Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Country Grammer, Powerful Japanese Squad In Dubai Field

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Country Grammer  tops the likely fields announced March 13 for Dubai World Cup (G1) night at Meydan Racecourse but to repeat in the World Cup he will have to defeat a field that includes an eight-deep squad of impressive Japanese runners.

Japanese horses, in fact, are prominent through much of the $30.5 million program March 25, which also includes entries literally from around the globe

“We are very excited about the strength of the fields for the 2023 Dubai World Cup meeting,” said Major General Dr. Mohammed Essa Al Adhab, general manager of the Dubai Racing Club. “We have horses arriving from 12 different countries and it is especially fantastic to welcome back runners from Hong Kong and Australia after a break of a few years.”

Country Grammer, a 6-year-old son of Tonalist   racing for Commonwealth Thoroughbreds, WinStar Farm, and Zedan Racing Stables, seeks to become just the second repeat winner of the Dubai World Cup after Thunder Snow  in 2018-19. The Bob Baffert trainee comes off a second-place finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup, just missing to Japan’s Panthalassa , whose name also appears on the likely runners list.

Despite Panthalassa’s Saudi triumph, other Japanese stars seem more likely to shine on World Cup night. The team includes 2022 U.A.E. Derby winner Crown Pride , Café Pharoah, T O Keynes , Geoglyph, Jun Light Bolt, and Vela Azul, a heady mix of turf runners and dirt specialists.

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The 2022 Saudi Cup winner, Emblem Road, is listed as a likely Cup starter along with locals Salute The Soldier , Bendoog , and Remorse . Algiers , down as representing England, was the most impressive World Cup contender throughout the Dubai World Cup Carnival.

The $1.5 million U.A.E. Derby (G2) is a fascinating mix, including three of the current top placings on the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard and the No. 1 on the “European Road to the Kentucky Derby.” Trainer Doug O’Neill is represented by Tall Boy , winner of the U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas (G3) in his last start, and owner-breeder Charles Fipke fields Shirl’s Bee , who finished second in that race. Bob Baffert sends Worcester , last seen finishing third in the all-Baffert Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3).

Japan has four 3-year-olds in the likely field. All are early nominees to the U.S. Triple Crown and all should be taken seriously as Kentucky Derby candidates.

Cairo , trained by Aidan O’Brien for the Coolmore Partners, tops the “European Road” standings. While he is bred turf and holds entries for the English and Irish Classics, O’Brien has a history in this space. In 2018 he trained Mendelssohn   to win the Patton Stakes, part of the initial “European Road.” He went on to win the U.A.E. Derby only to find the Run for Roses a bit too rough, finishing last of 20.

Photo: Katsumi Saito

Equinox wins the 2022 Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse

The $6 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) at 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) on the turf, has perhaps the best of all the Japanese in Equinox, winner of the Arima Kinen (G1) and defending champion Shahryar . Hong Kong sends two, Senor Toba and Russian Emperor , with Irish Derby (G1) winner Westover  among the UK entries.

Lord North  seeks a historic three-peat in the $5 million Dubai Turf (G1) at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles). He won the race outright in 2021 and dead-heated with Panthalassa last year. Here, too, Japan will stand in the way with the likes of Do Deuce and Vin de Garde , the latter already twice placed in the race. Fipke is in this, too, with Shirl’s Speight , back on a familiar surface after a quixotic tilt at the February Stakes (G1) on the Tokyo Racecourse dirt, where he finished ninth.

Gunite, Riyadh Dirt Sprint, Trackwork, King Abdulaziz Racetrack, Saudi Cup Feb 23, 2023, Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, Mathea Kelley
Photo: Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Mathea Kelley

Gunite at King Abdulaziz Racetrack

Gunite , trained by Steve Asmussen, enters the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) at 1,200 meters on dirt, off a second in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) behind Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Elite Power , who does not reappear. C Z Rocket , second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, is in the expected field along with fellow American trainees Sibelius  and Super Ocho . Again, Japan looms large with four expected to compete, including Lemon Pop  and Red Le Zele , and defending champion Switzerland  seeks the repeat.

Bathrat Leon  won the $1 million Godolphin Mile (G2) on the dirt last year, didn’t fare so well in four subsequent starts in Europe and back home, but then jumped up to win the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) in Riyadh last month and now switches surfaces again in search of back-to-back wins.

The $1.5 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1) is run at 1,200 meters on turf and has a diverse group, including two from Hong Kong but none from Japan. Brendan Walsh brings Cazadero . The $1 million Dubai Gold Cup (G2) is contested at 2 miles on the green course and has runners from France, Germany, and Ireland but none from Japan or the United States.

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