Top selections and longshots for 2023 Dubai World Cup gala

March 24th, 2023

While a few short-priced favorites might be good things on Saturday, there’s a superabundance of options across the Dubai World Cup (G1) card.

Let’s highlight potential value, and longshots of interest, along with some more obvious top selections for the eight Thoroughbred prizes at Meydan.

Godolphin Mile (G2) – Race 2 (8:05 a.m. ET)

Top selection: #14 Win Carnelian (8-1) has a resume at least as appealing as what fellow Japanese #2 Bathrat Leon (3-1) brought here a year ago, if admittedly with the same dirt question. Still, his pedigree and forward running style suggest that Win Carnelian can transfer his game as effectively. Note that trainer Yuichi Shikato also had his sire Screen Hero, who won on dirt before developing into a turf star with maturity.

Win Carnelian hinted of his class when fourth to Japan’s Triple Crown winner Contrail in the first jewel, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1), in 2020. He arrives at Meydan having won four of his last five, and his Group 3 tallies give him some pretty smart collateral form.

Doug Watson’s recruit #8 Isolate (5-1) steps up to a metric mile for the first time since his juvenile days stateside, and he could leverage his inside speed with Tyler Gaffalione. Isolate ran away with last summer’s Tale of the Cat S. at Saratoga going seven furlongs, for the same rider, and he’s tuned up with fine seconds in both sprint starts at the Carnival. Stablemate #11 Prince Eiji (8-1) won’t win any awards for consistency, but on his day, he’s probably the best of the local establishment. The otherwise logical #4 Discovery Island (8-1) has to defy the stats against last-out Burj Nahaar (G3) winners turning the double. If the maestro Andre Fabre has a more convincing chance later on the card, #5 Egot (12-1) has the class to factor if handling the dirt – and he’s Godolphin’s sole runner in their namesake event.

Dubai Gold Cup (G2) – Race 3 (8:40 a.m. ET)

Top selection: #7 Quickthorn (12-1) could have drawn better than post 12, but the price is too enticing for a class act ideally suited by these conditions. Nearly perfect at about two miles when he gets quick ground, the Hughie Morrison trainee delivered a 14-length tour de force in last summer’s Lonsdale Cup (G2) at York. While the son of Nathaniel didn’t get that canvas in his final outings of 2022, Meydan figures to suit him to a tee. He historically runs well fresh, and as long as Oisin Murphy avoids a pace war with #10 Subjectivist (7-1), Quickthorn should be there at the finish.

Godolphin also has value on offer, with Ebor H. hero #11 Trawlerman (20-1) entitled to fare better than he did in the Red Sea Turf H. (G3) (where he was disadvantaged at the weights), and #6 Passion and Glory (15-1), a sneaky fifth in last year’s edition but in much sharper form now for Saeed bin Suroor. They’re more attractive betting propositions than their Charlie Appleby colleague, #9 Siskany (5-2), who is questionable in his first stab at this distance. Siskany arguably has stronger place than win claims. Ballydoyle veteran #2 Broome (12-1) has far too distinguished a resume to be left out, especially at these odds, even if this is a scouting expedition in the staying ranks. Of the four-year-olds who get help at the weights, #15 Giavellotto (20-1) has a stealthy look as the promoted third in the St Leger (G1).

Al Quoz Sprint (G1) – Race 4 (9:15 a.m. ET)

Top selection: #11 Sight Success (5-1) has been holding his own among world-class Hong Kong sprinters, so on pure form, he is entitled to win for astute trainer John Size. The slight scruple is that he won’t be whizzing about six furlongs around a turn as he does at Sha Tin. Sight Success is proven down a straightaway, but over a furlong shorter. With this being an easy six, not the stiffer courses as in Europe, I’ll stick with Sight Success. He’s favorably drawn with Ryan Moore.

#15 Ladies Church (12-1) could be a sleeper, given her collateral form from Ireland as well as her terrific second in her Meydan prep. In last summer’s Sapphire (G2) at the Curragh, the Johnny Murtagh filly upset Mooneista (who was coming off a fourth to Nature Strip at Royal Ascot). Like Sight Success, #12 The Astrologist (20-1) is dropping from a much tougher sprint scene. While the Zoustar gelding is a bit further down the Australian pecking order, he hasn’t been beaten far in Flemington Group 1s in similar conditions. #1 Al Suhail (9-2), a Carnival standout at about seven furlongs, makes a surprise cutback for Appleby. Not the easiest of customers, he’s nevertheless dangerous if he adapts. #16 Al Dasim (5-2) is prohibitively short for a sophomore taking on older horses at this level, even if he did dispatch in-form #7 Miqyaas (20-1) in the historically informative prep.

