03/28/2013 12:38PM

Dubai World Cup: Sheema Classic distance should be ideal for Japanese superstar Gentildonna

Andrew Watkins
Gentildonna, shown on Wednesday at Meydan, is 7 for 9 lifetime but will be making her first start outside Japan in the Golden Shaheen.

The $5 million Sheema Classic over about 1 1/2 miles on turf Saturday at Meydan Racecourse lacks the depth of the Duty Free, but it has Gentildonna, the star Japanese filly who swept the Japanese Fillies Triple Crown and won the Japan Cup over males and older rivals late last year.

A winner in 7 of her 9 starts, Gentildonna has won at distances from one mile to 1 1/2 miles, but the conditions of the Sheema Classic probably suit her best.

“The [Japanese] Oaks and the Japan Cup, those were her two best races,” said trainer Sei Ishikaza. “Both were 2,400 meters going left-handed, like this race. I walked the turf course here and it’s in perfect condition. I know it will fit her right.”

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For all she has accomplished, Gentildonna has never left Japan, however. Her ability to travel and perform at her best remains an open question, and she is making her first start in four months.

Another mare, the French horse Shareta, might have nearly as good a chance as Gentildonna. Shareta could not handle the soggy going in Paris when she finished ninth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last year, and she fell too far behind a moderate pace when rallying for a close fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The firm going at Meydan is what Shareta wants, and she could capitalize on a lack of pace in the race.

“She’s got a big stride – powerful,” said jockey Christophe Lemaire. “She likes to set the pace. It’s better to be in a good position with her.”

St Nicholas Abbey was a good second behind Cirrus Des Aigles in 2012 Sheema Classic, his first start since winning the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Saturday, he makes his first start since a third-place finish in last year’s BC Turf, and the turf condition here also plays to his strengths.

Await the Dawn finished second in a strangely run Dubai City of Gold on March 9, and trainer Mike de Kock believes he is poised for a strong performance. And also to be considered is Dunaden, the 2011 Melbourne Cup winner who has traveled the world, but is making his first stop in Dubai.