03/27/2013 12:22PM

Sheema Classic favorite Gentildonna shows why she's special

Neville Hopwood
The Japanese filly Gentildonna, shown breezing on Wednesday morning, is considered a heavy favorite in Saturday's Golden Shaheen.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The three Japanese horses here in Dubai for World Cup Night took to the track at Meydan for the first time Monday morning. Keiai Leone, who starts in the UAE Derby, and Taisei Legend, who runs in the Golden Shaheen, didn’t appear to care for the experience in the least. Between the new surroundings and warmer air than back home, the two horses were drenched in sweat before they even began galloping a lap around the track. The third horse in the group couldn’t have looked different. Gentildonna turned her head in all directions, anxious to process the flood of new information washing over her senses, but even after finishing a spirited gallop during which she pulled a couple hundred yards ahead of her two companions, the filly hadn’t turned a hair.

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Gentildonna is different than most horses. Her mind clearly works well, and her body can keep up. She has won 7 of her 9 career starts, earning almost $8.6 million, and Gentildonna became only the fourth winner of the Japanese Fillies Triple Crown last year. To crown her season, she became the first 3-year-old filly ever to win the Japan Cup, beating Orfevre, one of the top middle-distance turf horses in the world, by a nose last Nov. 25. The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities rated Gentildonna’s Japan Cup at 122, the highest rating for a 3-year-old filly anywhere last season, and Gentildonna will be a solid favorite to win the $5 million Sheema Classic on Saturday.

After Gentildonna won the Yushun Himba (the Japanese Oaks) by five lengths last May, her trainer, Sei Ishikaza, began believing the filly was something beyond an elite performer.

“I believe she’s out of the range of even a normal superstar horse,” Ishikaza said through an interpreter earlier this week.

Gentildonna was one of several World Cup Night horses to post workouts that were unofficially timed here Wednesday morning. Breezing on grass, Gentildonna went an easy work pace for three furlongs and was timed in 39.69 seconds.

Japanese horses have done well in the Group 1 turf races on the World Cup card. Heart’s Cry won the Sheema Classic in 2006 and Stay Gold won the race in 2001. The Japanese horse Admire Moon won the $5 million Duty Free in 2007. Fillies also have found success in the Sheema Classic: Sun Classique scored an upset in the 2008 edition, while Dar Re Mi was a popular winner in 2010, beating the Japanese mare Buena Vista by three-quarters of a length.

Gentildonna, who has 10 foes in the Sheema Classic, is a strong favorite in European ante-post wagering, approaching even-money at some betting houses. She’s the 9-5 morning-line favorite – the shortest of the night – in North American betting markets.

Firm turf rejuvenates Trade Storm

Talk about international shipping to Dubai typically focuses on how the change in climate and time zone can be hard on a horse. For Trade Storm, a move here from England has had the opposite effect. Trade Storm has won two straight turf races – most recently the Group 2 Zabeel Mile on March 2 – in especially impressive fashion and currently is the ante-post favorite in England for the $5 million Duty Free.

That is a far cry from the sort of horse Trade Storm, a 5-year-old, appeared to be in England, where he won just three times in his first 21 starts while mainly inhabiting the handicap ranks.

“I put it very much down to the fast ground in Dubai,” trainer David Simcock said. “We had a very wet summer in England, and that didn’t suit him at all. Since he set foot on fast ground over here, he’s improved and improved and improved. He’s a big barreled horse, a late-developing horse.”

Trade Storm has wowed onlookers with breathtaking runs in his two recent wins. His Zabeel Mile was especially flashy, with jockey Jamie Spencer weaving in and out of traffic in the stretch as Trade Storm rallied relentlessly. Simcock, though, does not subscribe to strict visual analysis, pointing out that Trade Storm has improved just 12 pounds – a fairly modest number – on European-style rating systems since his arrival in Dubai.

In fact, Simcock said that if forced to choose, he would slightly favor the chances of his other runner in the Duty Free, I’m a Dreamer, the mare whose three trips to the United States last year produced a win in the Grade 1 Beverly D. While Trade Storm has wintered in Dubai, I’m a Dreamer only arrived in the last week.

“There’s very, very little between them, but if I had to side between the two, I’d side with the filly,” Simcock said.

Royal Ascot a possibility for Little Mike

Dale Romans, in Dubai for the first time since 2008, apparently is developing a taste for international racing.

Romans said Wednesday that Little Mike, who runs Saturday night in the Dubai Duty Free, could be considered for a trip to England for the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes on June 19 at Royal Ascot.

“Obviously, everything depends on what happens this weekend, but it’s something to think about,” Romans said.

Little Mike won the three Grade 1 turf stakes last year in the United States; the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, the Arlington Million, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“Sure, we’d like to go back and do that again, but really, what more is there for him to accomplish at home?,” Romans said. “The Prince of Wales’s purse is $750,000, but it’s not just about the money. There are a lot of reasons to think about it. One reason to be in horse racing is to see the world.”

Little Mike’s part-owner and breeder, Carlo Vaccarezza, said he was open to the idea of a trip to England. Vaccarezza, though, is especially keen on another trip to Chicago and a repeat attempt in the Million.

Royal Delta works briskly

Royal Delta blew out for the World Cup with a three-furlong work unofficially timed in 35.64 seconds. With exercise rider Rodolphe Brisset in the irons, Royal Delta went her first furlong in 12.25 seconds, her second in 11.99, and her final eighth in a robust 11.40.

“She looked like she was moving very easily,” trainer Bill Mott said. “We just let her stretch her legs a little bit.”

Royal Delta is in Dubai for the second year in a row and has looked comfortable and energetic in her training all week.

◗ The multiple Group 1-winning Hong Kong-based sprinter Eagle Regiment injured a front hoof when he tore off a shoe Sunday, did not train Tuesday, and might have to be scratched from the Al Quoz Sprint. It’s the second straight year that Eagle Regiment has come up with an injury just in advance of the Al Quoz: He was scratched from the race last year due to lameness.

◗ The sale of World Cup entrant Meandre, rumored throughout the week, has come through, and the French-bred 6-year-old will start Saturday night in the colors of Ramzan Kadyrov. Meandre, a three-time Group 1 winner, was bred and owned by the Rothschild Family. Andre Fabre will remain his trainer of record through Saturday’s race.