UAE Derby (G2) – Race 5 (9:50 a.m. ET)

Top selection: #3 Cairo (5-2) will be an awful price, and perhaps I’m going against my better judgment with an Aidan O’Brien underlay trying dirt. But Cairo’s been on my radar since his debut. Indeed, I thought he might have been last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner, had he taken up his pre-entry at Keeneland. Now he’s using the same path as O’Brien’s 2018 UAE Derby romper Mendelssohn, albeit without the same unambiguously dirt-oriented pedigree. By Quality Road and out of a Galileo blueblood, Cairo has the tactical speed to secure good position, and his class can carry him from there.

In another long-held opinion, Japan’s #4 Continuar (15-1) strikes me as a very intriguing longshot. Trained by Breeders’ Cup-winning Yoshito Yahagi, Continuar looked potentially special before disappointing in fifth in the Saudi Derby (G3). I’m not sure he was in love with that surface, and the all-out slugfest unfolding up front didn’t help as he chased and flattened late. With a more typical race shape, and stretching out to about 1 3/16 miles, we might see the real Continuar, whom Yahagi praised last fall as the best of the Japanese crop on dirt. Compatriots #5 Derma Sotogake (10-1) and #6 Dura Erede (6-1) have rights to be in the mix, while Bob Baffert’s #13 Worcester (5-1) makes a lot of sense, with fine Southern California form. Of the locals, #10 Mr Raj (20-1) has perhaps the most reason to move forward here.

Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) – Race 6 (10:25 a.m. ET)

Top selection: #2 Gunite (5-2) isn’t a creative pick, but he brings stellar form behind champion Elite Power, a likelihood of relishing Meydan’s dirt more than Saudi, and the ability to monitor the inside pace scrum from his outside draw. His ability to stay beyond six furlongs is another plus, since this shapes up as an extremely demanding sprint. The other American with a placing to Elite Power, #1 C Z Rocket (10-1), looms large if he can duplicate that Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) effort. That’s the question for the nine-year-old who needs to step up markedly from his Oaklawn reappearance.

#3 Hopkins (10-1) won the Palos Verdes (G3) that has launched a few past Shaheen winners, including Baffert’s Secret Circle. From post 5, he might be the nearest pace factor who can withstand the crucible, despite being short on experience. #7 Red Le Zele (12-1), who rallied for second in this race for the past two years, could find the third time’s the charm. It’s significant that the Japanese closer turned in his best-ever tune-up for Dubai, a runner-up effort to Godolphin’s #5 Lemon Pop (4-1), in the February (G1) over a metric mile. Lemon Pop’s ability versus sprint specialists will be tested here on the cutback, but he figures to work out the right trip. Defending champion #13 Switzerland (5-1) remains the best of the locals, but for a totally outside-the-box idea, #6 Mouheeb (30-1) offers a few angles – back class over further, a progressive profile in sprints, a quietly useful prep, blinkers on, and James Doyle.

Dubai Turf (G1) – Race 7 (11:10 a.m. ET)

Top selection: #2 Danon Beluga (15-1) has been competing honorably against some of the biggest names in Japanese racing, and shortening up is probably just what he needs to break through. In his only prior attempt at this about nine-furlong distance, he rather handily beat Geoglyph in a 2022 classic trial. Danon Beluga has been thereabouts over further, finishing fourth in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown (to Geoglyph and #13 Do Deuce [scratched], respectively), third to Equinox and Panthalassa in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1), and fifth to Vela Azul and Shahryar in the Japan Cup (G1).

Trained by Noriyuki Hori, who has counted the smashing Maurice among his globetrotting stars, and with Joao Moreira at the helm, Danon Beluga has serious upset potential. His price is out of line vis-à-vis logical compatriot #12 Serifos (4-1), who is racing beyond a mile for the first time.

