Dubai World Cup clues from Super Saturday, Saudi Cup

March 12th, 2023

The “Super Saturday” results from March 4 at Meydan offer clues of varying degrees for the March 25 Dubai World Cup (G1) gala.

Much of the interest lies in ferreting out potential value for the World Cup card from among those who ran sneakily in defeat. Indeed, it’s generally advisable to oppose the winners of the final preps when they try to follow up on the big night. That’s historically been a tough task even in Super Saturday’s heyday, let alone now when it’s denuded by the lucrative Saudi Cup (G1) festival the week prior.

Hence the dress rehearsal for World Cup night had quite a few understudies, even from a local perspective. So along with the review of the Super Saturday races, we’ll add notes of interest from the Feb. 25 Saudi Cup program.

Of course, fresh arrivals from the United States, Europe, Hong Kong, and Japan will be on the scene for the Dubai World Cup, and we’ll take a look at them after the fields firm up.

Dubai World Cup prep – Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3

The dirt star of the 2023 Dubai Carnival, Algiers, deliberately skipped both the Saudi Cup and Super Saturday in order to enter the World Cup fresh. The final local prep, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), was also missing last year’s winner, Hypothetical, who was scratched.

In their absence, 2021 victor Salute the Soldier rallied strongly to become the first horse to win Round 3 twice. It was a remarkable training feat by Fawzi Nass to get the eight-year-old gelding back to peak form after a forgettable 2022 Carnival. Still, Salute the Soldier was only fifth in the 2021 World Cup at the top of his game, and he figures to be a minor player at best once again.

Runner-up Bendoog appeared to have Round 3 in his grasp, but the giant son of Gun Runner is just not quite seeing out the about 1 1/4-mile trip. Even so, the Bhupat Seemar trainee is rock-solid reliable, and he could be the type to hang on for part of the World Cup superfecta at a big price.

That longshot angle applies with arguably more force for stablemate Remorse, who failed to fire in the Saudi Cup, but has strong form around Meydan. Indeed, judging by his prior defeat of Bendoog and placing in Round 3 last year, Remorse had every right to be involved had he raced on Super Saturday. 

The Saudi Cup showcased more formidable contenders, led by defending Dubai World Cup champion Country Grammer. The Bob Baffert veteran was second in the Saudi Cup for the second straight year, presumably putting him spot-on for his Dubai title defense.

Japan’s conquering hero Panthalassa answered the dirt question with his front-running performance in Saudi, but his beaten compatriots – Cafe Pharoah (third), Geoglyph (fourth), Crown Pride (fifth), and Jun Light Bolt (seventh) – can all take heart. Panthalassa’s task in Dubai is likely to be more challenging, and some who don’t enjoy the Saudi surface can handle Meydan a lot better.

Update: Emblem Road, the 2022 Saudi Cup shocker who was sixth in his title defense, will try to take his game on the road for the World Cup.  

Dubai Turf prep – Jebel Hatta

Alfareeq made history himself by scoring a repeat victory in the Jebel Hatta (G1), but the literal form is very unlikely to stand up in the Dubai Turf (G1). The Jebel Hatta was a messy, paceless race that turned into a tale of trips; in fact, Alfareeq’s rider, Dane O’Neill, was handed a three-day suspension for careless riding.

The horses to take out of the race are Godolphin’s beaten favorite Master of the Seas, who flashed home to miss by a half-length in third, and his Charlie Appleby stablemate Valiant Prince, whose tough post 14 put him noticeably out of sorts early en route to a subpar sixth. I also must mention their colleague Real World, a non-threatening 10th in his comeback. But Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor had said up front that he needed the race, and it would be no surprise if the world-class operator is a different animal with this under his belt.

Dubai Sheema Classic prep – Dubai City of Gold

The headliner of the entire Super Saturday program, Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Rebel’s Romance, was withdrawn from the Dubai City of Gold (G2) due to leg inflammation. At last report, he was still expected to make the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1).

Appleby won the City of Gold anyway with Global Storm, who controlled the pace. It’s a pointer to the race’s depth, or lack thereof, that Appleby immediately swatted away any suggestion of advancing to the Sheema. Update: Global Storm is now among the probables for the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) (see below).

