Sharp Azteca photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins
In years past, we could trot out the stats about how well Godolphin has fared in its eponymous race. But the royal blue team hasn’t won since 2012, and actually has no runner in Saturday’s $1 million prize.
The Godolphin record is still noteworthy as a partial indicator of the locals’ dominance in the Godolphin Mile (G2). Since 2000, locally trained horses have taken 13 of 17 runnings – seven from Godolphin, six from other UAE yards.
If that may imply it’s worth taking on morning-line favorite Sharp Azteca, his fans can cite a contrary stat in his defense. Three of the four successful invaders were American shippers – Grey Memo (2002), Spring at Last (2007) and Diamond Stripes (2008). Granted, those were all at old Nad al Sheba, but Meydan’s synthetic era doesn’t bear much lasting weight, and the first two years back on dirt aren’t enough of a sample size to take to heart.
The other international winner was Japan’s Utopia (2006). But his compatriot this time around, Kafuji Take, has a diametrically opposed, come-from-the-clouds style, and it’s tough to make up that much ground on the Meydan dirt. They do have one thing in common: like Utopia, Kafuji Take is exiting a third in Japan’s premier dirt mile, the February (G1).
Of the local winners, five came out of the prep on Super Saturday, the Burj Nahaar (G3). But only two turned the Burj Nahaar/Godolphin Mile double, African Story (2012) and Tamarkuz (2015), both of whom were easily the best milers on the premises in their respective years. Last-out Burj Nahaar winner Heavy Metal is in razor-sharp form, but he’s not the overall best local. While he offers value at 5-1, it may be more underneath. Since three winners had lost the Burj Nahaar, Stormardal (fourth off a three-month break) holds some intrigue in this category, more so than Ross (the exposed runner-up) and Le Bernardin (eighth), twice the winner of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) over track and trip but whose form tends to decline over the Carnival.
The local supremo is North America, who has owned Heavy Metal this season and can take it as flattery that his familiar foe dominated the Burj Nahaar in his absence. Unbeaten on the dirt since switching surfaces for new trainer Satish Seemar, North America has also put up some smart times at this trip. There are a couple of potential vulnerabilities, though. He’s been rested since running away with the February 11 Firebreak (G3), and Skysurfers (2011) is the only Godolphin Mile winner to come here straight from that earlier prep. As a rapid class climber who was a maiden four starts back, North America will face a far more formidable pace opponent in Sharp Azteca.
My World Cup card selections and preferred longshots will appear in a Friday blog.