2018 Dubai World Cup study guide, Vol. 2: Historical trends

March 29th, 2018

As the follow-up from our retrospective on the Carnival, the second part of our Dubai World Cup study guide is a consideration of historical trends at work in the eight Thoroughbred races on the Meydan program.

Patterns over time can put Saturday’s contenders in context. When some are flagged by negative trends or others enhanced by positive trends, further evaluation is warranted. Perhaps they’re good enough to buck it, or not good enough to take advantage, but it helps to be aware of the bigger picture in advance.


Locally-based runners, including horses who sojourned for the Carnival, have had a stranglehold on this contest. Since 2000, the score is 14-4 against the shippers, including the last nine in a row. The total may be skewed by the fact that all five of the runnings on Meydan’s old Tapeta went to the locals. Previously on the dirt at Nad al Sheba, the home court advantage was a slimmer 6-4, with three of the successful invaders being Americans and one from Japan. Meydan’s switch to dirt has yet to profit the internationals, however. Perhaps circumstances conspired against a couple of tough-beat shippers in Sloane Avenue (2015) and Sharp Azteca (2017). In that case, Economic Model fans can take heart that the luck has to turn sooner or later. While the locals have used a variety of preps, the Burj Nahaar (G3) on Super Saturday has been most productive with five winners. Note that three of those five had actually lost the Burj Nahaar, a positive sign for several including beaten favorite Heavy Metal.


Formful results have been the norm, albeit in five of just six runnings since the about two-mile test was moved to World Cup night in 2012. Two-time defending champion Vazirabad hopes that stat endures in his favor. All but one winner (the longshot Certerach who should have been disqualified for interference in 2014) were already proven effective at or near the distance, a threshold that Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) winner Rare Rhythm has yet to cross. A lesser but related point about Rare Rhythm is that no winner of that about 1 3/4-mile prep has come back to win the Gold Cup, but three losers have, most recently Vazirabad last year. A prep isn’t strictly necessary, since two Gold Cup winners were making their seasonal reappearances. Both were top-class Europeans, Brown Panther (2015) and Vazirabad (2016) in his first visit.


Sophomores wintering in Dubai have won 14 of 18 runnings, 11 by way of preps and three training locally ahead of their comeback in this spot. Godolphin owns eight of those wins. Six UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) winners (and three Guineas losers) have prevailed in the Derby. All of those stats bolster Gold Town. Fellow local contenders Rayya and Yulong Warrior have to defy trends. Yulong Warrior must confront the fact that no Al Bastakiya winner who skipped the Guineas has ever won the Derby. In Rayya’s case, only one filly has beaten the boys here, Khawlah (2011). Of the four victorious invaders, three in a row came during Meydan’s synthetic era, including Aidan O’Brien’s two winners. The only international shipper to claim the Derby on dirt was Japan’s Lani (2016) in a substandard renewal, although compatriot Epicharis (2017) came close. O’Brien’s raiding party this year, led by Mendelssohn, runs headlong against that trend, as does American-based Reride. Japanese shippers Ruggero and Taiki Ferveur look better in its light than they ordinarily would.


Since its transfer to the World Cup card in 2010, the turf dash had displayed a consistent pattern of winners already established as Group 1-caliber, nearly all (except 2015 hero Sole Power) bred in the Southern Hemisphere. Last year’s running blew up the trend line as French-based The Right Man, beaten pointless in his only previous Group 1, edged Long on Value, who almost became a first U.S. turf winner on World Cup night. Could that reversal be the result of the lengthening of the Al Quoz from five to about six furlongs in 2017, making the preceding years’ data moot? That’s something to consider if Saturday’s result reinforces it. Until then, though, I’d be inclined to blame the yielding ground that undercut the usual speed merchants and opened the door to one horse who loved the going and another who appreciated the greater stamina test. The Right Man did uphold other trends. He made it seven of eight winners who’d had a recent prep, four of them over the course, and he continued the unbroken streak of mature winners who were at least five (Australian-bred Amber Sky counting as such on Northern Hemisphere time in 2014). The other six were all even older. Saturday’s hot favorite Blue Point, as a new four-year-old, would be a first. The venerable Southern Hemisphere trend could revive with a trio of Australian-based hopes, none with the lengthy resumes of Ortensia (2012) or Buffering (2016), but Music Magnate at least has a Group 1 laurel.