Another liable to be overlooked is #6 Junko (15-1), whose collateral French form last season ties in closely with such marquee events as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) and Champion (G1). The Fabre pupil warmed up with an effortless score on the Chantilly Polytrack, reminiscent of another Wertheimer homebred – 2015 Dubai Turf star Solow. Godolphin has a formidable trio here, any one of whom can win, but #11 Real World (8-1) could be the one in these circumstances. Bin Suroor forecast plenty of improvement from his forgettable comeback, and if anywhere near his gallant seconds to Baaeed last term, Real World would be a prime threat. Appleby’s #8 Master of the Seas (10-1) is capable but needs things to fall into place. Two-time defending champion #7 Lord North (6-1) arrives in sparkling form, although he’ll need to be better than ever to turn the historic three-peat.

Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) – Race 8 (12 p.m. ET)

Top selection: #7 Equinox (6-5), the highest-rated performer anywhere on the World Cup card, will be difficult to beat in top form. Japan’s Horse of the Year dismissed a scruple about his readiness with an impressive spin at Meydan, suggesting that he might produce something redolent of his Arima Kinen (G1). Equinox was still developing when beaten narrowly in the first two classics of 2022, and like his sire Kitasan Black, he blossomed by the fall.

The best upset candidate is arguably #8 Westover (6-1). The imperious winner of the Irish Derby (G1) after a troubled third at Epsom, the Juddmonte homebred was last seen finishing sixth in the Arc. Back on better ground here, Westover is eligible to fire off the bench for Ralph Beckett. Appleby named #3 Rebel’s Romance (6-1) as his horse to look forward to on World Cup night, but coming straight here without a prep wasn’t the plan. Defending champ #6 Shahryar (8-1) and in-form #2 Mostahdaf (9-2) are others with obvious appeal, but #4 Russian Emperor (20-1) has a live longshot vibe, especially for the exotics. Once a Royal Ascot winner for Ballydoyle, and a 6-1 shot in the 2020 Derby (G1), he’s continued his career in Hong Kong, where he finds himself up against Golden Sixty and Romantic Warrior at trips short of his best. The Sheema gives him a rare opportunity at possibly his optimal distance.

Dubai World Cup (G1) – Race 9 (12:35 p.m. ET)

Top selection: #1 Algiers (3-1) can deliver the coup de grace before #4 Country Grammer (2-1) gets fully galvanized. Post 13 isn’t a hindrance, judging by how Algiers circumnavigated from wide draws in his spectacular Al Maktoum Challenge victories during the Carnival. Nor should the added distance be a concern, given how the Simon and Ed Crisford trainee has ripped his races apart. Indeed, when bolting up in the about 1 3/16-mile Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), Algiers clocked 1:56.08 – just off Mendelssohn’s track record of 1:55.18. A strong pace could even help him settle instead of pulling Doyle’s arms out of their sockets.

The bigger conundrum is how to separate the eight-strong Japanese contingent, and I’m inclined to focus on the two from the Kawasaki Kinen. Although #13 T O Keynes (12-1) was foiled by #14 Ushba Tesoro (10-1), he had the wider trip into the lane, while Ushba Tesoro capitalized on a ground-saving passage. But more decisively, T O Keynes’s best form stacks up particularly well in the World Cup. In the 2021 Champions Cup (G1), T O Keynes dominated Chuwa Wizard, twice a World Cup place-getter. In last November’s JBC Classic, T O Keynes surged past #5 Crown Pride (15-1). He didn’t duplicate that in his Dec. 4 Champions Cup title defense – between a lackadaisical start, wide trip from post 12, and steady pace – but T O Keynes wasn’t disgraced in fourth to #8 Jun Light Bolt (20-1) and Crown Pride.

Free-wheeling #9 Panthalassa (7-1) is sure to turn this into a searing stamina test, especially having to gun it from post 15, and that might not suit all of his compatriots tagging along from the Saudi Cup (G1). I can envision him tiring in the stretch, a la Life Is Good here a year ago, and the stronger stayers among the Japanese overtaking him. That could even bring #15 Vela Azul (10-1) into it as the Japan Cup (G1) winner, although he has a lot to prove based on his ordinary dirt form before his turf renaissance.

#7 Geoglyph (15-1) was my great Saudi Cup hope, and he ran well until weakening to fourth in the shadow of the wire. Chasing Panthalassa took its toll on a colt who prefers more cover as a stalker, and a different set-up would help Geoglyph here. The locals who have been drubbed by Algiers are up against it, but it wouldn’t be a shock if #10 Remorse (60-1) crashes the superfecta.