2022 Dubai World Cup: Top picks, value plays, and longshots

March 25th, 2022

A few of the Dubai World Cup Day favorites look awfully tough, but others appear beatable, and there’s value to be found everywhere at Meydan on Saturday.

For each Thoroughbred race, I’ve listed a top pick, highlighted potential value, and included bigger longshots where applicable. Bolded names appearing in the discussion indicate logical inclusions in a wagering strategy. The “also worth mentioning” category is likewise a way to recognize horses I’d rather not leave out altogether.

More background can be found in my colleague Alastair Bull’s Dubai previews on Brisnet.com as well as my Edge articles on storylines and trends (divided into World Cup Day dirt and turf races).

Godolphin Mile (G2) (Race 2 – 8:20 a.m. ET)

Top pick: #10 Mubakker (12-1) might have been beaten by the draw in the Burj Nahaar (G3), where he was hung out wide from post 9, and traveled like a dream, only to succumb late. The Shadwell colorbearer has back class on the British all-weather, albeit in sprints, as discussed in my profile of Mubakker as one to follow for the Carnival. But two-time Godolphin Mile-winning trainer Doug Watson gives him another chance at this trip, and the well-bred son of Speightstown and a More Than Ready mare now lands in a more favorable post 5.

Longshot: #9 Great Scot (30-1) brings an unusually high level of Saudi form. Third to Mishriff and Charlatan in last year’s Saudi Cup, he had been unbeaten over a mile on dirt until he was just worn down late last out — by Emblem Road, the next-out Saudi Cup shocker — on a wet track. Post 12 at Meydan could help since he has speed to tack over while staying out of the kickback.

Also worth mentioning: #2 Al Nefud (5-2), also profiled as a Carnival horse to follow, challenged Hot Rod Charlie in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) before settling for second. There’s no doubting his untapped talent, but lack of experience might tell on the big stage. #15 Storm Damage (8-1) is the wildcard, if the back-to-back turf course record-setter can take his game to dirt. Pedigree gives him a realistic chance. #8 Golden Goal (15-1) had an excuse in the Burj Nahaar (scoped with mucus) and remains entitled to move forward from the prep, just as he did when runner-up last year.

Dubai Gold Cup (G2) (Race 3 – 8:55 a.m. ET)

Top pick: #12 Manobo (1-2) is an impossible price, but Charlie Appleby himself thinks the unbeaten stayer is his best chance of a win on the card. While he manhandled a weaker field last time, it was in course-record time at Meydan. The way Manobo won the Prix Chaudenay (G2) on Arc weekend, pulling early on very soft going, suggests that an extra furlong should be no issue in these better conditions. And he won’t let #9 Stay Foolish (6-1) get away from him.

Value/longshots: #3 Baron Samedi (8-1) is entitled to be involved in the finish. The Belmont Gold Cup (G2) hero warmed up with a fourth in the Red Sea Turf H. (G3) in Saudi, and trainer Joseph O’Brien believes that this course suits him better. #13 Veloce Oro (20-1) was a better-than-appears sixth in the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1), and figures to progress from racing evenly in his comeback at about 2 1/8 miles. #8 Rodrigo Diaz (15-1) comes in under the radar for the shrewd David Simcock. Out of a full sister to 2001 St Leger (G1) winner Milan, Rodrigo exits a useful sixth to Manobo in what looked like a tightener by design.

Al Quoz Sprint (G1) (Race 4 – 9:35 a.m. ET)

Top pick: #10 Man of Promise (2-1) is doing so well at the moment that he’s lured jockey William Buick off two other well-credentialed Appleby entrants (particularly comebacker #4 Creative Force [5-1]). The Godolphin colorbearer was outstanding in his Super Saturday prep win here three weeks ago, the key race for the Al Quoz. Although there’s always the possibility of a regression, it’s more difficult to settle on an alternative without questions of his own.

