12/21/2009 1:00AM

Golden Shaheen may be switched to turf


With Dubai's new, oval Meydan Racecourse set to open on Jan. 28 with a synthetic Tapeta course instead of the dirt track that had been used at the now defunct, triangular-shaped Nad Al Sheba, the Dubai Racing Club is contemplating changes to its $21 million Dubai World Cup program.

Speaking to the Racing Post, Frank Gabriel, the chief executive officer of the Dubai Racing Club, said that a number of changes are under consideration, among them a switch of the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen from dirt to turf.

"We have to change the surface, as we no longer have a dirt track at Meydan, but to move it to turf is a big decision," Gabriel said.

If the race is switched to turf, it will continue to be run as a straight race, as the turf course at Meydan, which includes a six-furlong straight track, runs outside the synthetic track. If the Golden Shaheen is run on the new synthetic track, it would become a left-handed, one-turn affair.

For American trainers the issue is hardly academic, as horses from the United States have dominated the $2 million sprint since its inception in 1996, winning 10 of its 14 runnings, including the last six, all of which were run on the straight six-furlong dirt course at Nad Al Sheba. While a switch to Tapeta would be a boon to horses trained in Southern California, where all three of the major tracks have synthetic surfaces, a switch to turf would mean a sea change in the type of horses the race would attract.

A switch to turf would favor horses from Europe, Australia, and Japan, where all of the major sprints are run on grass.

"Obviously we are considering input from the industry before we make a final decision," Gabriel told the Racing Post. "The Dubai World Cup itself will be contested on a new surface [Tapeta], and we hope it will attract a worldwide entry."

With the $6 million World Cup now a synthetic race, horses trained in California will probably have an advantage over those trained on dirt tracks in New York or Florida. Eight of the first 14 runnings of the world's richest race have been won by American-trained horses, including the last three. The World Cup at Meydan will now be a more conventional, American-style race around two turns of the new 1 1/16-mile oval Tapeta track, with a 1 1/2-furlong run to the first turn and a 2 1/2-furlong run through the stretch. Barring changes to its conditions, the 1 1/8-mile UAE Derby will now have a very short half-furlong run to the first turn.

The 1 1/2-mile turf course at Meydan includes a chute on the backstretch that can accommodate races as long as 1 1/4 miles. The 1 1/8-mile Dubai Duty Free will start from this chute, making it quite similar in configuration to a 1 1/8-mile dirt race at Belmont Park. The 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic, run around three turns on the triangular turf course at Nad Al Sheba, will start in at the finish line in front of the Meydan grandstand and make a complete circuit of the turf course around two wide, sweeping turns.

The Godolphin Mile, on the Tapeta surface, will start from a chute off the backstretch and will resemble a one-mile race on Belmont's Widener Turf Course.