Trends for 2022 Dubai World Cup, Golden Shaheen, Godolphin Mile, UAE Derby

March 22nd, 2022

Saturday’s Dubai World Cup (G1) extravaganza features outstanding fields, and the strength in depth across the card makes for a handicapping challenge. Looking at the contenders through the lens of race trends, and historical context, might help us tackle the eight rich Thoroughbred stakes. We’ll start with the dirt races and follow up in the next installment on the turf.

Dubai World Cup (G1)

The Dubai World Cup historically goes either to the United States or to Godolphin. The divergent themes were poetically combined into one by last year’s winner, Mystic Guide, as a Godolphin homebred trained by Mike Stidham. But the old pattern is reviving in 2022, with the Americans appearing to have the upper hand over Godolphin.

Early favorite Life Is Good is trying to make history, however, as the first World Cup winner who has never previously raced at the about 1 1/4-mile trip. Another potential problem is the rail post, which has yielded only two winners (Electrocutionist in 2006 at old Nad al Sheba and Prince Bishop in 2015 here at Meydan). He’d also be the first trained by Todd Pletcher.

But Pletcher has won on the big night before, with Coal Front in the 2019 Godolphin Mile (G2), and his runners have placed in three World Cups (Harlan’s Holiday in 2002, Magna Graduate in 2006, and Neolithic in 2017). And Life Is Good is coming off the most productive U.S. stepping stone, the Pegasus World Cup (formerly the Donn) (G1).

Hot Rod Charlie has taken a route similar to Curlin (2008) and California Chrome (2016). Shipping in early to acclimate, the Doug O’Neill trainee warmed up with a win over the track in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2). Curlin and “Chrome” used a local handicap as their February springboard. Although O’Neill has yet to win the World Cup, he’s been successful in Dubai.

Three-time winner Bob Baffert trails only Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor (nine) on the all-time World Cup list, and his Country Grammer is eligible to move forward from a comeback second in the Saudi Cup (G1). The Saudi feature could emerge as a key race ahead of the World Cup. Midnight Bourbon exits a third for Steve Asmussen (Curlin’s trainer), and both Godolphin entrants (bin Suroor’s Real World and Andre Fabre’s Magny Cours) hope to improve from subpar efforts in Saudi.

That’s exactly what Japan’s Chuwa Wizard did a year ago, turning the page on a Saudi flop to place second in the Dubai World Cup. (He didn’t even try Saudi this time, instead prepping at home.) Uruguay’s Aero Trem is another aiming to progress from Saudi this year. But the only Japanese or South American winners so far occurred during Meydan’s Tapeta era, not in any of the World Cups on dirt. A similar concern applies to European shipper Grocer Jack; the only British-based winner was Singspiel (1997), and as a Darley homebred, he could be viewed as quasi-Godolphin.

Another negative factoid involves the winner of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), in this case Hypothetical. No Round 3 winner has turned the double since 2006. Moreover, they rarely even take a minor award in the main event; only three have placed in the World Cup, two at old Nad al Sheba and the most recent in 2012 on Tapeta. Round 3 losers can fare better, especially if they’re in the Godolphin orbit, but Round 3 runner-up Remorse doesn’t fit that pattern.

Chuwa Wizard, Magny Cours, and Hypothetical — the respective second through fourth in the 2021 World Cup — do have an angle in support. Six winners in the 2009-16 time frame had been beaten in their prior attempts.

Golden Shaheen (G1)

Aside from the anomalous Tapeta era, the Golden Shaheen (G1) has been a near-monopoly for U.S. shippers. Fourteen American-based sprinters have won, and eight of them had competed in the prior fall’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Thus Dr. Schivel hits both benchmarks.

Yet the past four winners all prepped in Florida, elevating Drain the Clock’s claims. And as ill-fated Zenden proved last year, American speed can’t be overlooked even if somewhat off the beaten path, a possible parallel for Wondrwherecraigis. Strongconstitution doesn’t have the profile of successful U.S. runners. The emphasis is on current good form, not a rebound spot after being beaten over further, and he only got a last-minute call-up as a substitution.

