03/21/2011 4:15PM

Dubai World Cup card presents handicapping challenge

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Champ Pegasus will be among the prime contenders in Saturday’s Dubai Sheema Classic.

Deep fields and a number of principals trying to win multi-million dollar races off long layoffs at Meydan on Saturday night will make for a number of intriguing betting contests on the Dubai World Cup card.

Dubai World Cup

Perhaps most interesting of all will be whether horses like Gio Ponti, Cape Blanco, and Buena Vista, all practiced on turf, can handle the switch to Tapeta while at the same time trying to win the World Cup off a winter vacation.

Only Singspiel in 1997 has managed to win the World Cup off a layoff, but he was trained by Michael Stoute, who is probably the best in the world at getting horses to win big races off a lengthy absence. On the face of it, it might be wise to eliminate all three of those horses from consideration, at least from winning the world’s richest race.

The withdrawal of Bold Silvano from the World Cup on Monday due to a muscle pull reinforces Twice Over’s favoritism. The Henry Cecil trainee looked sharp taking Round 3 of the Group 2 Maktoum Challenge over the World Cup distance and will be better for that effort. Gitano Hernando turned in an improved effort to be third that night but he is beginning to look like one who cannot win at the top level, and the World Cup will be tougher than Round 3.

DUBAI RACING CARNIVAL: Past performances, race analysis, and results

The Nick Zito-trained Fly Down stands less of a chance than Gio Ponti off his so-so fifth in the Donn Handicap. Having lost Bold Silvano, Mike de Kock will have Musir and possibly Golden Sword in the race, but at this stage Twice Over looks like a solid favorite, except for one horse.
That is Japanese invader Victoire Pisa. The Japanese 2-year-old champion in 2009, he won the 1 1/4-mile Japanese 2000 Guineas at 3, beat Buena Vista by a nose in the 1 9/16-mile, Grade 1 Arima Kinen in December, and then prepped with a sharp 2 1/2-length score in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen on Feb.  27. While this will be his first start on a synthetic surface, Victoire Pisa is in the best form of his life. Keep in mind that switching from turf to synthetic is a much simpler move than switching from dirt to synthetic, which is the task facing both Fly Down and two-time Japanese Grade 1 dirt winner Transcend.

Dubai Duty Free

The Eoin Harty-trained Victor’s Cry would be a big surprise in this 1 1/8-mile turf contest, coming off a ho-hum third in the Grade  3 Thunder Bay Handicap at Santa Anita. This always rich and deep field of 16 includes last year’s runner-up Bankable, who prepped with a sharp score going six furlongs on Tapeta in the Grade 3 Mahab Al Shimaal. The slow-starting Presvis must work out a trip from wherever he breaks and cannot be relied upon in such a large field. Wigmore Hall, second to Paddy O’Prado in Arlington’s Secretriat Stakes in August, looks like an improving type off his win in the Grade 2 Jebel Hatta on March 3 that came off a 4 1/2-month absence. Godolphin’s Mendip is a two-time Grade 3 winner going a mile on Tapeta here this winter but had to struggle to take the Burj Nahar last time by a neck from horses not as good as the ones he’ll face in the Duty Free. River Jetez is a course and distance winner versus females, but in a wide-open affair, Bankable might just prove to be a reliable lukewarm favorite over Wigmore Hall.

Dubai Sheema Classic

The withdrawal of four-time Group 1 winner Snow Fairy opens this 1 1/2-mile race up a bit and gives the viable American hopefuls Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay a real chance. Separated by only a nose in the 1 1/2-mile, Grade 2 San Luis Obispo, they are basically in the same class as Dangerous Midge, who beat Champ Pegasus into second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and Redwood, the Northern Dancer Turf runner-up who was second in the Canadian International. Both of those horses will be coming off winter layoffs, and that’s what makes Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay look like value plays. Looming large, however, are a pair of Godolphins. Rewilding, third in Workforce’s Epsom Derby, won the 1  1/2-mile, Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes before finding the 1 3/4 miles, 132 yards of the St.  Leger a trip too far. Calvados Blues is not quite in Rewilding’s class but is coming off a nice second in the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold, the Sheema Classic’s course and distance prep. An American victory would be a first in the Sheema Classic.

