Vazirabad photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

It’s brazen to describe the past Dubai Gold Cup (G2) results as “trends,” since the about two-mile marathon has held its current place on World Cup night just since 2012. As a relatively recent addition to the stayers’ calendar, the quality has continued to improve year by year, and Saturday’s $1 million renewal is the best yet.

For the first three years (2012-14), the winners had all prepped at the Dubai Carnival. But that emerging trend line was blown up as soon as a first-rate European shipper turned up in Brown Panther (2015), who proved that you could win this in a seasonal reappearance.

Defending champion Vazirabad (2016) likewise arrived fresh off the plane and captured the Gold Cup off a layoff. Yet the Aga Khan homebred bucked another trend himself: while the previous winners had been aged six or seven, he defeated the wizened elders at the tender age of four.

Now Vazirabad is back another year older and hopefully even stronger. He’s reverted to the former pattern of getting a prep in at the Carnival, finishing a staying-on second to Godolphin mare Beautiful Romance in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3).

There is one way that the Alain de Royer-Dupre trainee can rewrite the Gold Cup stats again. No horse has won this race twice, but that comes with a giant asterisk. Godolphin’s defending champion Cavalryman was significantly hampered by Certerach (2014), and a disqualification was probably in order. Then Cavalryman’s trainer Saeed bin Suroor magnanimously withdrew in order to let their Irish guest keep the win. Otherwise, Cavalryman would surely have been a repeat winner.

Certerach is also an outlier among the five World Cup night Gold Cup winners in that he was the only one untested at the trip. Vazirabad technically hadn’t raced over 3200 meters at that point either, but his victory in the 3100-meter Prix Royal-Oak (G1) was close enough.

The importance of being proven at the distance is a concern for Beautiful Romance, whose defeat of Vazirabad came at about 1 3/4 miles. In her only prior attempt over the two metric miles, the bin Suroor mare was seventh in the Melbourne Cup (G1). She did well to finish in that position after flubbing the start, but the range of her stamina is to be determined, especially since she captured York’s 10 1/2-furlong Middleton (G2) just last May. Beautiful Romance is also trying to become the first female to win. The Aga Khan’s ill-fated filly Verema was third here in 2013, and she too had a distance question to answer. But Beautiful Romance is the first-stringer for Godolphin, winner of the first two runnings (and should have had a third), with Famous Kid their secondary hope.

Sheikhzayedroad’s recent profile is reminiscent of Godolphin’s 2012 winner Opinion Poll. David Simcock’s veteran competed in a sequence of British Cups races last year, placing in the Ascot Gold Cup (G1) and actually going one better than Opinion Poll by winning the Doncaster Cup (G2) and British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2). Like Opinion Poll, he didn’t reappear until the Nad al Sheba Trophy and placed in that prep.

Contenders fitting the recent paradigm of high-class European shippers making a seasonal reappearance are Quest for More, who suffered two brutal beats at the hands of Sheikhzayedroad but upset Vazirabad in the Prix du Cadran (G1); Big Orange, last year’s near-miss runner-up to Vazirabad in the Gold Cup, who defeated both Sheikhzayedroad and Quest for More in his Goodwood Cup (G2) repeat; Heartbreak City, the hurdler-turned-Ebor romper who lost a heartbreaker in the Melbourne Cup (G1); Trip to Paris, the 2015 Ascot Gold Cup hero, and the unlucky runner-up Kingfisher, sidelined 16 months since finishing up the track in that year’s Melbourne Cup. Kingfisher’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, has yet to win this race, and you’ve got to think that Kingfisher needs one to bring him on.

My World Cup card selections and preferred longshots will appear in a Friday blog.