03/24/2016 11:46AM

Postponed tackles classy pair in Dubai Sheema Classic

Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club
Postponed trains at Meydan this week for the Dubai Sheema Classic.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Only nine horses are entered in the $6 million Sheema Classic at Meydan on Saturday. Divide them by three to get to the Sheema’s heart: Postponed, Highland Reel, and Duramente.

Postponed won the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last year, while Highland Reel captured the Secretariat at Arlington last summer and the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase in December. Duramente’s peak came last May when he beat 17 rivals to win the Japanese Derby.

Postponed is the most likely winner of the Sheema Classic. The Sheema, race 8 of 9 Saturday, will be run at 1 1/2 miles on good-to-firm turf.

The winner of the local Sheema prep, the Dubai City of Gold, never has won the Sheema, a trend dating to 1998, but Postponed is the best horse ever to win the City of Gold.

Postponed’s strong 2015 campaign ended strangely, with owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid transferring 35 horses from Luca Cumani to Roger Varian in September. Postponed had recently won his Arc trial, the Prix Foy, but an Arc start was nixed, and Postponed instead was pointed to the Sheema.

Decent at 3, Postponed came fully to hand last summer at 4, nearly winning his first Group 1 in the Tattersalls Gold Cup before breaking through in the King George, where he turned away the high-class Eagle Top.

“Credit to him, he won the King George on softer ground, because [jockey Andrea Atzeni] feels for all the world he’s better on faster ground,” Varian said.

In the City of Gold, Postponed settled in midpack behind a sensible pace, then showed a stronger turn of foot on the flat, left-handed, faster turf course here than in his European races.

“He did it so easily,” Varian said. “It should put him exactly where he needs to be.”

Duramente’s 3-year-old campaign never progressed beyond the Japanese Derby. He suffered fractures in both legs that required surgery and didn’t start again until Feb. 28, when he held on to win the Group 2 Nakayama Kinen over 1 1/8 miles by a neck, looking like a horse who needed a race. Duramente’s reputation is lofty, but the field in his signature win has not especially flattered him.

The Sheema lacks pace, and Highland Reel, trainer Aidan O’Brien’s only runner at Meydan on Saturday, could fill that void. He wired a paceless Secretariat at Arlington and was on the lead in Hong Kong before a middle mover supplanted him. Unfazed, Highland Reel came back after being headed by the excellent Flintshire, winning by 1 1/4 lengths and showing his effectiveness over 1 1/2 miles.

“Obviously, it’s his first run of the year, and he’ll improve from the race, but we’ve been very happy with him,” said Joseph O’Brien, who assists his father, Aidan.