Dubai Golden Shaheen

Kinsale King is back to defend his title, and last year’s runner-up Rocket Man, is back from Singapore to test him again. With a small field of just eight expected, don’t be surprised if this six-furlong Tapeta dash boils down to the same two this year. Last year, Robert Fradd gave Rocket Man a terrible ride, breaking the normal front-runner on top, then taking him back to second, then third, and then fourth, after which he rallied to be second. Fradd is gone, Rocket Man ran J J The Jet Plane to a short head in the Hong Kong Sprint in December and took a minor six-furlong stakes on the Kranji synthetic track on March 6 by 5  3/4 lengths. Meanwhile, Carl O’Callaghan sent Kinsale King up to Golden Gate for a handy allowance going six furlongs on Polytrack on Feb. 17. This race looks very much like a classic rematch, but if Rocket Man is allowed to go with the pace, he will be difficult to beat.

UAE Derby

A subpar bunch of 3-year-olds in Dubai this winter has this 1 3/16-mile, $2 million contest looking rather dull. The horses to beat are all fillies. Godolphin’s Khawlah won the UAE Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths in her seasonal debut. Mahbooba, a Southern Hemisphere-bred daughter of Galileo, won the one-mile UAE 1000 Guineas prior to her second in the Oaks. Her Michael de Kock-trained stablemate Reem, also a daughter of Galileo, is the selection off her 5 1/4-length victory over males in the listed 1 3/16-mile Al Bastakiya on March  3. American interests lie with Sweet Ducky. Trained by Kelly Breen to finish second to Dialed In in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, he has since been sold to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and switched to Herman Brown, the South African trainer of Bankable. His performance in this race will give us a tentative international line on 3-year-old American form. Brown has not ruled out a trip to the Kentucky Derby for Sweet Ducky should he acquit himself well on Saturday but warns that the Pulpit still appears to be “babyish and immature.”

Godolphin Mile

With Mendip, winner of Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge and the Burj Nahar, opting for the Duty Free, Americans can hope that the Rick Dutrow-trained I Want Revenge will be able to handle the switch back to synthetic. His victories in the 2009 Gotham and Wood Memorial are better than anything else in this one-mile Group 2 contest. In finishing fourth in the Donn Handicap, he was ahead of World Cup hopeful Fly Down. He must beware of two major players, however. Conveyance, the pacesetter in last year’s Kentucky Derby and a two-time winner on a synthetic surface in Southern California, prepped with a sharp second to Bankable in the six-furlong Mahab Al Shimaal, leading until the dying strides. Expect him to be on the front end, from where he must hold off the late run of Godolphin’s Skysurfers, winner of the listed, one-mile Firebeak Stakes over the Godolphin Mile course and distance on Feb. 10. With I Want Revenge returning to a synthetic track for the first time since February 2009 and a mile a bit too far for Conveyance, Skysufers gets the nod.

Al Quoz Sprint

This race joined the World Cup Night lineup last year as a Group 3, six-furlong turf contest. This year, it has been upgraded to Group 2 and reduced in distance to five furlongs. Still a straight race, it has attracted a number of British trainees who are expert at five-furlong straight races back in England. But Stradivinsky, the best of the three Americans in here, may have enough speed to prevail. He is 6 for 10 at the distance in America, where they go much faster early on than they do in Europe or Dubai. The Dutrow-trained son of British sprint champ Stravinsky prepped with a win going five furlongs on turf in the Gulfstream Park Sprint on Jan. 23. The horse to beat, however, is J J The Jet Plane. The winner of the Hong Kong Sprint over Rocket Man, he prepped with a victory in a straight six-furlong turf handicap at Meydan on March 10, spotting 11 rivals 14 to 22 pounds. He was, however, drifting badly right throughout that race, a sign that all might not be right with the highest-rated sprinter in the world.