03/26/2013 3:41PM

Dubai World Cup: New Zealander has Duty Free shot

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Andrew Watkins
Ocean Park (right) raced in four Australian Group 1 races during 2012 and won three of them, including a narrow victory in the $3.1 million Cox Plate

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Ocean Park lost the first start of his career at a small country track in New Zealand. His New Zealand-based trainer, Gary Hennessy, trains a small 10- to 12-horse string at his farm near the town of Matamata. He and his wife, Jenny, do much of the work themselves. But do not be led astray by obscure origins nor the NZ next to his name: Ocean Park appears to be a major contender in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free.

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Ocean Park made his first six starts in New Zealand, but like most top horses in that country, he shipped to Australia to make his mark. Ocean Park raced in four Australian Group 1 races during 2012 and won three of them, including a narrow victory in the $3.1 million Cox Plate, the most important middle-distance race in Australia.

Ocean Park’s two starts this year came back in New Zealand. He finished fourth as an odds-on favorite in a Group 1 over about one mile Feb. 23 before winning another Group 1, this over about 1 1/4 miles, on March 9. Both races, Hennessy said this week, were strictly preps for this long-planned trip to Dubai.

“He won the Cox Plate, and people got carried away with expectations,” Hennessy said. “It was always all about coming over here.”

Ocean Park, who shipped here via Hong Kong, lost some weight during travel, Hennessy said, but no more than expected. He has been on the grounds since March 19 and has experienced no setbacks in his attempt to become the first New Zealand-based winner of a World Cup card race.