03/28/2013 11:49AM

Dubai World Cup: Mental is horse to beat in Group 1 Golden Shaheen

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trinniberg, the winner of last year's Breeders’ Cup Sprint, will make his 2013 debut in Saturday's Group 1 Golden Shaheen, his first race on a surface other than dirt.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Mental’s first 12 starts came on turf in Australia, where the 5-year-old gelding was bred and based until being brought to Godolphin’s Marmoon Stables here late last year. The training track at Marmoon is composed of sand and dirt.

When Mental started Feb. 14 in the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint at Meydan, it was his first try on a synthetic surface, and trainer Mahmood al Zarooni had no idea what to expect.

“This horse, at home he shows you nothing,” al Zarooni said.

What Mental delivered was a decisive victory that makes him the horse to beat Saturday night in the Group 1, $2 million Golden Shaheen, an all-weather-track sprint at about six furlongs that drew a field of 12.

Having shown al Zarooni what he could do at Meydan, Mental, a Grade 1 winner on grass, has been kept under wraps since his Dubai debut.

“The plan was to give the horse time and come to this race fresh,” al Zarooni said.

Mental’s chief rivals include two American horses, Trinniberg and Private Zone. Hong Kong shipper Frederick Engels and Ireland-based Gordon Lord Byron also have a chance.

Trinniberg races for the first time since winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and will make his first start on a surface other than dirt. Trinniberg has shown positive signs on the Tapeta surfaces at Meydan and an adjacent training oval.

“He breezed good here, and he travels really light,” trainer Shivananda Parbhoo said. “I’m only concerned a little because we don’t know that much about the track.”

The speedy Trinniberg breaks from post 3, and Parbhoo said no effort will be made to keep him from the lead. Private Zone looks like the other primary speed, an outside draw giving his rider, Martin Pedroza, more options than Willie Martinez on Trinniberg. Private Zone finished second in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood last December in his most recent start on a synthetic surface, the second of four straight runner-up finishes.

“He’s run well enough to win some of those,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “He’s run some huge races and cooled out in 10 minutes. I think there’s still more there.”

Frederick Engels had a good winter racing in Hong Kong turf sprints. Gordon Lord Byron won the Group 1 Prix de la Foret last fall over very soft ground and was solid March 8 in an all-weather-track prep in Ireland.