Value: #16 Suesa (7-1) is a win threat at her best. She fires fresh, but this is historically a tough spot to win off the bench, and that’s the only reason she’s not on top.  #1 A Case of You (7-1) was no match for Man of Promise in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3), but trainer Ado McGuiness is forecasting a fair bit of improvement. Fellow Group 1 winner #5 Emaraaty Ana (12-1) deserves a mulligan for his no-show in the same tune-up (scoped with mucus).

Longshots: #13 Taxiwala (60-1) is a win machine sprinting in Qatar, albeit around a turn; it wouldn’t be a shock if the frontrunner, who can clock 1:08 and change, hangs on for a slice. #3 Casa Creed (15-1) is well drawn, since the stands’ side is usually the place to be, and his near-miss in Saudi suggests he’s up to this. The caveat is that race could have played more to his strengths around a turn, but a classy American sprinter can’t be discounted.

UAE Derby (G2) (Race 5 – 10:10 a.m. ET)

Top pick: #9 Gilded Age (10-1) has the American form, and exquisite pedigree, that appeal in a race lacking a standout. His Achilles’ heel could be dropping too far back early, but new rider Luis Saez is eligible to get him into a sensible position.

Longshot: #7 Crown Pride (20-1) probably isn’t that far off fellow Japanese contenders #6 Combustion (5-1) and #13 Sekifu (4-1) at a far bigger price. After dominating his first two, Crown Pride virtually lost all chance in the Hyacinth with a rough start that put him last early. The Teruya Yoshida homebred still made a move to finish sixth, and a clean break with new pilot Damian Lane can put him right in the thick of it. You could make a similar case on form for stoutly-bred #12 Reiwa Homare (15-1), only his lack of recency and stakes experience make him perhaps more of a reach.

Also worth mentioning: At the risk of being too hard on an unbeaten UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) winner, I’m not sure that #4 Azure Coast (6-1) can replicate his last-to-first heroics on the World Cup night stretch-out. But he should be coming in the stretch. While #5 Bendoog (15-1) has to reverse form from the first two UAE jewels, the late-developing colt is on the upgrade for leading UAE trainer Bhupat Seemar. The big son of Gun Runner could take another step forward in his second try at the trip, especially with more room to maneuver from post 5.

Golden Shaheen (G1) (Race 6 – 10:45 a.m. ET)

Top pick: #3 Drain the Clock (5-1) gets the slight nod over fellow Americans #2 Dr. Schivel (3-1) and #13 Wondrwherecraigis (8-1). I keep coming back to his edging Jackie’s Warrior in the Woody Stephens (G1), when the champion was in form, if unlucky (unlike the Breeders’ Cup Sprint [G1], which Jackie’s Warrior exited with an injury). Post 3 could also work out well for Drain the Clock tactically, compared to Wondrwherecraigis, who has to blast away from post 11. Dr. Schivel is eminently logical, but he doesn’t have a clear-cut advantage at the price, in his first start outside of Southern California.

Value/longshot: #10 Red le Zele (8-1) had no chance of catching ill-fated Zenden, who freaked on the lead a year ago. The Japanese shipper did well to close for a clear second. If the Americans and #8 Meraas (7-1) (also a Carnival follow) get embroiled in a pace meltdown, Red le Zele is the likeliest beneficiary. #12 Switzerland (15-1) has disappointed in this race twice before, but Seemar said earlier in the Carnival that this was the best that the American expat had been since his arrival in Dubai. The multiple Grade/Group 3 winner has back class stateside, and his Saudi flop can be excused on account of illness.

Dubai Turf (G1) (Race 7 – 11:20 a.m. ET)

Top pick: #12 Schnell Meister (2-1), one of the leading lights of an all-star Japanese three-year-old crop of 2021, is well qualified to continue their hot hand in this race. Imagine as an early June sophomore coming within a half-length of victory in the prestigious Yasuda Kinen (G1) versus top elders. Gaining revenge on the Yasuda winner in last fall’s Mainichi Okan (G2), in 1:44.8 at this trip, Schnell Meister was last seen finishing a close second to multiple champion Gran Alegria in the Mile Championship (G1). The added distance, and genuine pace courtesy of compatriot #11 Panthalassa (7-1), are right in his wheelhouse.

