2019 Dubai World Cup: Will This Be the Pace Setup?

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The ensuing proverbial chess match meets the absolute apex of horseracing excitement. While multiple storylines exist—as they often do in a complex renewal of any world-class race—one that shines in this year’s edition is that of the luckless and much-loved North America, a truly local product and hero trained at Zabeel Stables by Satish Seemar.

Big in size and style, the front-running 7-year-old bay son of Dubawi who failed to break in last year’s event—losing all chance as one of the favourites—has returned with a vengeance in 2019, winning both his starts on the local dirt in emphatic style. On Wednesday, in the official post position draw, he landed in barrier three among the 13 set to contest the 2000m affair. Jockey Richard Mullen will team up with Ramzan Kadyrov’s imposing gelding for a 12th time, hoping for an eighth victory.

“Given we both break on terms, it looks the pace will be between my horse North America and Capezzano,” Mullen said. “I think North America has more natural speed than Capezzano, so I hope that will leave us in front to dictate and use the huge stride pattern he has once we get into the back straight. I am happier with him being drawn outside Capezzano. If it was the other way around, he would be able pressure us, but we might have that advantage now. Thunder Snow will probably be up close, as he has shown in the past from wide draws. I think Axelrod is another that could be racing prominently.”

Salem bin Ghadayer makes a splash back in action with a trio of entries in the world’s richest race, topped by Sultan Ali’s aforementioned Capezzano, a progressive type who has manhandled his foes by a combined 25¾ lengths in his last three tries, all wins, including a 9½-length drubbing of defending Dubai World Cup champion Thunder Snow in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3. The mount of Mickael Barzalona upped the intrigue when landing in barrier two, as he very much has the same forwardly inclined modus operandi as market favourite North America.

Bin Ghadayer’s other two are Grade 1-placed American imports bearing the banner of Phoenix Thoroughbreds and partners, Gronkowski and Axelrod. The pair landed adjacently in posts seven and eight, with Oisin Murphy and Royston Ffrench set to take the respective reins of two horses who failed to factor in their Super Saturday preps.

Godolphin’s popular Thunder Snow is certainly the standard in the race as he bids to become the first two-time winner one year after becoming the first UAE Derby (G2) victor to pull off the double. Without a win since his tour-de-force last year, the Saeed bin Suroor trainee has accounted well for himself, including a second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)—both over 2000m on dirt. Christophe Soumillon will once again have to work out a trip from a wide post, as he did when breaking from 10-of-10 in 2018 and 13-of-16 in the 2017 UAE Derby, when he jumps from barrier 12.

Bookending Thunder Snow in second and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic were Salomon del Valle’s Gunnevera and WinStar Farm, China Horse Club et al.’s Yoshida, who bring ample class into a deep field. Five-time Grade 1-placed Gunnevera hopes to finally break through at the top level when he is ridden by Emisael Jaramillo from the rail. The deep closer was last seen disappointing in sixth in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) on Jan. 26—a race in which fellow entrants, Charles Fipke’s Seeking the Soul and WinStar Farm, China Horse Club et al.’s Audible, finished second and fifth. The Pegasus, in its current and previous form as the Donn Handicap (G1), has produced no less than five Dubai World Cup winners, including Bill Mott-trained inaugural victor Cigar.

Mott seeks a second win when he returns with his first runner in the big race since Lea (third in 2015) when he saddles multi-surface Grade 1 winner Yoshida. A decisive winner of the Woodward (G1) last September in his dirt bow over Seeking the Soul and Gunnevera, he exits the worst effort of his life when finishing sixth in the turf equivalent of the Pegasus over soft ground. A five-time winner from 13 starts, he and Todd Pletcher-trained Grade 1 winner Audible are owned in part by WinStar, whose Well Armed brought the curtain down on Nad Al Sheba in a 2009 Dubai World Cup romp. Jose Ortiz rides Yoshida from post 10, while Audible, who must improve to factor, landed in the four for jockey Flavien Prat.

Seeking the Soul is Fipke and trainer Dallas Stewart’s second runner in the race after Forever Unbridled’s fifth last year after a wide trip. The dark bay homebred has been impressive in morning track work, but must prove his effectiveness over the 2000m trip, as well as at this level of competition, when Mike Smith takes the reins from a plum draw in five. Finishing a short head in front of Forever Unbridled in 2018 and returning again is Reddam Racing’s Pavel, who breaks from post six under Joel Rosario for trainer Doug O’Neill. Interestingly, he adds blinkers after having breezed in them earlier in the week.

Japan’s K T Brave, a flashy chestnut with a big blaze, appears to have shipped well and was a good third two back in the Tokyo Daishoten (G1), finishing 1½ lengths behind Dubai World Cup alumnus Gold Dream. He must improve to factor here for trainer Haruki Sugiyama and owner Kazuyoshi Takimoto. The same can be said for another Asia-based chestnut, South Korea’s Dolkong, who was a romping winner of the Curlin Handicap on Feb. 28, but could only manage third last out in Round 3, nearly pipping Thunder Snow. The Simon Foster trainee is owned by Lee Tae In and breaks from the outside post 13 under Olivier Doleuze.

Rounding out the field is a horse many, including trainer Ahmad bin Harmash, believe is one to watch for the 2020 Dubai World Cup—as well as a serious factor in 2019—Hamdan Sultan Ali Alsabousi’s New Trails. The regally bred son of Medaglia d’Oro has raced five times this season and risen from the handicap ranks to Group 2-placed when second to North America in Round 2. Fourth in Round 3, he was 1¼ lengths shy of becoming the 13th horse in this field to have won or placed in G1 company. Connor Beasley rides from barrier nine.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 15-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the NHC Tour for 2018 with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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