Aside from Rebel’s Romance, Appleby has another prime chance in Nations Pride. His tune-up came earlier in the Carnival, the Feb. 17 Dubai Millennium (G3), where he won smartly from fellow Sheema candidate Zagrey. Indeed, so sharp was that score at about 1 1/4 miles that Nations Pride also prompted his trainer to entertain shortening up for the Dubai Turf. (Update: Appleby has put Nations Pride in the Dubai Turf after all, not the Sheema.)

But there was a proper Sheema contender in action on Super Saturday in Russian Emperor, a barnstorming fifth over an inadequate trip in the Jebel Hatta. Considering that legendary Hong Kong jockey-turned-trainer Douglas Whyte was using it as a purely educational tour for his shipper, that was the right kind of warm-up ahead of a stretch-out.

The Saudi Cup program doesn’t have a race tailor-made for either the Sheema or Dubai Turf, with its about 1 5/16-mile Neom Turf Cup (G3) in between those trips. Nevertheless, the way Mostahdaf absolutely ran amok in the Neom Turf Cup demands respect. For whatever it’s worth, I’m glad that John and Thady Gosden have opted for the Sheema rather than cutting back.

UAE Derby prep – Al Bastakiya

Representing the same connections as Salute the Soldier, Go Soldier Go kicked off their big-race double in the Al Bastakiya to stamp himself a contender for the UAE Derby (G2). The Tapiture colt benefited from having plenty of experience at the about 1 3/16-mile distance, and that might have made the difference. Go Soldier Go stormed from far back to collar Mr Raj, who raced much nearer to the solid pace set by Doug O’Neill’s filly Ami Please. Mr Raj, a son of Bolt d’Oro, could be wiser the next time.

Yet the Al Bastakiya suggests that the center of gravity lies with the earlier UAE classics. Mr Raj was coming off a third in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) to the O’Neill-trained Tall Boy and Doug Watson’s highly-regarded Shirl’s Bee. O’Neill also has Ah Jeez, winner of an about seven-furlong conditions race over the track Feb. 24 but a question mark at the distance.

Ami Please, a gallant third versus the boys in the Al Bastakiya, was previously worn down by Mimi Kakushi in the UAE Oaks (G3). Mimi Kakushi swept both fillies’ classics, having aced the UAE 1000 Guineas, and trainer Salem bin Ghadayer has sounded interested in pursuing the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

The Saudi Derby (G3) will be well represented in the UAE Derby, a different type of test from the one-turn mile of Riyadh. Saudi-based upsetter Commissioner King has to prove that he doesn’t need home-field advantage, while the Japanese duo of Derma Sotogake (third) and Continuar (fifth) are eligible to make a greater impact at Meydan.

Update: Commissioner King is not in the likely field just released by the Dubai Racing Club; nor are the fillies Mimi Kakushi and Ami Please.

Dubai Golden Shaheen prep – Mahab al Shimaal

Sound Money made a winning UAE bow in the Mahab al Shimaal (G3) for Seemar, stalking and pouncing decisively over fellow American expat Isolate. Formerly trained by Chad Brown, Sound Money had been best of the rest behind Jackie’s Warrior in the True North (G2) and Cody’s Wish in the Westchester (G3). He also beat Sibelius, another bound for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), albeit over a mile at Aqueduct.

Seemar is well stocked with sprinters. He also has the defending Golden Shaheen champion, Switzerland, freshening up by design for the big night. And stablemate Tuz wasn’t seen to best effect when third to Sound Money in the Mahab al Shimaal, where he was chasing from the far outside post. If Tuz draws inside in the Shaheen, as he did when wiring the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) two back, he’s worth a look.

The progressive Colour Up is probably better than his prep fourth, wheeling back on short rest, but Watson could be aiming for 2024 with him. Arguably the dark horse to focus on from the Mahab al Shimaal is Mouheeb, a sneaky fifth from well back in the pack. He’d found his niche here earlier in the season, and this has the vibe of a meaningful prep.

As much as any of the Dubai locals can jump up, the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) remains the key piece of form, having been won impressively by Elite Power. The Eclipse Award champion isn’t bidding to double up in the Golden Shaheen, so the next three who chased him home will be glad to get away from him at Meydan. The warrior Gunite, a clear second to Elite Power, is likely the one to beat now. Japan’s deep-closing Remake could benefit from that first international venture, while older compatriot Justin is more exposed.

