03/27/2014 4:19PM

Dubai: Duty Free, Sheema Classic come up strong

Andrew Watkins
Beverly D. winner Dank may not be at her absolute best this early in the racing season.

At $5 million each, the Dubai Duty Free and the Sheema Classic are half as lucrative as the Dubai World Cup, but both races – the Duty Free in particular – drew fields every bit as strong and deep as the main event Saturday night in Dubai.

The Duty Free, at about 1 1/8 miles on turf, boasts the strongest field in the race’s 14-year history. Among the 13 entrants are two mares familiar to American racing fans: Dank won the Beverly D. and the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf last year, while The Fugue finished second as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Yet neither Dank nor The Fugue looks anything like a standout in the Duty Free, won by the mare Sajjhaa last year. England-based The Fugue, thought until last week to have the World Cup as her target, clearly travels well and has the requisite class, but the Duty Free distance is shorter than her preferred trip.

Dank’s two best races came on American courses not entirely dissimilar to Meydan’s, but there’s no Lasix for Dank in the Duty Free, and trainer Michael Stoute told the Racing Post that the race “is probably a little early in the year for her.”

The leading Dubai-based runner is Vercingetorix, who is unbeaten after six starts and a two-time winner at Meydan, but Vercingetorix faces the strongest competition he’s encountered.

“We basically do not know how good he is or how much more he can improve,” trainer Mike de Kock said. “He is a lazy horse at home and on the track he wins his races with the minimum effort.”

[Dubai World Cup: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

None of the three Japanese entrants – Tokei Halo, Logotype, and Just A Way – are overmatched, but Just A Way is the best of the trio. He beat Gentildonna, a major player in the Sheema Classic, by four lengths in the Tenno Sho last fall, and was similarly sharp winning his March 2 prep in Japan.

Sheema: Gentildonna has seen it all before

Gentildonna could not match St Nicholas Abbey’s homestretch strides and settled for second in the 2013 Sheema Classic, but this year Gentildonna has an excellent chance to win the 1 1/2-mile grass race in her second trip to Dubai.

“This is her second time here, so she looked more relaxed and settled,” trainer Sei Ishikaza said. “I think she is in better form and will show better performance.”

Gentildonna came into last year’s Sheema after a four-month break, but she got in a Feb. 16 race this time, finishing sixth in a performance that should be seen as a good prep for Saturday’s main event.

Another Japanese filly, Denim and Ruby, ranks as one of her main rivals. Gentildonna beat Denim and Ruby by a nose in the Japan Cup last fall, and Denim and Ruby gets the same four-pound break in the weights Saturday as she did that race.

Cirrus des Aigles, the amazing French 8-year-old gelding, didn’t travel to Dubai last year but won the Sheema by a neck over St Nicholas Abbey in 2012, prepping in the same synthetic-surface race at Chantilly that he used again this winter.

“He has been at his best for three years, and who knows, he now may be even better,” trainer Corine Barande-Barbe said.

Cirrus des Aigles breaks from post 15, one stall outside capable Hong Kong invader Dominant, but wide draws don’t doom a horse at this distance on Meydan turf. Better drawn is Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician, who relished left-handed, firm-turf racing at Santa Anita but might not get conditions quite as ideal Saturday. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has supplied Magician with a pacemaker named Festive Cheer.

The American horse Twilight Eclipse would need by far the best performance of his career to make an impression in this field.

Three repeat possibilities

The horses that won the Al Quoz Sprint, the Dubai Gold Cup, and the Godolphin Mile in 2013 could all repeat Saturday night.

Shea Shea, the Al Quoz sprint winner, looks like the card’s most formidable favorite, and his draw on the outside of a 12-horse field puts Shea Shea in a great spot to get to his preferred position on the stand’s side fence. Hong Kong rocket Amber Sky might be the danger.

De Kock trains both Shea Shea and 2013 Godolphin Mile winner Soft Falling Rain, who should improve on his eighth-place finish in a March 8 Meydan sprint. “He was badly in need of his sprint outing on Super Saturday,” de Kock said.

Godolphin’s Cavalryman romped in the two-mile Gold Cup last year, and was similarly dominant in his local prep for the race this season. And there’s a strong chance the UAE Derby, as has been the case in all four editions at Meydan, will fall either to a Coolmore horse from Ireland or a locally based Godolphin runner. Long John is the Godolphin hope, while Aidan O’Brien will try for his second straight win in the Derby with Giovanni Boldini, runner-up in the BC Juvenile Turf. The UAE Derby is a 170-point qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby, with the first four finishers earning points on a 100-40-20-10 basis.

Richard Mauntah More than 1 year ago
So why, in my edition of the DRF, do we have the PPs for the Dubai World Cup and NOT the undercard?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was so ticked off at that. That was the first thing I was looking for. They cover it every year but not this. yet they will gladly sell you it as a download from DRF separately causing you to pay even more. If you look you can find it for free elsewhere. I did. Although the way the rest of the world reports their past performances is infuriating. No post positions, finished 4th. Sat on rail mid pack finished strong to be 6 lengths out. Eeeeeeeeee yikes.. not missing much
Marvin Friedman More than 1 year ago
Anybody know if tvg is carrying the card?
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Dank should smokem!
Kathy Loppnow More than 1 year ago
I agree!
Rob Yetman More than 1 year ago
Aidan O'Brien is going for his third straight win in the UAE Derby. 2012- Daddy Long Legs 2013- Lines of Battle
KellyCurlin4989 More than 1 year ago
There are four repeat chances Reynaldothewizard won the Golden Shaeen(sp?) last year.
DRFHersh More than 1 year ago
Indeed, the wording was poor. I see Reynaldothewizard as having a far poorer chance (nearly random - like the entire Golden Shaheen) than the other three possible repeaters, and should have made that point clearer.
KellyCurlin4989 More than 1 year ago
Not to play devils advocate but soft falling rain and Reynaldothewizard ran in the same race on super Saturday and rtw ran second ahead of sfr also in rtw first race of the carnival he go pinched badly if I remember correctly and lost all shot this golden shaheen is wide open but I wouldn't count him out
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
To my knowledge Twighlight Eclipse still holds the world's record for 1 1/2 on turf. As well as riding a two race win streak into The Sheema. Also no American trainer has the knowledge of Dubai as Tom Albertrani having spent years there. Maybe he faces his stiffest competition yet, but by no means should you discount TE.
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
Seen far better US horses fail on turf in Dubai than TE. He won't crack the top 10.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
horses don't break track records...tracks break track records... That being said was this track record at GP. Yes. This track gets freaky fast at times. Today I saw a 16k claimer go to the front in 22.1 / 44.41 / 108.30 and still win in 127.29. Take those records with a grain of salt. better off looking at the speed ratings.
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Dont forget the run up. His race time doesnt start till 100 feet from the gate. European timing starts when the gates open.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Irrelevant. Apples and oranges. We are talking about Twilight Eclipse breaking the GP track record at GP. Donkey are breaking track records at GP. Breaking the track record at one track has noting to do with run ups at another track. Not saying Twilight Eclipse can't win either. Just saying his track record is over rated. got it?
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
No...World record on turf.. TURF. not the concrete highway.
Helene Beides More than 1 year ago
Twilight Eclipse gets the services of Jose Lezcano,who has won on him both times he rode him this year. Comes into the race in great form and should be a contender in this edition of The Sheema.
Elijah Allison More than 1 year ago
I kinda liked twilight here, hope he wins and blows everyone the finger
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
If he wins I'll give myself the finger. Has zero chance to win.