02/15/2010 12:00AM

Closing speed key in Dubai


The early returns from the synthetic Tapeta surface at Dubai's new Meydan racecourse indicate that it is, as expected, running very much like a turf course. Of 25 races run on the synthetic surface in the four Meydan meetings since the track opened on Jan. 28, two have been won on the front end; three by horses who pressed the pace or tracked the leader; six by horses who were tracking in third, fourth, or fifth; 11 who came from midpack - in each case in a field of at least 11 - while three came from at or near the back of the pack in big fields.

One of the wire-to-wire winners was Barbecue Eddie. He won a seven-furlong allowance to record his first victory since leading throughout on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track going the same distance on June 28, 2008. The other wire-to-wire score was in a 1 1/4-mile handicap when Whispering Gallery stole away on a slow pace under a typically heady ride by Frankie Dettori. One of the close-up trackers was Allybar, who tracked a slow pace in second to take a 1 1/4-mile handicap in a three-runner race in which the heavy favorite Presvis was given an ill-advised ride from well behind by Kieren Fallon.

A majority of the 14 winning closers took the lead between the eighth pole and the three-sixteenths pole and soon had their races sewn up. Only two of them got up near the line.

These early results are a departure from the old Nad Al Sheba dirt track, where it was rather difficult to come from behind. Well Armed won his Dubai World Cup last year by an improbable 14 lengths leading throughout. Curlin took his World Cup after having tracked the pace of eventual fifth-place finisher Imperialista in a fashion similar to which he had previously won a handicap over the World Cup course and distance. Invasor came from fourth in his World Cup off a fast pace. In fact, only Electrocutionist in 2006, Singspiel in 1997, and Cigar in 1996 came from farther back than fourth to win their World Cups, and none of them was ever worse than fifth or sixth. It also must be noted that Singspiel and Cigar were running on a Nad Al Sheba strip that was a bit more conducive to closers before it was changed to a surface meant to emulate the dirt track at Churchill Downs.

So the idea at Meydan would appear to be to look for horses who have closing speed, especially since the times of races there were markedly faster in the fourth and most recent meeting on Feb. 11. Trainers thinking of sending a horse to Meydan for the March 27 Dubai World Cup might have difficulty winning the world's richest race with a pacesetter or a horse with close-up tracking speed.

The early results on the Meydan turf course, on which only six races have been run to date, tell a similar, if less conclusive, tale. One of them went to a pacesetter, two to trackers, and three to closers who were never worse than sixth or seventh. Times have been quite slow on the newly laid grass at Meydan, where they are running few races to preserve the course for the big contests on World Cup preview night, March 4, and World Cup Night itself. The fastest of two one-mile races went in 1:37.25, the fastest of two 1 1/8-mile races was 1:51.74. All of the turf races thus far have been run on a course labeled good to firm.