Jockey Joel Rosario, ridding Orb, celebrates after winning the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on May 4, 2013. .UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
The Dubai World Cup races and a pair of $1 million Kentucky Derby preps vie for attention as this week's marquee attractions in Thoroughbred racing.
The seven Thoroughbred races scheduled for Saturday night at Meydan in Dubai, as usual, have attracted many of the world's top horses to compete for purses totaling $27 million. The main event is the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race.
In the United States, Saturday's Louisiana Derby and the Florida Derby start the semifinal round of Kentucky Derby qualifiers for the top U.S. 3-year-olds. Horses showing well in either event will have plenty of qualifying points to advance directly to Churchill Downs. The UAE Derby on the World Cup card also is a Kentucky Derby qualifying race.
For 3-year-old fillies, the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Gulfstream Park Oaks provide a similar springboard to the Kentucky Oaks.
Fair Grounds also has graded stakes for older horses, on both dirt and grass, while Gulfstream Park supports its 3-year-old races with a trio of graded stakes on the turf.
The $10 million, Group 1 Dubai World Cup drew an international field of 16, with top contenders from Hong Kong, Japan, England, Ireland and South Africa set to take on a local contingent that benefitted from generally favorable post-position draws. However, Prince Bishop winner of Rounds I and II of the local Al Maktoum Challenge, drew stall No. 1, leaving jockey Kieran Fallon with a different kind of challenge. Epsom Derby winner Ruler of the World is in this field, along with Hong Kong's rising stars, Akeed Mofeed and Military Attack. Japan's two top dirt runners, Hokko Tarumae and Belshazzar, like the Hong Kong runners, will be on unfamiliar footing over the Tapeta all-weather course. So, too, will Mukhadram, owned by Sheik Hamdan bin Rasheed al Maktoum. His trainer, William Haggas, asked whether Mukhadram can handle the surface, said, "We have no clue." Red Cadeaux, who finished second in last year's running and in last year's Group 1 Melbourne Cup, drew gate No. 14. Animal Kingdom came from the United States to win this racelast year but there are no U.S. horses in Saturday's field.
A "Who's Who" of international grass racing stars graces the 15-horse field for the $5 million, Grade I Dubai Sheema Classsic at 1 1/2 miles on the turf. From Japan come Gentildonna and Denim and Ruby, who finished 1-2 in last fall's Group 1 Japan Cup. Magician won the Breeders' Cup Turf in his last start. World traveler Dunadan was a close third in the Group 1 Hong KongVase in December. Twilight Eclipse, one of only three American horses on the card, has won two straight races in Florida. Eight-year-old Cirrus Des Aigles, making his 55th career start, finished third in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup last December. Godolphin's runner, Excellent Result, drew the inside post position.
A field of 13 is set for the $5 million, Group 1 Dubai Duty Free at 9 furlongs on the grass. Among them is Dank, who captured last year's Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington and Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita while traveling back and forth from England. The Fugue, a multiple Group 1 winner in England, finished second to Magician in the Breeders' Cup Turf last fall and second to Dominant in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase in December. The Japanese trio of Just a Way, Tokei Halo and Logotype is likely to be heard from. South African import Vercingetorix is undefeated in six career starts, the last two of which were over the Meydan turf. Godolphin's 4-year-old filly Tasaday could be poised for a breakout run here.
The $2 million, Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at 6 furlongs on the Tapeta features 2012 winner Krypton Factor against last year's victor, Renaldothewizard. Zee Bros, formerly trained in the U.S. by Bob Baffert, also is in this field. The other sprint on the card is the $1 million, Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint where defending champion Shea Shea is likely to be the heaviest favorite of the night despite the lack of on-site wagering.
With 15 entered, the $1 million, Group 2 Dubai Classic at 2 miles on the grass is likely to be a tactical race with Godolphin's runner Cavalryman the one to watch off a sparkling prep over the course. And the first Thoroughbred race of the night, the $1 million, Group 2 Godolphin Mile, features defending champion Soft Falling Rain seeking to atone for a couple disappointing efforts in his last two outings. Godolphin's Shuruq and South African star Variety Club are lurking if Soft Falling Rain can't perform.
The Derby preps
Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Louisiana Derby at 9 furlongs at Fair Grounds promises to be a free-for-all. Trainer Todd Pletcher brings a pair to this race -- Intense Holiday, who won the Grade II Risen Star over the track in his last start, and King Cyrus, with a more modest resume. Vicar's In Trouble won the Grade III LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January but was third in the Risen Star. Rise Up has four wins, including the Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot last November, from seven starts but finished seventh in the Risen Star. In Trouble, not to be confused with Vicar's In Trouble, won the Grade II Futurity at Belmont Park last fall and finished third in his only previous start of 2014, the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct early this month, beaten only by a pair of necks by Samraat and Uncle Sigh. Those two will be among the favorites in the upcoming Grade I Wood Memorial.
Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Besilu Stables Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park attracted eight, including one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects, Cairo Prince. Cairo Prince is owned in part by Godolphin Racing, the Dubai-based, worldwide conglomerate run by Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai. Cairo Prince is 3-for-4 in his short career with the only loss coming by a nose to Honor Code in the Grade II Remsen Stakes in November. He faces stiff competition here, though. Wildcat Red won the Grade III Hutcheson and the Grade II Fountain of Youth over the Gulfstream track in his last two starts. General a Rod won the Gulfstream Park Derby on the grass on New Year's Day and returned to finish second in the Fountain of Youth. Pletcher, who has runners basically everywhere, is represented here by Constitution, who has won both his career starts and steps up in class. Spot, saddled by Nick Zito, won the Grade II Swale Stakes in his last outing and is improving but stretches out to the 9-furlongs distance for the first time.
Meanwhile, in Dubai, Saturday's Group 2 UAE Derby, worth $2 million and contested at about 9 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course, is an official Kentucky Derby prep. Giovanni Boldini, who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall, makes his seasonal start here and the Aidan O'Brien trainee would not be impossible for the Kentucky Derby with an impressive showing on Saturday. Also in the field are the 1-2 finishers in the UAE 2,000 Guineas -- Long John and Emirates Flyer. The race is worth a look although its winners have yet to have any impact at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
The Oaks Preps
Eight are set for Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Gulfsteam Oaks and while the Pletcher-trained and undefeated In Tune is the 2-1 morning-line favorite, there are several others with credentials enough to take the winner's share. House Rules and the Harry Potter-themed Whomping Willow are to watched. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay owns America.
At Fair Grounds, five are to contest Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and three of them have legitimate claims. Morning-line favorite Untapable won the local Grade III Rachel Alexandra. Unbridled Forever took the Silverbulletday Stakes over the course. Fiftyshadesofgold has three wins from four starts.
On the grass
Turf action also centers on Fair Grounds and Gulfstream. The New Orleans track offers the $300,000, Grade II Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial at about 9 furlongs. Gulfstream has the $200,000, Grade II Pan American at 1 1/2 miles; the $100,000, Grade III Appleton at 1 mile; and the $150,000, Grade III Orchid Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles, all on Saturday.
The Classic Division
Action here includes Saturday's $400,000, Grade II New Orleans Handicap at 9 furlongs -- a good one including Palace Malice and Normandy Invasion; the $100,000, Grade III Skip Away Stakes at 1 3/16 miles at Gulfstream Park; and the $100,000, Grade III Tokyo City Cup at 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita.
In the Distaff ranks, fillies and mares will tackle 9 furlongs in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream Park. And among the sprinters, it's Saturday's $100,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs over the Gulfstream Park main drag.