• · LONGINES DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC: Magical Leads Ballydoyle Brigade
• · AL QUOZ SPRINT: Viddora Brings Top Class from Down Under
• · UAE DERBY: Plus Que Parfait the Perfect Possible
• · DUBAI GOLD CUP: Weekender On Schedule for Gold Cup
MAGICAL LEADS BALLYDOYLE BRIGADE
Last year’s Dubai World Cup night saw a procession from the hugely talented Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) before targeting big races in America through his 3-year-old campaign. Such was just another example of the powerful reach that Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien-led Ballydoyle have and 2019 could represent more of the same as the Irish titans assemble a team of established and future stars for the Dubai World Cup card.
Magical is perhaps the brightest of those and is gearing up for a tilt at the $6 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), a race that owner Coolmore won in 2013 with St Nicholas Abbey. The Galileo sister to three-time Group 1 winner Rhododendron has already achieved the same level of success, thanks to a victory in the British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes (G1). She followed this up by finishing three-quarters of a length behind the brilliant Enable in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) with a competitive field trailing far behind. She is likely to be joined in the race by stablemate Magic Wand, who has now finished second in three Group 1 races, most recently in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) at the end of January.
“Magical came through the winter well and the Sheema Classic looks a nice race for her,” O’Brien said. “Magic Wand ran well in America in the Pegasus Turf and she could target the same race.”
O’Brien is also likely to send the talented stayer Flag of Honour to prove himself against many of the top stars of the stamina world. A winner of three stakes as a sophomore last term, he was an impressive victor in the Irish St Leger (G1). He is targeting the $1.5 million Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2) and goes there with a solid claim, especially if the son of Galileo improves into his 4-year-old season. Another Galileo who could have a substantial 4-year-old year and is under Dubai consideration is Group 2 winner I Can Fly, who has proven herself at the highest level when second to Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1). She is a prime candidate for the $6 million Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1).
“Flag of Honour is in the Dubai Gold Cup and he is in good form,”
O’Brien continued. “I Can Fly is well and is likely to run in the Dubai
Turf if she travels.”
It is often interesting seeing how Ballydoyle’s 3-year-olds develop over the winter and there are a few possible participants for the $2.5 million UAE Derby as O’Brien attempts to gauge whether or not he has a live candidate for another assault on the ‘Run for the Roses’ in Kentucky.
“Western Australia, Van Beethoven and Albuquerque will run in the Patton Stakes in midweek before a decision is taken about then running in the UAE Derby,” he said. “Sydney Opera House is also a possible for (the UAE Derby).”
Lost Treasure is a final interesting part of O’Brien’s equation. The three-part older brother to the talented Just Wonderful does not carry the same gloss as his high-profile stablemates, though he has displayed Group 1 ability and should not be ignored in the Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1)—a race his connections finished a fine fourth in last year with Washington DC.
O’Brien said: “Lost Treasure is entered for the sprint on turf and he seems in good order, as well.”
Overall, O’Brien has four wins from 38 starts on Dubai World Cup night. Three of those victories came in the UAE Derby.
In addition to highly rated Magical, the Longines Dubai Sheema
Classic front is a fierce one, with Japan still looming large and plenty
of local candidates set to audition on Super Saturday in the $300,000
Dubai City of Gold (G2). Canadian International (G1) winner Desert
Encounter and Royal Ascot victor Old Persian lead the ratings in the
2410m turf affair, while Crowned Eagle, Spotify, Racing History, Prince
of Arran and Marinaresco have realistic claims.
LDSC Watch: Magical, Magic Wand, Cross Counter, Rey de Oro, Suave Richard, Cheval Grand, Desert Encounter, Old Persian, Spotify, Prince of Arran, Marinaresco, Racing History, Crowned Eagle and Wissahickon.
