Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 Dubai World Cup Field Analysis

As Americans awake in the morning on March 31, Dubai will celebrate under the starlight as top-class Thoroughbreds take center stage, galloping across the expansive Meydan Racecourse beneath their ambitious jockeys as their legs carry them over the ground, their breaths come in sync with their strides, and their manes flow in the air. Thousands of racing fans will keep their eyes glued to the majestic athletes, cheering until their voices are hoarse as the equine competitors and their connections fight for some of the highest purses in the world. People from across the Earth will watch on television, most cheering for the athletes that hail from their home nation. Spectators at Meydan will shout before, during, and after the races, applauding newly-crowned victors.

At nearly ten o’ clock at night in the United Arab Emirates and almost two hours into the afternoon on the east coast of the United States, several of the top handicap horses in the world will file into the starting gate for the richest race in the world: the Dubai World Cup (GI). For a brief moment in time, the superb Thoroughbreds will stand beneath their jockeys, their eyes gazing upon the large track at Meydan, their hoofs sitting on the Tapeta racetrack surface, and their muscles quivering in anticipation. Within seconds, the gates will burst open and the jockeys and horses will emerge from the gate to fight for Dubai World Cup glory, to battle for the ten million dollar purse, and to clash for the acclamation of racing fans across the globe.

Listed below are each of the horses entered in the Dubai World Cup, along with a brief description of their recent racing endeavors. The horses are recorded in post position order, with the country they are representing in parentheses next to their name.

#1. Master of Hounds (South Africa): Known in the United States for his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (GI), Master of Hounds is coming off a victory in the Jebel Hatta (GI) at Meydan, in which he led from start to finish over the turf. The race was his fourth start of 2012 and his first victory of the year, as he ran respectably in three graded stakes at Meydan earlier in the year, garnering one second and two thirds. Master of Hounds is very familiar with Meydan and has never finished out of the money there, though not all of his starts there have come over the Tapeta surface. Nonetheless, his Meydan experience gives him an indisputable advantage over several horses in the field.

#2. Eishin Flash (Japan): A talented three-year-old in Japan, Eishin Flash was winless in six starts in his home country last year. He did, however, turn in good performances in several races, including a second-place finish in the Arima Kinen Grand Prix (GI) behind the Triple Crown-winning Orfevre. He definitely has back class, as he captured the 2010 Japanese Derby (GI). However, he will have to turn a new page in order to be successful in the Dubai World Cup.

#3. Zazou (Germany): He only won two starts last year, but those two were the Preis der Sparkassen Finanzgruppe-Spreti Rennen (GIII) and the GBI Racing Premio Roma (GI). In his final start of the year, he finished third in the Hong Kong Cup (GI) behind the brilliant California Money and the multiple group stakes-winning Irian. Zazou’s final prep race for the Dubai World Cup came in the Prix Meydan Hotel, in which he closed from the rear to defeat the highly-regarded Cirrus de Aigles by two lengths over Chantilly’s new synthetic track. Zazou is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Dubai World Cup.

So You Think
Photo: Terri Cage
#4. So You Think (Ireland): Aidan O’Brien’s charge is many people’s top choice for this year’s edition of the Dubai World Cup and rightfully so. A New Zealand-bred, So You Think began his career at tracks in Australia, triumphing in several prestigious races, including two victories in the esteemed Cox Plate (GI). Following twelve consecutive starts in Australia, the son of High Chaparral began racing more often outside of the country, winning several group stakes, including the Tattersalls Gold Cup (GI), the Coral Eclipse (GI), and the Irish Champion Stakes (GI). So You Think also finished fourth in the renowned Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (GI). He made his penultimate 2011 start in the Champion Stakes (GI) at Ascot, finishing second behind the talented Cirrus de Aigles. He made his U.S. debut in the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), finishing sixth in the race despite many changes thrown his way. It was a disappointing end to an impressive season, but So You Think is clearly a magnificent horse. He will need to be at his best, but if he is, it will be very difficult for the others to stop him.

