Dubai Preview: 2023 World Cup night dirt undercard spot plays

March 24th, 2023

Dubai World Cup day is one of the few major racedays outside the United States that caters to dirt horses. The World Cup gets the most attention, but with three other major races on dirt, the raceday attracts more North American horses overseas than any other.

It means there’s some serious appeal for North American players given the greater familiarity with the horses — but with enough good horses from other jurisdictions to produce competitive racing, and therefore good payouts.

Here we look at some plays for the trio of major dirt Thoroughbred races at Meydan away from the World Cup.

Race 2, 8:05 a.m. ET: Godolphin Mile (G2), dirt, 1,600 meters (about one mile), 3yos upwards

Godolphin Mile Selections

  • #2 Bathrat Leon
  • #11 Prince Eiji
  • #4 Discovery Island

Godolphin Mile Wagers

  • $10 win/$30 show: #2 Bathrat Leon
  • $1 trifecta: 2 with 4, 8, 11, 14 with 4, 8, 11, 14

This race has a more local feel to it, with nine of the 14 runners trained in Dubai. The foreign challenge is led by three Japanese runners, and it’s likely one of them, last year’s winner #2 Bathrat Leon, will start favorite.

When the son of Kizuna arrived last year, nobody fancied him, and he started at 66-1, only to wire his opponents. Since then he’s run mainly on turf, barring the Musashino (G3) in Tokyo in November, where he finished third. His results have been mixed, but he was back to his best when holding out Casa Creed in the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) at Riyadh last month.

Bathrat Leon looks the best of the Japanese, but it may be best not to underestimate #14 Win Carnelian, winner of three of his last four, but he’s unknown on dirt. One other foreign runner worth considering is French raider #5 Egot; he has shown ability on dirt, and he’s a Group 3 winner on turf.

The highest-rated among the locals is #8 Isolate. A stakes winner in the U.S. when trained by Tom Amoss, he joined Doug Watson for this Dubai season and has two Group 3 second-place finishes to his credit. However, both were at six furlongs, and he hasn’t raced at a mile for more than two years.

Perhaps the best local chance, however, is #11 Prince Eiji. He won the Firebreak (G3) Jan. 27 and does stay a mile, so I would not leave him out of exotics. I’d also consider #4 Discovery Island, but if Bathrat Leon runs to his Riyadh form, he should go close to winning again.

Race 5, 9:50 a.m. ET: UAE Derby (G2), dirt, 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles), 3-year-olds

UAE Derby Selections

  • #11 Perriere
  • #13 Worcester
  • #3 Cairo

UAE Derby Wagers

  • $10 win/$20 show: #11 Perriere
  • $1 trifecta: 11, 13 with 3, 11, 13 with 3, 5, 6, 11, 13

A competitive race, especially with a Kentucky Derby (G1) spot in play for winning and possibly for finishing second. But the form lines are very hard to line up.

Clearly the best-performed is Japanese Group 1 winner #6 Dura Erede, but his big triumph came on turf. He has won on dirt, but in maiden company, and his dirt ability at this level is questionable.

#13 Worcester, by contrast, hasn’t won yet, but he does have a Grade 3 third to his credit in the Robert B. Lewis. That would normally be good form for here, and as a son of Empire Maker he should stay 1 3/16 miles.

The strongest Japanese form for this race, however, probably comes from the proven dirt runners #5 Derma Sotogake, #4 Continuar, and #11 Perriere. All three have won legs of the Japanese Kentucky Derby Road series; the first pair have also raced in the region, finishing third and fifth, respectively, in the Saudi Derby (G3).

The Dubai form took a knock when U.S. maiden #12 Tall Boy won the UAE Two Thousand Guineas. Trainer Doug O’Neill has him and recent Meydan winner #2 Ah Jeez running, and they’re not without a chance. The best Dubai chance is probably #7 Go Soldier Go.

Aidan O’Brien also clearly has a good chance in the form of #3 Cairo, winner of the Patton S. at Dundalk earlier this month. He’s following the path O’Brien took with Mendelssohn, who distanced his opponents in the UAE Derby, but I’m not convinced Cairo is in the same class.

I’m going to back Perriere, who I thought was very strong at the end of the Hyacinth and who should appreciate 1 3/16 miles.

Race 6, 10:25 a.m. ET: Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), dirt, 1,200 meters (about six furlongs), 3yos upwards

Golden Shaheen Selections

  • #2 Gunite
  • #5 Lemon Pop
  • #13 Switzerland

Golden Shaheen Wagers

  • $10 win/$20 show: #2 Gunite
  • $1 trifecta: 2, 5 with 2, 5, 13 with 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 13

No doubt connections of all runners are happy champion dirt sprinter Elite Power didn’t come on to Dubai after demolishing his opponents in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3). It will be tempting to just follow the horses he beat in his last two races: #1 C Z Rocket in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), and #2 Gunite in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint.

If they are at their best, both horses are strong chances, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Last year’s Dubai-trained winner #13 Switzerland returns, as does the horse he beat, Japan’s #7 Red Le Zele. Japan also has its leading dirt runner #5 Lemon Pop in the field, though he has never run at less than 6 1/2 furlongs and could find this too short.

Worth a look are the other three U.S. runners: Palos Verdes (G3) winner #3 Hopkins, Mr. Prospector (G3) hero #10 Sibelius, and Chilean import #12 Super Ocho.

However, I’m sticking with the current form and will support Gunite, while respecting Lemon Pop as a potential one to beat.