VIDDORA: TOP CLASS FROM DOWN UNDER
Top Australian sprinter Viddora brings an impressive resume and superb back-class into what is already becoming one of the more compelling races on Dubai World Cup night, the recently purse-doubled $2 million Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1). The daughter of I Am Invincible is set to break new ground for trainer and co-owner Lloyd Kennewell when journeying to Dubai later this month and will attempt to enhance her already lofty credentials.
A dual Group 1 winner in her native country, the 6-year-old recently made her 2019 bow after an 84-day layoff to finish eighth by three lengths in the 1200m Oakleigh Plate (G1). She will be an inaugural traveller for Kennewell and will have the great Black Caviar’s previous travelling rider Paddy Bell overseeing her preparation.
Last year’s Group 1 Moir Stakes winner will be up against the world’s best grass sprinters, with possible contestants including last year’s King’s Stand Stakes (G1) victor Blue Point, British Champion Sprint Stakes (G1) hero Sands of Mali, fellow multiple Group 1-winning Australian Brave Smash and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Stormy Liberal.
“She had a nice little break and came back in really good order,” Kennewell said. “We are happy with how she’s progressing. In the Oakleigh Plate, she wasn’t completely suited. She carried top weight and is a mare, but still ran very well while running on the worst part of the track. She’s come on well since then.”
Accustomed to sprints with a bend, Viddora will have to become reacquainted with a 1200m straight in the Al Quoz Sprint.
“She’s had one run up the straight as a 4-year-old and she got a bit lost before hitting the line really well,” Kennewell said. “That was before she became the real Viddora and a Group 1 winner. She’s actually going to work up the straight to give her refresher on Tuesday. That’ll be her final piece of work before heading to Dubai on the 18th.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he continued. “I’m very excited and we have a big bunch of owners and a great support group around this mare. It looks like a high-class race with horses like Blue Point in there, but we are quietly confident. We have a horse with one of the best turns of foot around and if she gets a slingshot out of there, she will be hard to beat.”
Saturday’s Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) will see many of the local Al Quoz Sprint contenders stretch their legs in anticipation of Dubai World Cup night on Mar. 30, with entries featuring the aforementioned King’s Stand Stakes (G1) winner Blue Point, fellow Australian sprinter Faatinah, Mercury Stakes (G3) victor Hit the Bid and capable local winners Ekhtiyaar, Mazzini and Riflescope. Last year, locally based Jungle Cat pulled off the Nad Al Sheba—Al Quoz double before going on to win Australia’s Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (G1).
AQS Watch: Blue Point, Viddora, Faatinah, Hit the Bid, Ekhtiyaar, Sands of Mali, Mazzini, Stormy Liberal, Riflescope, Brave Smash, Lost Treasure, Gifted Master and Portamento.
PLUS QUE PARFAIT A PERFECT POSSIBLE
While much of the focus will rightfully be on Dubai’s local contenders for the $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2) in Super Saturday’s course and distance $350,000 Al Bastakiya (Listed) and the possible team from Ireland’s Ballydoyle heading south post-Patton Stakes (Listed), candidates from elsewhere are beginning to surface. One of those is Imperial Racing’s Plus Que Parfait (above, right), who—with a Dubai-based ownership, Irish trainer, French name and American training base—is more than perfect for the global image of Dubai World Cup day.
By world-class multiple turf G1 winner Point of Entry, the $135,000 Keeneland September purchase has a sole victory in his six starts, but plenty of class within his past performances. Grade 2-placed over 1700m as a juvenile last November, he graduated one race prior in a salty Keeneland maiden heat, defeating subsequent Holy Bull Stakes (G2) winner Harvey Wallbanger (above, left) over the same distance. This season has not been as rosy, after two poor showings in graded company over the sometimes-tricky Fair Grounds surface in New Orleans.
Trained by Brendan Walsh, a Godolphin alumnus-turned-accomplished head trainer in the U.S., the good-looking chestnut ridgling was recently relocated from New Orleans to Walsh’s other base at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida. He had his first work over that dirt surface when going 800m in 50.25 on Mar. 3.