Value: #9 Mohaafeth (6-1) has two race angles in his favor, as the William Haggas trainee arrives fresh off a layoff and over a shorter trip. The highly-regarded son of Frankel is set to fulfill his promise now that his problematic undescended testicle has been removed. Fellow British returnee #16 Saffron Beach (10-1) could be the latest distaffer to make her presence felt, if she brings her stellar form from Newmarket.

Also worth mentioning: #8 Lord North (5-1) has a right to factor as the defending champion in his second start back, after a pleasing reappearance. Yet this is a far saltier renewal than the one he captured last March. #2 Colonel Liam (7-1) likewise has more of an exotics vibe.

Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) (Race 8 – 11:55 a.m. ET)

Top pick: #12 Shahryar (4-1) is the only one to beat Japan’s Horse of the Year Efforia, with an explosive surge to set a stakes-record 2:22.5 in last summer’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1). Third that day was the admirably consistent #13 Stella Veloce (10-1). In Shahryar’s other start at the about 1 1/2-mile distance, he was a troubled third to the older Contrail (the 2020 Triple Crown champ) and #1 Authority (6-1) in the Japan Cup (G1). Authority remains a serious threat in their rematch here, but a smoother passage could help a still-developing Shahryar turn the tables.

Value: #11 Dubai Honour (12-1) is a slightly bigger price than Haggas stablemate #9 Alenquer (8-1), presumably because he’s yet to race over this distance. Yet Dubai Honour sports solid form as the runner-up in the Champion (G1) (beating Mishriff) and troubled fourth to Loves Only You in the Hong Kong Cup (G1). Although his pedigree isn’t unequivocal, his broodmare sire is Montjeu, and his way of winding up makes me think he’ll handle the step up in trip.

Also worth mentioning: Champion #14 Yibir (3-1) warrants respect as the reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner, but he has his mental quirks. The Appleby trainee got in a groove in the second half of 2021, but there’s no way of telling what frame of mind he’ll be in off the vacation. And the Japanese are arguably better than the horses he beat last season. #4 Glory Vase (7-1) can’t be ignored either, although Sha Tin brings out the best in him.

Dubai World Cup (G1) (Race 9 – 12:30 p.m. ET)

Top pick: #7 Life Is Good (4-5) likely controls his own World Cup destiny. If he breaks alertly on the rail, chances are high that we’ll see a redux of his Pegasus World Cup (G1) romp. If he has any sort of miscue when the gate opens, he’ll have a harder task to avert an upset. The distance is another question, but not enough to doubt him. 

Value: #3 Country Grammer (8-1) is the best-priced alternative, projecting improvement from his spirited second in his Saudi Cup comeback, and stretch-out to his preferred trip. The Bob Baffert trainee did just that last spring at Santa Anita. After a gutsy near-miss in the Californian (G2) off a long layoff, Country Grammer turned the tables in the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Gold Cup (G1).

Longshots: Last year’s runner-up, #2 Chuwa Wizard (30-1), must deal with an overall deeper field, but he’s still eligible to factor in the exotics. #1 Aero Trem (60-1) was doing his best work late when fifth in the Saudi Cup, and it’s worth noting that the Uruguayan celebrity is 3-for-4 at this distance. Although connections had thought the Saudi surface was better for him, the price is too big to ignore for a highly consistent campaigner.

Also worth mentioning: #5 Hot Rod Charlie (3-1) has rock-solid U.S. form plus a dominant win over the track, making him a surefire top-three finisher. Yet I can’t quite get past his tendency to settle for minor awards in the biggest events. Maybe it’s because I expected more from him in the Breeders’ Cup. If #9 Midnight Bourbon (10-1) is always thereabouts, it’s difficult to see him breaking through with a win over this field.

Readers may remember my Saudi Cup enthusiasm for #10 Real World (20-1). I’d love to see him prove my dirt hypothesis wasn’t bizarre after all, but the once bitten, twice shy factor prevents me from endorsing here.

Good luck on World Cup Day!