03/24/2015 12:15PM

Meydan: Main Sequence seeks to remove grass stain

Barbara D. Livingston
Main Sequence will try to become the first U.S.-based runner to win a turf race on the Dubai World Cup card in Saturday's $6 million Sheema Classic.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – There are few certainties in life. The sun will rise in the east. The tax man will come calling for a piece of your loot.

Also, the American turf horse will lose the race in Dubai.

The first U.S.-based runners to ship in for major turf races on the Dubai World Cup card came in 2000. They lost. And so has every one of the 38 such starters to have tried in 13 different seasons. The World Cup turf menu expanded to three races in 2010 with the addition of the Al Quoz Sprint to the two mainstays, the Sheema Classic and the Duty Free, the latter renamed the Dubai Turf this year, but the Americans lost in the new sprint race, too. They do not even bother trying the newest World Cup turf challenge, the Dubai Gold Cup, a stayers’ race that would inevitably occasion still more losing.

American horses who clearly didn’t seem good enough came here and lost, but so did really good ones – Breeders’ Cup winners – who ought to have raced competitively. And it is one of the good ones – a really good horse – who has come again this year. Main Sequence lines up Saturday night at Meydan in the $6 million Sheema Classic, and his trainer, Graham Motion, thinks he has the antidote to the litany of sickly performances.

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

“I don’t have an American horse,” said Motion, an English expatriate himself. “I have an English horse.”

The point is true to some extent. A 6-year-old by Aldebaran, Main Sequence is an American-bred, but his racing career began in England with Motion’s friend, trainer David Lanigan, and it began quite promisingly.

Main Sequence won his first four starts, finished second to Camelot in the English Derby – and then proceeded to lose his next nine races over the course of 17 months. That’s when Lanigan suggested to the horse’s connections, the Niarchos family, that a change of scenery might do Main Sequence good, and shortly thereafter, he was sent back to the land of his birth, promptly falling seriously ill and delaying his first U.S. start for Motion.

The wait was worthwhile. Main Sequence won the United Nations Handicap last July 6 in his first time out, and no one has beaten him on American soil. He also won the Sword Dancer, the Turf Classic, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf during 2014 and started his 2015 campaign – prepping for the Sheema – by unleashing a breathtaking rally to win the Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream by three-quarters of a length.

The horse he ran down? That was Twilight Epclise, one of only two Americans in Dubai for the 2014 World Cup program. He finished 12th in the Sheema Classic.

Motion himself has tasted defeat here with a turf horse who was top class in the U.S., Better Talk Now, one of four American-based Breeders’ Cup turf-race winners to have started in the Sheema Classic or Dubai Turf. Better Talk Now finished eighth in the 2008 Sheema, while English Channel was 12th in the 2007 Duty Free, Kip Deville finished 10th in the same race in 2009, and Little Mike was 11th in the 2013 Duty Free.

“English Channel, he was such a consistent horse, and that was one of the only times he didn’t run his race at all,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He was a horse who could get rank and be tricky to ride, but that wasn’t the case at all that night. To this day, I still don’t know what happened.”

Interestingly, two American-based horses with strong Dubai performances, Whilly and Hard Buck, both, like Main Sequence, began their racing careers outside the U.S. – Whilly in Italy, Hard Buck in Brazil.

The Tin Man, second to David Junior in the 2006 Duty Free, and California Flag, third by just a length in the 2010 Al Quoz, were among the other top American performers on the Dubai turf.

“Maybe the American horses in the past, they just weren’t good enough,” Motion said. “We’re taking the Europeans on at their own game as opposed to dirt, which is a different ballgame. The last few years, [turf] horses like Gio Ponti went over to run in the World Cup, and I think that skews the results, too.”

Not to be overlooked are the different medication policies in the U.A.E. and the U.S. Here, unlike at home, horses go without race-day meds, including Lasix, but Motion, starting his fourth horse in Dubai, knows the score on that account and surely would not send a medication-dependent horse. Main Sequence, of course, ran without race-day medication when he was second in the 2012 English Derby.

He can be a quirky horse. In England, Main Sequence may have disliked race-day van trips from training yard to racecourse, and he might not have cared for the undulating courses there. The process of equine Americanization has agreed with him.

“He has had some positive experiences, and he’s always improved all the time, in the way he trains, his demeanor, the way he handles himself,” Motion said. “He certainly has an air of confidence about him now. He handles his work very easily. I think he’s a horse that has just adjusted very well to American training and racing.”

Hopefully, that adjustment does not include an inability to perform in Dubai. It shouldn’t. Main Sequence already showed that he could beat a top international horse when he handled Sheema Classic rival Flintshire, second in the Arc before the BC Turf and the winner of the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase after it. And Motion already has ended one American drought, winning the 2013 World Cup with Animal Kingdom, the only U.S.-based horse to truly run to form during the Tapeta era at Meydan.

Main Sequence has traveled well, and he looks well. Now, unlike almost all the others who have preceded him here, he just needs to go out Saturday and actually run well.

Americans in Dubai turf races

Overall record: 38-0-2-1

Best finishes:

Whilly – 2nd, 2011 Duty Free

Hard Buck – 2nd, 2004 Sheema Classic

The Tin Man – 2nd, 2006 Duty Free