#5. Smart Falcon (Japan): This seven-year-old has become a sensation in Japan, winning nine straight since he triumphed in the JBC Classic (GI) in November of 2010. He is proven over the 2000-meter distance of the Dubai World Cup, but has had most of his success on dirt. Nonetheless, Smart Falcon is clearly a brilliant horse, as it takes a horse with an immense amount of talent to keep a running streak like his going. Last year, the Dubai World Cup brought much joy to Japan after tragedy, as two Japanese horses crossed the wire ahead of the rest of the field. The runner-up, Transcend, had had achieved the most on dirt, but ran incredibly to finish a close second. Smart Falcon has a very good chance to run a similar race.

#6. Planteur (France): He has not raced since September of last year, which gives him a disadvantage against the others. Against such brilliant horses, a nearly six-month layoff is certainly not beneficial. Usually, it is helpful to get at least one race in before a horse faces top competition after such a long time off. It is also discouraging that Planteur appeared to be tailing of near the end of 2011, finishing out of the money in his final three starts of last year. He did begin the year well, winning a group two and the Prix Ganay (GI) – in which he defeated the talented horses Sarafina and Cirrus de Aigles, but things only went downhill from there. What is interesting about Plantuer, however, is that he is making his initial start under the care of conditioner Marco Botti and that prosperous jockey Ryan Moore will be aboard. If he is on the top of his game, he could very well be successful in this race. However, his chances of being at his best are hindered by his long layoff.

Royal Delta
Photo: Terri Cage
#7. Royal Delta (United States): The most spectacular three-year-old filly in America last year, Royal Delta acquired three graded stakes victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (GI). In her 2012 debut, the daughter of Empire Maker finished a distant second behind the Gulfstream monster Awesome Maria in the Sabin Stakes (GIII). Despite the understated result, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott continued to point the champion filly toward the Dubai World Cup. Though it is worrisome that Royal Delta’s first start of the year was subdued, the fact that Mott is still confident in sending her to Dubai is certainly a good sign. However, Royal Delta will likely need to run the best race of her life to win the Dubai World Cup.

#8. Monterosso (United Arab Emirates): Numerous times, a horse that performed well in the previous year’s Dubai World Cup goes on to win that year’s running. For example, Gloria de Campeao won the 2010 DWC after finishing second in the 2009 running and Well Armed, who dominantly won the 2009 DWC by fourteen lengths, finished third behind Curlin in the 2008 edition. Last year, Monterosso finished third in the DWC. The son of Dubawi is entering this year’s rendition off a fourth-place finish in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, which was his first start since the 2011 DWC. The Darley homebred has started three times over the Meydan Tapeta surface, finishing first, third, and fourth. The horse also had a successful career in England and Ireland prior to relocating to Meydan, winning the King Edward VII Stakes (GII) at Royal Ascot, as well as three handicaps. Monterosso also finished fourth behind champion Cape Blanco in the 2010 Irish Derby (GI). Monterosso has a legitimate shot at Dubai World Cup glory.

#9. Silver Pond (United Arab Emirates): This French-bred horse has not won since June of last year, but has finished in the money in four of his five starts since that victory, which came in the Grand Prix de Chantilly (GII). His string of losses were certainly very respectable: a third in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud (GI) behind the highly-regarded horses Sarafina and Cirrus de Aigles, a runner-up performance behind Cirrus de Aigles in the Grand Prix de Deauville (GII), an eighth in a sixteen-horse field in the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (GI), a good third in the Hong Kong Vase (GI) behind the Melbourne Cup (GI) winner Dunaden and the group stakes-winning Thumbs Up, and a second behind Capponi in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge this year. He is certainly a world traveler that does not dodge the world’s top competition. He could very well be much more prepared than many others to face the world’s best horses.

#10. Transcend (Japan): As part of the emotional edition of the Dubai World Cup last year, Transcend was just narrowly defeated by fellow Japanese horse Victoire Pisa. Since then, Transcend has held up to form for the most part. He did not start after the DWC until October, capturing the Mile Championship Nambu Hai before finishing second to Smart Falcon in the JBC Classic. He then repeated in the prestigious Japan Cup Dirt (GI), carrying Shinji Fujita to his fifth win aboard the horse. However, his 2012 debut was not up to par. He finished seventh in the February Stakes (GI), the race he had won a year earlier before he ran second in the DWC. Transcend will need to return to his normal self in the Dubai World Cup.