American speed has ruled the roost overwhelmingly in the dirt editions. From 2000 through 2009 at old Nad al Sheba, U.S. sprinters won eight of 10. The pattern reasserted itself immediately on Meydan’s new dirt track, with American shippers going two-for-three and missing out on a sweep by a scant neck (when X Y Jet came out with a knee injury 2016). Americans have employed geographically diverse preps, but the Palos Verdes (G2) tops them all with four winners, a stat that makes Roy H all the more appealing. One that doesn’t is the fact that no reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner has turned the double in the next spring’s Golden Shaheen – but then again, only three have tried. Mind Your Biscuits fans should note that the only two-time Golden Shaheen champion was Caller One (2001-2) in the infancy of World Cup night. The five local winners, spanning both the dirt and synthetic era, all contested the Mahab al Shimaal (G3) on Super Saturday. Three won that prep, a plus for Jordan Sport.


After parity between invaders and locals in the first decade of the millennium, the balance has tilted toward the shippers in recent years. Japan in particular has fueled the trend, sending three of the last four winners, including Real Steel (2016) and Vivlos (2017) who both return for more. All three of them prepped in the Nakayama Kinen (G2), and Vivlos took the same route this time. The pro-shipper trend could be cyclical, since there had been a boomlet for the locals in the preceding years. Both categories have benefited from a prep of late, with nine of the last 10 winners getting a tightener. That represents another shift, as before a flurry of four successful comebackers had struck in six years (2001-06). Overall, eight winners have been seen at the Carnival. Five exited the Jebel Hatta (G1), a talking point for several including beaten favorite Benbatl. And speaking of beaten favorites, the Dubai Turf typically shapes up as one of the more open or evenly-matched races on the card. Factor in the luck in running in a big field going about nine grassy furlongs, and you’ll see why price horses have been known to jump up, as Vivlos reminds us. Yet she also defied the stat decidedly in favor of horses who’d cracked the top three in their last start.


European-trained runners, and horses making their seasonal reappearances, coincidentally boast the same number of winners, 11, in the 20-year history of the race. Great Britain is the single most prolific country, with seven winners, and the prospect of more with a team led by Poet’s Word. Females are punching above their weight by furnishing four winners in just the past 10 years, a plus for Japanese filly Mozu Katchan. Yet she doesn’t have the common denominator shared by Japan’s winning trio in this race, all of whom had competed in the Japan Cup (G1). That prerequisite is met by both Rey de Oro and Satono Crown. Finally, Carnival runners rarely prevail. Only three who competed during the local season have gone on to capture this about 1 1/2-mile test, and of them, Postponed (2016) is the lone winner of the Super Saturday prep, the Dubai City of Gold (G2), who added the Sheema. That’s a negative for Hawkbill and Godolphin confrere Best Solution.


The honor roll is essentially shared between American stars and Godolphin colorbearers, together responsible for 19 of 22 winners. Two of the three exceptions came on Meydan’s old Tapeta. The remaining exception, Singspiel, really isn’t one. He raced in Sheikh Mohammed’s silks back in 1997, and by contemporary standards he would have been with Godolphin. That American/Godolphin duopoly is a substantial stat for Satish Seemar’s standout, North America, to defy.

American dirt form reigned supreme in nine of the first 14 runnings on dirt at Nad al Sheba, and again in two of the three editions held on the dirt at Meydan. Seven of the American winners boasted current Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) form. That total would rise to eight if you grandfather in California Chrome’s Classic experience all the way back in 2014, well before his 2016 World Cup. All of that bodes well for Team USA, particularly West Coast but also Gunnevera. They were second and third, respectively, in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), the successor to the Donn H. that yielded four World Cup winners. The Pegasus promptly produced another in its 2017 inaugural, Arrogate.

Godolphin is responsible for eight winners, seven trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Six of the Godolphin winners used the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) as their warm-up, as did Thunder Snow. But he’s bumping up against the fact that no UAE Derby (G2) winner has gone on to add the World Cup, a mark that Mubtaahij has yet to erase himself. Still, Mubtaahij fans can point to a more encouraging stat, that six World Cup winners had been beaten in their previous attempt(s).

The other potent trend is the importance of a good showing in a recent prep. Only two World Cup winners have succeeded straight off the bench, the last being Almutawakel (1999), who reportedly had a private trial. That’s a stat faced by Forever Unbridled, simultaneously trying to become the first female to win. Only three winners were coming off unplaced efforts, again the exceptions being Almutawakel and two Tapeta winners. Fourteen of the 22 had won last out, and the percentage is an even greater 13 of 17 if you ignore the five runnings on Tapeta. Three of those dirt winners were coming off a runner-up effort, making for 16 of 17 who’d been in the exacta in their previous start.