Ertijaal photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins
Although Saturday’s $1 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1) has been extended from five to about six furlongs, the results from recent years still give insight into the caliber of horse required to win the turf dash.
In fact, the Al Quoz was about six furlongs when first positioned on Dubai World Cup night in 2010, and the winner was Hong Kong’s redoubtable Joy and Fun. Could that be an omen for current Hong Kong hopeful Amazing Kids, who’s a perfect two-for-two down the Sha Tin straight?
One clear theme from the past seven runnings is the dominance of speedsters originating in the Southern Hemisphere, who have won six of them. Two flew in from Australia, two hailed from South Africa (although based in Dubai at the time), and both Hong Kong winners were bred in the Antipodes. That stat may be in jeopardy on Saturday since New Zealand-born Amazing Kids is the only Southern Hemisphere-bred in the race.
The lone European invader to strike was Sole Power (2015), but Europe has a stronger representation this time around. The Al Quoz’s extra furlong has lured brilliant July Cup (G1) and Prix de la Foret (G1) winner Limato, who might not have bothered to show up against five-furlong specialists. But one drawback in his case is the lack of recency. Only one of the seven Al Quoz winners prevailed in her seasonal reappearance, the Australian mare Ortensia.
Aidan O’Brien’s Washington DC may have been here in any event, since his sharpest placings last season came over the shorter five-furlong trip in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) and King George (G2). He has the same issue of coming in without the benefit of a prep, plus the fact that no one as young as four has won this. It takes a fully mature sprinter, and Washington DC may need more time.
Five of the seven winners were coming off a victory, a credential that distinguishes hot favorite Ertijaal and Jungle Cat, both locally based and proven over the course. They’ve also proven their mettle in this race, with Ertijaal finishing second and Jungle Cat fourth last year. (We’ll evaluate what the change in distance may mean in Friday’s selections blog.) French shipper Finsbury Square won his tune-up over Chantilly’s Polytrack, although he may be a touch below compatriot The Right Man.
All seven Al Quoz winners had already established themselves as high-class operators. Five were Group 1 winners going in, Joy and Fun had placed at the international Group 1 level, and Amber Sky was a straight-course standout on the perennially deep Hong Kong sprint scene.
That threshold has so far been too high for American turf sprinters to win here. While that’s partly attributable to the fact that our dirt sprinters are generally much better, it’s also partly because our horses are used to rounding a turn. The straight course makes its own demands, and California Flag (2010) and Green Mask (2015) did well to finish third. Long on Value, between his closing style and prior routing ability, may adapt better than the speedy Richard’s Boy, but neither looks likely to make history as the first U.S. winner.
My World Cup card selections and preferred longshots will appear in a Friday blog.