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Weekend horse races in Dubai, Australia, Japan shape international season

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Mystic Guide wins the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Photo by Erika Rasmussen, courtesy of Dubai Racing Club
Mystic Guide wins the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Photo by Erika Rasmussen, courtesy of Dubai Racing Club

March 29 (UPI) -- Even before the contenders scattered to the four winds, it was clear that the results of Saturday's Dubai World Cup races at Meydan would go a long way toward shaping the rest of the racing season in many parts of the world.

But a lot of questions remain about where and when.

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The World Cup program was just one of the big international events on the weekend program.

The Ranvet Stakes in Australia may have teed up that nation's super mare Verry Elleegant for a tilt at the Arc in the autumn. And Danon Smash's smashing win in Japan sets him up for a return trip to Hong Kong to seek another Group 1 win there.

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Meanwhile, weekend races in Dubai and Japan -- and another coming Thursday in England -- could impact the May 1 Kentucky Derby. And Friday is Finals Day for the British All-Weather Championships at Lingfield.

Around the world, around the clock? You betcha.

Dubai

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There's not much question that Mystic Guide, impressive winner of the $12 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup, will be back in the United States later in the year to contest the big races in the Classic Division with the Breeders' Cup as the goal.

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"Sky's the limit, I think," said Mike Stidham, who trains the colt for Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin operation. "We don't have any race picked out yet. But there will be many opportunities in New York, Saratoga and hopefully, if he's doing well, the Breeders' Cup at the end of the year."

How keen would he be to return in 12 months' time to try for a repeat win in the World Cup, Stidham was asked. "If he's going well, we would be very keen," he quickly replied. "We would love it."

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In the short run, things are clear for the winners of the evening's two big turf races -- Mishriff, who backed up his victory last month in the $20 million Saudi Cup on the dirt with a determined win in Saturday's $5 million Group 1 Longines Sheema Classic on the Meydan turf, and Lord North, who captured the $4 million Group 1 Dubai Turf.

Both will contest the top European grass races with Mishriff's dirt prowess holding out the option of something else later in the year.

"Look, he's showed he was so versatile he can run over any trip on any surface," 21-year-old rider David Egan said of Mishriff. "It's an ace up his sleeve. They've got a lot of options. They can pick and choose the races. ... What's his best distance depends how the race is run."

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Thady Gosden, co-trainer with his father, John, said the Breeders' Cup Turf is a viable late-season option and did not totally dismiss the Breeders' Cup Classic based on Mishriff's victory in Saudi, though that track is drastically different from American surfaces.

As noted here Friday, Godolphin's colt Rebel's Romance was slightly overlooked before going out to win the $750,000 Group 2 UAE Derby. That victory earned him 100 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, ensuring a spot in the Run for the Roses.

The temptation will be there as Godolphin's long quest for a win in America's signature race continues to be a source of frustration.

"I think it's a nice discussion to have," trainer Charlie Appleby said of Rebel's Romance and the Kentucky Derby. "But we really haven't got that immediately on our target."

Appleby, noting Godolphin already has undefeated 2-year-old champ Essential Quality teed up for the Derby, hinted Sheik Mohammed might find another course for Rebel's Romance with an eye firmly on the 2022 World Cup.

Sheik Mohammed understandably likes folding over the winner's share of the $12 million World Cup purse and putting it back into his own pocket.

"If we don't go down the Kentucky Derby route, I would probably recommend that we give him time to fill out that frame and we'd start campaigning for the late summer and a few preps before we come back to Dubai," Appleby said.

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Subjectivist won the $750,000 Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup at 2 miles and trainer Mark Johnston said it would be foolish to set him after anything less than the big staying races through the British season, including the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in June.

As for the sprints, Extravagant Kid was a bit of a surprise winning the $1 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on the turf and the 8-year-old Brendan Walsh trainee seems likely to be back in the United States with an eye on the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

Tragically, $1 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Zenden broke down just after his record-breaking performance and was euthanized, short-circuiting what promised to be a breakthrough season back home in the United States.

Secret Ambition, winner of the $750,000 Group 2 Godolphin Mile, has been based in the UAE since 2016 and, if the 8-year-old's career is to continue, it likely will be there.

But winning trainer Satish Seemar noted, "After today, his standing only goes up. He is an entire."

Australia

The Aussie punters had to wait an extra week for Saturday's Group 1 extravaganza at Rosehill Gardens as drenching rains washed out the program March 21. The results were well worth the wait, with thrilling finishes galore.