Al Quoz Sprint prep – Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint

The Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) has been a much more informative prep to follow than the others on Super Saturday. In the five runnings since it’s served as the launching pad to an about six-furlong Al Quoz Sprint (G1), two winners have turned the double, and two prep placers have won the main event. And in the other, the prep winner was runner-up in the Al Quoz.

The potential wrinkle this year is that the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint was won by three-year-old Al Dasim, the first sophomore to dispatch elders in this race. The George Boughey pupil has blossomed since settling into Dubai, where he’s a perfect 3-for-3. Can he reach another high, in the main event that some better older rivals have been building up to?

Runner-up Miqyaas had previously upset the Feb. 10 Blue Point Sprint (G2), edging Irish filly Ladies Church, who promises to come on a bundle for Johnny Murtagh, and Seemar’s recent recruit, the ex-Irish Logo Hunter. Appleby’s talented Man of Promise bled when trailing in the Blue Point.

Old stager Equilateral, only eighth in the about five-furlong Blue Point, showed renewed purpose when fourth over the extra furlong in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint. I wouldn’t put it past Equilateral to make the frame as a longshot in the Al Quoz. (Update: Equilateral is not in the projected field just released, but I'm leaving him in for posterity - or if anything changes.)

Update: Ras al Khor romper Al Suhail, who set a new course record of 1:21.46, was initially slated for European targets at his pet distance of about seven furlongs. But now the Appleby trainee has popped up among the Al Quoz probables, along with Ras Al Khor runner-up San Donato, who uncorked a rattling run from last. So we're adding the Ras al Khor replay below.

The Saudi prize in this division, the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3), is slightly longer (about 6 3/4 furlongs) and around a left-hand turn. Last year, British filly Happy Romance was a close third in Saudi before missing narrowly in Dubai. But the 1351 winners haven’t tried the Al Quoz.

Godolphin Mile prep – Burj Nahaar

Indeed, last-out 1351 Turf Sprint hero Bathrat Leon is going turf-to-dirt, and back up in trip, to defend his title in the Godolphin Mile (G2). So is fellow Japanese runner Lauda Sion, who was ninth behind Bathrat Leon in the 1351.

Arguably the most interesting local, Prince Eiji, did not compete in Super Saturday’s Burj Nahaar (G3) as expected. He was scratched by “owner’s request,” according to the curiosity-piquing announcement by the Emirates Racing Authority. That could prove the right move, as Prince Eiji is likely to appreciate the spacing from his Firebreak (G3) tally Jan. 27.

The Burj Nahaar panned out well for Seemar’s Discovery Island, who responded to the addition of blinkers and closed off a fast pace. He made sense on form, having been a distant second to Algiers in the course-and-distance Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2). Discovery Island was miserable enduring kickback when subsequently sixth in the Firebreak, so an outside post is a prerequisite for the Godolphin Mile. He won’t want to get buried on the inside, especially if he’s off a beat slow.

Not to be overlooked was the traffic-muddled fifth in the Burj Nahaar by defending champion Desert Wisdom, the runner-up to Bathrat Leon in the 2022 Godolphin Mile. That could be an indication that Desert Wisdom is ready to fire a better shot on World Cup night.

Dubai Gold Cup prep – Nad al Sheba Trophy

The final local stepping stone to the about two-mile Dubai Gold Cup (G2) isn’t on Super Saturday, but on Feb. 17, the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3). The about 1 3/4-mile event was won handsomely by Appleby’s Siskany from the dour German Ardakan. Yet it’s worth remembering that the Dubai Gold Cup is about a quarter-mile longer than the Nad al Sheba Trophy, a trip that Siskany has yet to attempt.

The added distance could be a plus for stablemate Kemari. Fourth in the Nad al Sheba Trophy, he cut back in distance for the Dubai City of Gold and was slightly outpaced in second. (But apparently Kemari is not in the mix after all.)

The companion race on the Saudi Cup program, the Red Sea Turf H. (G3), is also liable to factor as a form pointer at two metric miles. Japan’s victorious Silver Sonic is going back home for the Tenno Sho Spring (G1), but Enemy was a strong second, and Get Shirty a closing third from a nearly hopeless position. Both British shippers had run well during the Carnival before hopping over to Saudi, particularly Enemy who won a handicap in his first start since wind surgery. 

Update: A few more from the Red Sea are on the list of probables, including star stayer Subjectivist, who understandably tired in his first start back from a serious tendon injury, and disappointing favorite Trawlerman