St. Joe Bay photo courtesy of Benoit

The fortunes of American sprinters in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) have correlated neatly with the surface.

At old Nad al Sheba from 2000-2009, Americans won eight of 10 on the six-furlong straightaway. (Contrast that with our turf sprinters’ difficulty in the Al Quoz [G1]).

During Meydan’s Tapeta era from 2010-2014, that strike rate dwindled to just one for 5, with synthetic specialist Kinsale King (2010) preventing a shut-out.

Meydan’s switch to dirt brought an immediate American renaissance, courtesy of Secret Circle (2015). X Y Jet was expected to make it two in a row last year, only to lose a desperate battle with locally based Muarrab. It was subsequently revealed that he had a knee chip that required surgery, and perhaps a sound X Y Jet would have won it.

Despite the absence of champion sprinter Drefong, Team USA has strong representation in Mind Your Biscuits (post 14) and St. Joe Bay (post 11). Those post positions are tough, though (more on that in Friday’s blog). Stallwalkin’ Dude, capable on his day if not quite as appealing as the other two, will need to pick his way through on the rail.

St. Joe Bay captured the most productive U.S. prep historically, the Palos Verdes (G2), which has produced four Shaheen winners. On the other hand, three of those four had placed in the Palos Verdes; only Kinsale King turned the double.

The most productive prep overall has been the local tune-up on Super Saturday, the Mahab al Shimaal (G3), good for five winners. Three have won both the Mahab al Shimaal and the Shaheen, most recently Muarrab (2016), and reigning winner Morawij hopes to become the latest to double up. In the early years of the Shaheen, two rebounded off a loss in the Mahab al Shimaal, and this year’s near-misser Cool Cowboy hopes to revive that angle.

Speaking of the early years, you’ve got to go all the way back to Caller one (2001-02) to find the only horse ever to repeat in the Shaheen. That stat alone suggests Muarrab is up against it as the defending champion, and his recent form just reinforces the point.

The other past Shaheen winner in the line-up is 11-year-old Reynaldothewizard, victorious on the Tapeta back in 2013. But he’s no synthetic specialist. Just as happy on the dirt, the Satish Seemar veteran opened 2017 with a three-peat in the Dubawi S., and reports from the yard indicate he’s flying at home. Reynaldothewizard would make history if he can win again – not only for the Shaheen, but as possibly the oldest horse ever to win a Group 1 on the Flat. In a quick search, the oldest I could find was 10-year-old Yavana’s Pace (in Germany in 2002).

Two jurisdictions managed to squeeze in a winner during the synthetic era, Singapore’s Rocket Man (2011) and Hong Kong’s Sterling City (2014).

Sterling City’s trainer, John Moore, is back with Not Listenin’tome, officially the highest rated horse in the race. The rub is that Not Listenin’tome is a turf sprinter, who failed to sparkle in last year’s Al Quoz, and this is an audacious spot to experiment on dirt. Yet Hong Kong has produced a fair share of smart dirt horses. Super Jockey, for example, nearly stunned Secret Circle here two years ago. And fellow Hong Kong shipper Dundonnell has turned in two solid efforts this Carnival, including a third in the Mahab al Shimaal.

Godolphin has yet to win the Shaheen, so Comicas (fourth in the Mahab al Shimaal) would strike new ground for the royal blue. Japan hasn’t won this either, unsurprisingly, given the nation’s emphasis on turf prowess and classic stamina. Dios Corrida, also the only three-year-old in the field, is up against it trying to accomplish two historic milestones at once.

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