03/26/2015 1:55PM

Head high on Solow ahead of Dubai Turf

Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club
Solow will make his Group 1 debut in the Dubai Turf on Saturday.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – All week here in Dubai the racing cognoscenti have chattered about the softness of this year’s $6 million Dubai Turf, which says something about how strong the race has been in recent years.

The 10-horse field has four Group 1 winners, including the world-class The Grey Gatsby, and that does not even account for two of the race favorites, Solow and Cladocera. Trainer Freddie Head adamantly calls Solow the best horse he has brought to Dubai – and even dared compare him favorably to the mighty Goldikova. And Cladocera is reminiscent of Sajjha, a filly who before the World Cup Carnival looked light on class but came into her own during the Dubai winter and captured the Duty Free, which was renamed the Dubai Turf this season and given a $1 million purse boost.

Also in the field is the American-based horse Mshawish, who finished fourth in this race last year when trained by Mikel Delzangles. Now in the care of Todd Pletcher, Mshawish didn’t train Thursday because of what his connections described as a minor foot bruise that they hope will not keep him from starting.

:: DUBAI WORLD CUP: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s Meydan card live

Also, out of the blue, Cladocera’s trainer, Alain de Royer-Dupre, expressed concern over his filly’s physical state Thursday. Cladocera has beaten only modest competition in winning a pair of Group 2 turf races here this winter, the most recent over the Dubai Turf’s about-nine-furlong trip, but she has looked like a filly just starting to scratch the surface of her ability.

But Royer-Dupre, recently arrived and seeing his horse for the first time in several weeks, said: “I thought she was a bit nervous on the track this morning ... I don’t know what to make of her. She is a good-looking filly, but to me, she looked better before her first start here than today.”

Solow, who has trained with Cladocera all week, continues to make an excellent impression. He is unproven at the top level and will be making his first Group 1 start, but Solow finished 2014 with three sharp wins in France and was an easy winner of his March 3 prep for this start. Gelded in 2013, he was thought by Head to be a long-distance horse but convinced his trainer with fast work at home to try him in shorter races, where he has prospered.

“I have very high hopes for him this year,” said Head.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers on Saturday

Solow is not the only talented gray in the Dubai Turf: The Grey Gatsby won the French Derby last summer and ended his season with a rousing victory in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes. Both races, though, came at distances longer than Saturday’s, and the concern is that the Dubai Turf trip could be too short.

“When it comes to the trip, it depends on what the pace is,” said trainer Kevin Ryan. “He likes a strongly run race, and I’m not sure there is a lot of pace here.”

Euro Charline won the Beverly D. at Arlington in her most recent start, and Trade Storm captured the Woodbine Mile last fall.

A down year for the Dubai Turf, apparently, would be the turf race of the year in the U.S.