a wide stall and should do better over this distance back on easier ground – some of his form ties in nicely. Casa Creed and Lauda Sion didn’t appear to have many excuses last time out, but Happy Romance made a nice move to the lead over a trip that is probably a bit further than she wants these days and should come on for that run.
Verdict: A trappy sprint that should go the way of the favourite. Hard to recommend a bet at the odds, however, particularly given the standard of the opposition.
2:10 1m1½f UAE Derby Sponsored By Mubadala (Group 2) (Dirt) (3yo)
Another tricky puzzle to solve with wide-open betting and no standout performer.
#11 PINEHURST looked seriously good on his first two starts and is steadily rebuilding his reputation following a pair of duller efforts in the BC Juvenile and the San Vicente Stakes. The fact he is over here chasing the prize-money and not on the Kentucky Derby trail is probably telling, but he did little wrong last time out when beating Sekifu, who runs again here, in the Saudi Derby. They went a strong pace that day and Pinehurst had to be very tough to grind it out having been up with the speed throughout, while Sekifu was doing all his best work late. Both runners will have had hard races.
#6 COMBUSTION represents Japan and his form ties in with Sekifu, who he had nearly 7 lengths behind on his penultimate start, having gone down by a neck to the same rival in November. That suggests he may be improving and if he is a better horse than Sekifu he is sure to be competitive at the finish here – he won his most recent start having travelled well throughout, although the runners finished in a bit of a heap and it’s hard to know how strong that form is.
#4 AZURE COAST, a son of Street Sense. is bred to be alright and comes here having won all three starts to date, the most recent of which was over a mile here in February in the UAE 2000 Guineas. He benefited from a big pace collapse there but should relish this extra ground and will likely get some pace to run at there, but things really did pan out well last time. Russian owned and trained, it will be interesting to see how he is received by the crowd if victorious.
A few of these are interesting at bigger prices, including #5 BENDOOG, who did plenty on the lead last time out, #12 REIWA HOMARE, who has form with Sekifu, and #7 CROWN PRIDE. He could only manage sixth behind Combustion last time out but wasn’t beaten far having been squeezed out badly at the start. He did incredibly well to get so close there given that the pace held up in that race and he had to make his moves wide and looks well overpriced given he was just 7/2 against Combustion that day.
Verdict: hard to be too confident about anything in here but at double-figure prices Crown Pride looks the bet.
2:45 6f Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Atlantis Dubai (Group 1) (Dirt) (3yo+)
An almost impossible contest next up.
#2 DR SCHIVEL bombed out big time behind Flightline on his most recent start but gets Prat back on board and should bounce back here, particularly if he can get away on terms. The last run tempers betting enthusiasm, however, as despite the tricky he start he simply had no run.
#3 DRAIN THE CLOCK has some eye-catching form lines but enters this race off the back of a run that is probably a bit better than it looks at first glance. Although beaten at odds-on, he actually ran a career-best Beyer there and the number he ran there is only a point shorter than Dr Schivel’s best.
Japanese runner #10 RED LE ZELE has some strong form in his homeland but most of it is over further than six furlongs. His hold up style isn’t certain to be ideal over this course and distance.
#13 WONDRWHERECRAIGIS continues to improve and keeps getting faster as he gets older. He should go forward from a wide draw and comes here boasting the best Beyer of the American contingent. He could be draw better but has the gate speed to get across and could take some catching.
Another wide-drawn runner is #4 EASTERN WORLD, but he produced a big career best cut back to six furlongs with the visor on , quickening up nicely at the finish. If he can keep up with these fast American horses early on, he’ll be finishing well.
Verdict: not a race that has much betting appeal. Dr Schivel is the best horse in the field if he brings his ‘A’ game. Wondrwherecraigis can take advantage of any chinks in his armour.
3:20 1m1f Dubai Turf Sponsored By DP World (Group 1) (Turf) (3yo+) #
#12 SCHNELL MEISTER figures as a logical winner here. He has some top class Japanese form and runners from that nation have a superb record in this race. A hold up horse, he will need some luck and some pace on here, and he could get that from the likes of #11 PANTHALASS and #16 SAFFRON BEACH in the field. He feels like one that is sitting on a bigger effort still.
#8 LORD NORTH took this last year and shaped fine on his return despite being a beaten favourite. He has a master trainer and will come on for that last run, but has a little bit to prove now and doesn’t make a huge amount of betting appeal to me at current odds.
#9 MOHAAFETH strikes as a horse that’ll do well as a four-year-old. He progressed from handicap company last season and ran better than his finishing position on his last two starts, held up off steady paces. He was unlucky in his penultimate run and made a move in the International Stakes at York, but couldn’t sustain that from a poor position against top class horses on ground that was probably a bit fast. He has plenty going for him here and is a threat to all, particularly with this drop in distance likely to suit.
#11 PANTHALASS and #16 SAFFRON BEACH both made all for wins last time out. This will be tougher for both of them taking on Group 1 level males, while #2 COLONEL LIAM is prolific and a specialist at this 9 furlong distance.
Verdict: With appealling as a bet, Schell Meister looks the one to beat, although Mohaafeth looks capable of a big run.
3:55 1m4f (1m4f11y) Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (Group 1) (Turf) (3yo+)
#14 YIBIR looks opposable at the head of the market here. I just can’t have beating Broome half-a-length as top class form, and the wins prior to that don’t do much for me either. In fairness, he has progressed well since being gelded and hooded, and he should improve again at 4, but this looks the best race he has ever run in and he faces some proper opponents first up here.
Another runner that should be better this season is #9 ALENQUER, who looked better than ever when defeating Lord North at Lingfield last time out. That was on synthetics, but he broke the track record there and was impressive without how he turned the runner up away. His trainer is as good as anyone around and this German-bred horse could be a more complete model this season, while he has a couple of runs last season that give him a shot here.
Haggas also fields #11 DUBAI HONOUR, who has very little to find on paper. He’ll need to improve for this distance, however, and he is not certain to do that on breeding.
#4 GLORY VASE and #7 PYLEDRIVER have a similar chance on their Hong Kong Vase form. The latter had a brutal trip last time out and gets a nice jockey upgrade with Dettori taking over, particularly as he could make the lead – there are few better than Frankie in such scenarios. As a confirmed hold up horse, a lack of pace would not suit Glory Vase, although on the numbers he has a big chance.
#12 SHAHRYAR has made big strides in a short career and comes into this with fewer miles on the clock than most of his opponents. He has a little bit to find with #1 AUTHORITY, who looks to have improved this season and was impressive in the Neom Turf Cup. His only defeat under this jockey was behind Contrail – probably the best horse in Japan at the time – and he should be thereabouts.
Verdict: A case can be made for several of these, but the tentative selection at the prices is Pyledriver who shaped like nearly the best horse in the Hong Kong Vase, and whose last run is an easy toss out. He should be well positioned from stall 1. Authority and Alenquer are also of interest.