Trends for 2022 Dubai Turf, Sheema Classic, Gold Cup, Al Quoz

March 22nd, 2022

As a companion volume to the Dubai World Cup (G1) trends, here’s an analysis of the historical context for the lucrative turf events at Meydan.

Dubai Turf (G1)

Japan has been on a roll in this about nine-furlong affair, winning four of the last seven runnings of the Dubai Turf (G1) and five overall. Leading contender Schnell Meister brings tip-top form, and arriving fresh off a layoff has worked for about a third of the past winners (since 2000). Panthalassa captured the Nakayama Kinen (G2), the key Japanese prep that launched three of his compatriots to glory here. Vin de Garde was runner-up in the 2021 edition, as a relatively lesser light, underscoring how much Japan must be respected.  

Defending champion Lord North attempts to become the first two-time winner. Although the Gosden charge must overcome a deeper field this time, he does sport the productive cutback angle, shortening up from his comeback second in Lingfield’s Winter Derby (G3). Nine winners, including Lord North himself, had last raced over further.

Females have continued to do well in this race. Japan’s Almond Eye (2019) made it a total of five victorious vixens, beating predecessor Vivlos (2017) who placed the next two years. British shipper Saffron Beach represents this key demographic, as well as the fresh angle. British colt Mohaafeth also has two plus factors, as a comebacker and turning back in trip.

The only two winners of the course-and-distance prep, the Jebel Hatta (G1), to turn the double on World Cup night were distaffers Ipi Tombe (2003) and Sajjhaa (2013). That’s a knock on current Jebel Hatta hero Alfareeq, all the more so since just three of the winners would place in the Dubai Turf. Four Jebel Hatta placers have improved to take the Dubai Turf, but sixth-placer Lord Glitters needs an unprecedented turnaround. Americans have found this a difficult spot, with no winners. Yet it could be significant for Colonel Liam that Todd Pletcher’s Mshawish was third here in 2015.

Dubai Sheema Classic (G1)

Yibir is trying to become the first reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner to land Dubai’s signature contest at about 1 1/2 miles, the Sheema Classic (G1). Fantastic Light (2000) won the year prior to his Breeders’ Cup, while St Nicholas Abbey (2013) scored after he’d lost his Turf crown. Unraced since the Turf, Yibir is also following a different itinerary from trainer Charlie Appleby’s Sheema winners Hawkbill (2018) and Old Persian (2019), both of whom scored in the City of Gold (G2) on Super Saturday.

Winning the Sheema off a layoff was a strong pattern for much of the race’s history, until the past decade, when having a tightener tended to prove beneficial. As a general rule, though, it’s been worth taking a stand against that prep being the City of Gold. Aside from Appleby’s duo and Postponed (2016), all high-class operators who turned the double, none of the City of Gold winners even placed in the Sheema. That pattern tells against recent City of Gold scorer Hukum and near-misser Without a Fight.

European campaigners have dominated this event, compared to Japan’s having just three winners, the last being Gentildonna (2014). But several Japanese contenders have placed in the interim, and in three recent years, they swept the minor placings (2016, 2019, 2021).

Indeed, it took a European the caliber of Mishriff to see off Chrono Genesis and Loves Only You a year ago, and the Japanese challenge is at least as strong this time. Smart British gelding Dubai Honour would need to emulate Mishriff in another way as well, since he has yet to race over this trip. Haggas stablemate Alenquer is proven at the distance, if with a bit to find on form, and Pyledriver has already been beaten by two of the Japanese here.

Japan’s formidable team is led by Authority, Shahryar, and Glory Vase. Authority’s recent coup in the Neom Turf Cup (G3) on Saudi Cup Day was a notable signpost, since that about 1 5/16-mile trip is shorter than his ideal. Uberleben has the female factor to recommend her, although she doesn’t have quite the same cachet as the more successful distaffers.

Dubai Gold Cup (G2)

Winners of this about two-mile staying test are neatly divided between those coming off a marquee Group 1 abroad, or a local tightener in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3). Godolphin’s unbeaten Manobo blasted to a new course record in the latter, but he’s not exactly fitting the paradigm because no horse has won both. The plus is instead for placed horses in the Nad al Sheba Trophy, although runner-up East Asia likely isn’t good enough to bridge the gap, and sixth Rodrigo Diaz could be the sneaky one.

In this case, it probably wouldn’t pay to be too pedantic since the sample size is only a decade. And Cavalryman (2014) by rights ought to have turned the double (but for interference in the Gold Cup and a too-hospitable Saeed bin Suroor, who refused to contest it before the stewards).

No entrant meets the other factor of having last raced in a Group 1 elsewhere. Yet the comparable event on Saudi Cup Day, the about 1 7/8-mile Red Sea Turf H. (G3), logically should have a bearing. That hypothesis failed last year, when the trio exiting the Red Sea all regressed in the Dubai Gold Cup, but it’s premature to rule it out. It would make sense for the Red Sea to function like the Nad al Sheba Trophy, perhaps tougher to win both (a possible negative for Stay Foolish) and a useful tune-up for others (particularly fourth Baron Samedi).

Al Quoz Sprint (G1)

Since the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) was lengthened to about six furlongs in 2017, a course-and-distance prep (now named the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint [G3]) has been highly informative. France’s The Right Man (2017) went from a useful third to Al Quoz victory, while the Appleby pair of Jungle Cat (2018) and Blue Point (2019) swept both the prep and the main event. Bin Suroor’s filly Final Song (2021) captured the tune-up and missed by a head to American shipper Extravagant Kid here.

Given that preamble, the Appleby-trained Man of Promise looms large after his smashing win in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint. European shippers A Case of You (second) and Emaraaty Ana (ring-rusty 15th) exit the same Super Saturday warm-up.

At the same time, U.S. turf sprinters had been knocking on the Al Quoz door before Extravagant Kid broke through. Casa Creed enters in sharp form, following a flying second by a head in the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) on Saudi Cup Day. An about 6 3/4-furlong dash around a turn, the 1351 didn’t translate to Meydan’s straightaway last year, but other grads Happy Romance (third), Lauda Sion (fourth), and Appleby’s Naval Crown (11th after speeding too much early from the outside post) could rewrite that.

Recency has been vital in this race; only Ortensia (2012) won without a prep, perhaps significantly when it was still at about five furlongs. This stat gives pause for Appleby’s Creative Force and French filly Suesa, otherwise top threats who are opening their campaigns on Saturday.