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The Longines Golden Slipper for 2-year-olds is billed as the richest juvenile turf race in the world and shapes the coming seasons for Australia.

Saturday's renewal was a triumph for Stay Inside, an Extreme Choice colt. With Tommy Berry up, Stay Inside traveled well behind the leaders, kicked into gear down the stretch and dominated, winning by 1 3/4 lengths.

A pair of Godolphin runners trained by James Cummings, Anamoe and Ingratiating, were second and third.

If the Golden Slipper was the shape of the future, the Grade 1 Ranvet on the same program was a classic for today. Before the rains came, the Ranvet shaped up as a rematch -- and virtual match race -- between last year's 1-2 finishers, British invader Addeybb and local heroine Verry Elleegant.

A few others were added during the one-week hiatus but, in the end, it didn't matter and the race came down to the two favorites.

This time, it was Verry Elleegant, a 5-year-old New Zealand-bred mare, edging away to a 1-length victory after a thrilling stretch duel. It was her eighth Group 1win, avenged last year's narrow Ranvet loss to Addeybb and had trainer Chris Waller mentioning her in the same sentence as the immortal Winx.

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"She is as good as they come," SportsNews quoted the trainer as saying. "You can't compare her to Winx, but she's right there."

The two are set to meet again in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. And whispers were in the air that Verry Elleegant might be a candidate for a trip to Paris and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Winx never did travel -- still a sore point among those who would have loved to see how she would stack up against international competition, as Black Caviar bravely did at Royal Ascot.

Also on the program, Think It Over edged Dreamforce in the Group 1 The Agency George Ryder Stakes at 1,500 meters with the favorite, Funstar, well up the track; Mo'unga narrowly defeated Sky Lab in the Group 1 Sky Racing Active Rosehill Guineas; and Eduardo romped by 3 1/2 lengths in the Bisley Workwear Galaxy at 1,100 meters.

Japan

Old guys rule, as "The Pontiff," Jude Feld, is fond of saying. And 6-year-old Danon Smash proved that again in Sunday's Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen at rainy Chukyo Racecourse, outfinishing 4-year-old filly Resistencia by a neck after a thrilling stretch duel.

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Danon Smash, a son of champion sprinter Lord Kanaloa, backed up his victory in December Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin Racecourse and set up a try for a third top-level win back in Hong Kong April 25 in the Chairman's Sprint Prize.

The Takamatsunomiya Kinen victory was hard-won. Indy Champ was the first to tackle front-running Mozu Superflare, getting by him inside the 200-meters marker.

But they both were well down toward the inner rail and jockey Yuga Kawada had Danon Smash well out on the course and moving well as the course began its sharp rise to the finish.

Resistencia also found her best stride alongside Danon Smash and those two raced together to the wire. Indy Champ held third.

"I knew that the ground condition was going to be the key factor but I decided not to make any plan and let the horse race where he wants to," winning rider Yuga Kawada said.

"We were able to race while eyeing Resistencia in the front. He responded really well at the fourth corner and, although there was a long duel at the stretch, he showed his strength at the end."

Trainer Takayuki Yasuda said before the race Danon Smash was operating at peak level despite his 105-days layoff since the Hong Kong race.

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"The older he gets, the stronger he gets," Yasuda said.

England


It's a big week on England's all-weather tracks with the All-Weather Championships Finals Day Friday at Lingfield Park and the final leg of the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" Thursday at Chelmsford City.

The All-Weather Championships finals reward horses who have won "Fast-Track Qualifier" races and/or competed at least three times in the program during the season.

The program has grown in popularity and become a bit of a proving ground for British trainers eyeing the rich late-winter events in the Middle East. Felix, who finished third in the $4 million Group 1 Dubai Turf on Saturday, finished second in the Group 3 Winter Derby and was fully qualified to run in the Lingfield finals.

Friday's card includes six championship races, headed by the Betway Easter Classic Middle Distance Championship at the classic 1 1/4 miles.

A day earlier at Chelmsford City, 10 3-year-olds are entered for the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes -- the final leg of the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby."

None of the winners from earlier heats in this competition returns, so the winner automatically will soar to the top of the standings.

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To be eligible for the automatic bid to the Kentucky Derby afforded the points leader, that horse would have to be nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown.

Late nominations close Monday. None of the horses currently on the leaderboard is among the early Triple Crown nominees. Nor are any of the entrants for Thursday's race.

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