03/28/2013 12:19PM

Dubai Duty Free: Little Mike will play catch me if you can

Barbara D. Livingston
Little Mike's speed stamps him as a dangerous threat to lead for the entire 1 1/8 miles of the $5 million Duty Free.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – When the racing people in Dubai laid out a grand vision for the Dubai World Cup meeting, a race like this year’s $5 million Duty Free could have been the blueprint. The field contains 10 Group 1 or Grade 1 winners, horses bred in nine different countries. Their major wins have come in the United States, England, France, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Dubai. There are 14 horses in the Duty Free, a turf race over about 1 1/8 miles. It should be a battle royal. Almost any of them can win.

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Past results say Little Mike should not be placed among that group of potential victors. Little Mike will be the 41st American-based horse to race in a Dubai Group 1 turf race, and his 40 predecessors lost. But Little Mike has made a career bucking expectations: He won the Grade 1 Turf Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Turf last year at double-digit odds, and he was 6-1 when he wired the Arlington Million. Fifty-year-old Gary Stevens, the comeback kid, is expected to take Little Mike to the lead. His connections think Little Mike can go all the way.

“If you try to run with him on the lead you’re not going to finish, but if you let him go three-quarters in 1:15, you’re not going to catch him,” said breeder-owner Carlo Vacarezza. “He has a lot of stamina and a lot of speed.”

A wall of capable closers will be coming in the stretch. New Zealand-based Ocean Park won the prestigious Group 1 Cox Plate last fall in Australia. The Duty Free has been his goal through a two-prep campaign this winter in New Zealand.

“This horse is pretty push-button,” said trainer Gary Hennessy. “He’s got electric speed.”

Trainer Mike de Kock has three entrants, all with a chance. Mushreq was brought to Dubai from South Africa as a prospect for all-weather racing but has thrived on turf, winning the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort. The Apache, another South African, won the Al Rashidiya and was a close second March 9 in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta. Igugu, one of three mares in the race, was supposed to be the star of the bunch, but she has turned in two disappointing performances.

“She’s kept on coming into season. It’s been every 21 days, and heavily, too,” de Kock said. “In both her starts she was in season. She is a hell of a lot better than she’s run.”

The Apache was defeated in the Jebel Hatta by Sajjhaa, a 6-year-old mare who has hit peak form this winter for Godolphin and trainer Saeed bin Suroor. She ran down The Apache with a brilliant turn of foot in deep stretch.

“The important thing is she came back from her last race and has done well,” bin Suroor said.

No horse here this winter has showed a better turf kick than Trade Storm, who has been a revelation moving from soggy going in England to firm going at Meydan. Trade Storm has looked like a monster in two recent turf wins over lesser competition, but trainer David Simcock still rates him slightly behind his Beverly D. winner I’m a Dreamer, who shipped for the Duty Free last week. French invaders Giofra and French Fifteen both are capable.

And they will all be chasing Little Mike, the American horse chasing history.