#11. Capponi (United Arab Emirates): Owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum, Capponi began his career in England before changing his base to Dubai last year. He only started once in 2011, finishing seventh in a handicap. Following two losses at the beginning of 2012, the son of Medicean reeled off two victories at Meydan, one in a handicap and one in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (GI). In the latter, the five-year-old horse pressed the pace before striking to the lead on the final turn en route to victory in the local prep for the Dubai World Cup. He completed the 2000-meter (approximately 10 furlongs) in 2:03.05, nearly three seconds faster than last year’s World Cup. However, the 2011 World Cup was run over a very slow track. Still, Capponi’s time was .78 seconds faster than the 2010 World Cup. He may not be extremely competitive against the top international horses shipping to Meydan, but he certainly has an advantage against those who have not run at the track, especially since he has already effortlessly won over the same conditions as the Dubai World Cup.

#12. Prince Bishop (United Arab Emirates): It took Prince Bishop a while to get his career rolling, but once he did, he wheeled off four consecutive victories, including two group stakes wins at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris. Four of Prince Bishop’s five outings at Meydan have resulted in defeat, including a disappointing tenth-place finish in last year’s World Cup. Prince Bishop has only won a 2000-meter handicap at Meydan and when he has faced top competition at the Dubai track, he has not fared well. His best finish against group stakes company at Meydan came in his most recent race, a third in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge. In his three starts of 2012, Prince Bishop has had his best showings at Meydan: a victory, a fifth, and the aforementioned third. Prince Bishop seems to have resurfaced, and though he will need to step it up to obtain a Dubai World Cup victory, he seems to have a good chance to do so.

#13. Mendip (United Arab Emirates): Mendip has turned in few lackluster performances in his ten-race career. Unfortunately, his most uninspiring finish came last out in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (GI), in which he finished eleventh behind Capponi. Prior to that dull performance, Mendip had triumphed in the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge after crossing the wire fourth in the first division. Before 2012, Mendip had only lost twice and had made all but one start at Meydan. This is a horse that is very familiar with the Meydan course, but he will need to be on the top of his game to win the World Cup.

Game on Dude
Photo by Mary Cage
#14. Game on Dude (United States): Sure to have many American fans cheering for him, this hard-knocking gelding is coming off a big victory in the San Antonio Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita, winning the mile and one-eighth race by 5 ¼ lengths under regular rider Chantal Sutherland, who will become the first female jockey to contest in the Dubai World Cup. The pair teamed up to capture two grade ones last year, including the ten-furlong Santa Anita Handicap (GI). They also finished a tremendous second in the prestigious mile and one-quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) to Drosselmeyer, finishing just 1 ½ lengths behind the horse, who closed on the far outside, which Game on Dude likely could not see. Though the five-year-old gelding is winless over synthetics, he finished fourth in a field of nine in the Pacific Classic Stakes (GI) over Del Mar’s synthetic surface and a very close second in the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (GI) over Hollywood Park’s cushion track. Game on Dude has been working spectacularly for trainer Bob Baffert in California, giving his connections much confidence going into the richest race in the world. Perhaps he is not the most talented horse in this field, but he is certainly one of the hardest-trying.

The field for the 2012 Dubai World Cup is extremely deep, sure to live up to its reputation as a clash of titans from around the world. It is difficult to pick who the likely winner of the race is due to its competitiveness, though So You Think looms as the most intimidating presence. The local horses Capponi, Master of Hounds, Monterosso, Prince Bishop, and Silver Pond seem to have very legitimate chances, as do the shippers Game on Dude, Smart Falcon, So You Think, Transcend, and Zazou. This year’s rendition of the Dubai World Cup certainly appears tremendously competitive and could indeed be one of the best runnings to date.

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