Japan’s fine Saudi results are not translating into Golden Shaheen wins yet, and indeed, the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) form was meaningless here in 2021. But Japanese runners have placed second in the past two Shaheens, including with Red le Zele, who tries again. Still, the deeper track in Riyadh might suit them more than a Meydan surface that historically plays fast and glib on World Cup night.

It’s almost always worth opposing the winner of the Mahab al Shimaal (G3), this time Eastern World. Only Muarrab (2016) followed up his Super Saturday prep victory in the Golden Shaheen on dirt. Doubles were easier to accomplish on the old Tapeta, and none occurred at original host Nad al Sheba. Nor do other Mahab al Shimaal alums jump up here; just two moved forward to win this, both in the race’s first decade.

Godolphin Mile (G2)

Locals have traditionally enjoyed home-court advantage in the Godolphin Mile (G2). Only four Americans have whisked away the trophy (the aforementioned Coal Front being the first since 2008 invader Diamond Stripes), and the lone Japan success came with Utopia back in 2006. Those are hurdles for Asmussen’s duo of Snapper Sinclair and Bankit, and Japan’s Soliste Thunder, Bathrat Leon, and Full Flat.

The local you generally want to avoid, though, is the Burj Nahaar (G3) winner, here Desert Wisdom. Except for African Story (2012) on Tapeta, and the incredible Tamarkuz (2015), who swept all the mile events, the Super Saturday prep hero has fizzled on the big stage. Four Burj Nahaar losers have rebounded in the Godolphin Mile, making runner-up Mubakker, third Tuz, and subpar eighth Golden Goal all worth an extra look.

The role of the Saudi Cup here is yet to be determined, but as an even higher-level one-turn event, you’d expect it to carry weight. Great Scot, third in last year’s Saudi Cup, chased next-out shocker Emblem Road on Jan. 15 at their Saudi base.

Defending champion Secret Ambition is trying to join Firebreak (2003-04) as a two-time winner. Seventh in the Saudi Cup last out, the nine-year-old sports the cutback angle that’s worked in recent years. Secret Ambition did it himself in 2021, reverting from a fifth in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3. Lightly-raced stablemate Al Nefud employs a similar gambit after a second to Hot Rod Charlie in Round 2.

Fittingly for a race with Godolphin in the name, bin Suroor has trained six winners, although none for a decade. Storm Damage has been a revelation this Carnival, but on turf, and he’d be an unprecedented winner in his dirt debut. (The same caveat goes for British shipper Pogo.) Stablemate Dubai Icon at least has dirt experience and cuts back from an 11th in Round 3.

UAE Derby (G2)

Godolphin remains a force, but the UAE Derby (G2) has become much more wide-open with winners representing Japan, Europe, and the United States in the past 10 years. Therefore, the preps of choice are all over the map as well. On Saturday, Gilded Age’s third in the Withers (G3) might turn out to be the key formline.

The Saudi Derby (G3) has produced a winner in its very first opportunity, when Godolphin’s Rebel’s Romance improved from a fourth in Riyadh to dominate at Meydan. He comprehensively reversed form with a couple who had beaten him in Saudi, a result that could be echoed here as current Saudi Derby hero Pinehurst gets a rematch with near-misser Sekifu, sixth Kiefer, and eighth Island Falcon (representing eight-time UAE Derby winner bin Suroor).

Japan’s victorious Lani (2016) was exiting a Hyacinth loss, which gives encouragement to the two using that Tokyo stakes — winner Combustion and sixth Crown Pride.

The local sophomore division has not been compelling. Azure Coast stayed undefeated in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), but that first classic doesn’t have its former luster. And the second UAE jewel, the Al Bastakiya, has only yielded UAE Derby winners for Mike de Kock. That’s a concern for Al Bastakiya trifecta Quality Boone, Withering, and Bendoog (although he has loads of upside), and sixth Get Back Goldie.

No filly has won aside from 2011 UAE Oaks (G3) victress Khawlah, meaning that current Oaks runner-up Arabian Gazelles has a tall order, especially as a maiden. Argentine import Irwin has a different historical obstacle, since all the Southern Hemisphere-bred winners had already raced at the Carnival.

Turf races follow in Volume II.