“I want to make sure I’m completely happy with him before I commit to going, but right now he’s doing very well and had a nice work the other day,” Walsh said. “I’m not sure that he enjoyed the Fair Grounds track and I know he’s a better horse than those two races. Of course, he had the rail the second time (when breaking barrier one and finishing 13th in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes), but I thought he would finish better than he did.
“I like the way he has perked up a bit since arriving in Florida,” Walsh continued. “The trip hasn’t bothered him at all. You could walk him to Dubai and it wouldn’t bother him and that’s one of the reasons I think he would be a good candidate to ship over there. His owners are based there and it has always been a serious possibility for him. He’s a horse who has shown a lot of talent and I don’t think he’s fallen as far off form that as races this year would suggest.”
In his seasonal bow, he finished fifth in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes
in January, his first off-the-board result. If he returns to the form he
showed when nearly defeating Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1)-placed
Signalman, he may have a lot to say about the results when Walsh returns
for a bit of a homecoming.
“I spent nine years in Dubai and really enjoyed my time there,” he concluded. “I really hoped to eventually come back, but only if I had a horse like him who has a real chance. Still, I won’t make any final decisions until he works next week. If he really pleases me with what he does, then we will probably ship out after that.”
Meanwhile, the Al Bastakiya is topped by rivals Estihdaaf and
Manguzi, as well as upstart UAE Oaks (G3) winner Divine Image. The
Patton Stakes is led by the Coolmore pair of Group 1-placed Western
Australia and Group 2 victor Van Beethoven—the latter boasting an
exceptionally dirt-friendly pedigree.
UAED Watch: Sydney Opera House, Van Beethoven, Western Australia, Albuquerque, Red Cactus, Grecko, Derma Louvre, Art du Val, Divine Image, Estihdaaf, Golden Jaguar, Moshaher, Superior, Swift Rose, Tabarak, Walking Thunder, Al Hayette, Sporting Chance, Tone Broke, Plus Que Parfait and Manguzi.
WEEKENDER ON SCHEDULE FOR GOLD CUP
The depth of the field for the $1.5 million Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2) continues to dredge in all the right ways. Led quite rightly by Godolphin’s Melbourne Cup (G1) winner Cross Counter, who is also under consideration for the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), the 3200m affair has also attracted interest from Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) romper Ispolini, Melbourne Cup-placed Prince of Arran, San Marcos (G2) victor Platinum Warrior and Irish St Leger (G1) champion Flag of Honour.
Another highly regarded hat has been thrown into the proverbial ring who carries form familiar to a few of the aforementioned, as well as connections worthy of a great deal of respect. Juddmonte Farms’ Weekender, third in the Irish St Leger, will likely be the only representative from the famed ownership on Dubai World Cup night. Trained by John Gosden, the son of Frankel was also second to subsequent Melbourne Cup runner-up Marmelo in York’s Grand Cup Stakes (Listed) by a neck in June.
“He’s still on course at the moment,” said Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for Juddmonte. “The horse is in good form. He was gelded over the winter and seems to come out of that well.”
A grandson of one of the greatest broodmares of our time, Hasili—a dam of five G1 winners—through unraced Empire Maker mare Very Good News, the emblazoned dark bay enters his 5-year-old season gingerly managed, having only 12 starts and a trio of victories. While without a Group tally, he has a conditioned stakes victory over 2800m of Chelmsford’s all-weather and was also a respectable third behind Magic Circle and Red Verdon in Sandown’s Henry II Stakes (G3) over the 3200m trip he will tackle in the Dubai Gold Cup.
“He’s shown good form and was getting to a good level toward the end of last season,” Grimthorpe continued. “Hopefully he will improve from there. He was only just getting beaten by good horses. Then, when he was third in the Irish St Leger, that was a step up to a major class. I think there’s still improvement to be seen from him.”
DGC Watch: Flag of Honour, Cross Counter, Red Galileo, Ispolini, Bin Battuta, Prince of Arran, Weekender and Platinum Warrior.