03/24/2011 3:42PM

Dubai World Cup: Twice Over tops deep field


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The 2010 Dubai World Cup, the first World Cup held at colossal Meydan Race Course, offered racing’s first eight-figure purse and was decided by about two inches. We may be in for another close one.

Twice Over won the third leg of the Maktoum Challenge here March 3 by almost three lengths, and, having already notched multiple Group 1 victories on grass, is a deserving favorite for the $10 million World Cup. But is he clearly better than American champion Gio Ponti, who beat him by more than a length in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic? Better than Buena Vista, the Japanese mare with $12 million in earnings who almost won the Dubai Sheema Classic a year ago? Better than Victoire Pisa, who was better than Buena Vista when they met late last year in Japan? And better than Cape Blanco, who was rated just as high as Twice Over last year in England?

Who can say definitively that Twice Over is even better than the two horses trainer Mike de Kock will send out to race Saturday night? It was de Kock who endured landing on the wrong end of the photo finish a year ago when Lizard’s Desire, the apparent winner in live action, just failed to catch pacesetting Gloria de Campeao. Of his pair this year, Musir and Golden Sword, de Kock had this to say: “I think they’re both better than Lizard’s Desire.”

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Just who is the best horse over 2,000 meters, or about 1 1/4 miles, on Meydan’s Tapeta racing oval will be decided a little after 9:30 p.m. local time Saturday night, which translates to 1:30 p.m. Eastern. The World Cup, contested around two turns here at Meydan, is the last of eight races on a program that begins at 8:35 a.m. Eastern. The night’s first race is for Arabians, with Thoroughbred action beginning in race 2. The race card is worth more than $26 million, with a pair of $5 million turf races, the Duty Free and the Sheema Classic, leading up to the World Cup. American fans can bet on and watch the Dubai races through various wagering portals, and the races will be shown on HRTV and TVG, and can be streamed online at DRF.com. A crowd of about 50,000 is expected for an evening of racing under clear skies. The temperature is forecast to be moderate, in the mid-80s for first post and dropping to the mid-70s for the World Cup itself.

Twice Over could do no better than 10th in the 2010 World Cup, the rare subpar performance from a remarkably consistent 10-time winner. His connections, Juddmonte Farms and trainer Henry Cecil, changed the dynamic for 2011. Twice Over made his seasonal debut in last year’s race, but he was sent to Dubai early this time for a prep in the Maktoum Challenge.

“We thought last year, after seeing the horses that had already been in Dubai run so well, we’d try that route,” said Teddy Grimthorpe, Juddmonte’s racing manager.

Twice Over made a big into-the-stretch move racing wide under regular rider Tom Queally when he won here earlier this month. The time of the race was tepid, just over 2:05, but the Tapeta surface was playing slow that night, and Twice Over typically performs better in his second start after a break.

“He’s a big, scopey horse, and an extra run gives him some benefit,” Grimthorpe said.

Gio Ponti, who will make his 2011 debut in the World Cup, follows basically the same shipping schedule as he did before a close fourth-place finish in the 2010 World Cup, but things seem different for the horse this year.

“When he came last year he was off his feed for quite a while and he had lost a lot of weight,” assistant trainer Christophe Loreuil said. “We were a touch worried, but this year he is doing much, much better.”

Aidan O’Brien-trained Cape Blanco flopped over soft turf in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, his 2010 finale, but won the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes by more than five lengths in September. Cape Blanco was among the last horses to arrive in Dubai, shipping in from Ireland late Monday night. In his first morning at the track Thursday, Cape Blanco grew noticeably hot during light exercise. He has two more days to adapt to the desert heat.

Three Japanese horses, Transcend, Buena Vista, and Victoire Pisa, have been here much longer. Transcend, the likely World Cup pacesetter, has made 14 of his 15 starts on dirt, while the other Japanese, Buena Vista and Victoire Pisa, have raced only on turf. The turf-to-synthetic transition often is thought to be simpler than dirt-to-synthetic, and the two grass horses might be inherently better than Transcend anyway.

A move to synthetic racing gave a major boost to the form of de Kock-trained Golden Sword, who ran the fastest 2,000 meters in two years at Meydan in his most recent start Feb. 18. Once a pacemaker for Coolmore and O’Brien, Golden Sword now employs a deep-closing style that should mitigate his draw in post 14.

While de Kock has two World Cup runners, Godolphin has three, but a win by Monterosso, Poet’s Voice, or Prince Bishop would qualify as an upset, even given Godolphin’s home-court advantage. Fly Down, Gitano Hernando, and Richard’s Kid complete the field.