03/23/2017 10:10AM

Zarak prepped and ready for Dubai Turf

Neville Hopwood/Dubai Racing Club
Zarak enters the Dubai Turf off a win in the Group 3 Dubai Millennium in February.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – What a racehorse Zarkava was. During 2007 and 2008, she started seven times and won seven times. She beat Goldikova and the top-class filly Dar Re Mi and ended her unbeaten career by winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Zarkava became a broodmare for the Aga Khan, and the racing world awaited her offspring – and waited, and waited. Zarkava has born five foals of racing age; only one has raced. His name is Zarak. While he is not the otherworldly beast his mother was, Zarak has flashed brilliance, and if he puts forth his best effort Saturday night at Meydan, he can win the $6 million Dubai Turf.

Zarak is one of 13 expected starters in the Dubai Turf, which is contested over about 1 1/8 miles around one turn. Real Steel, the race’s 2016 winner, has been scratched after bleeding from his nostrils after exercise Tuesday.

The field is a deep one, but along with Zarak, Ribchester, Mutakayyef, and Decorated Knight look like the main players.

Trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, Zarak has been in Dubai several weeks now and got in a prep race. It was a dandy. He beat no stars Feb. 16 in the Group 3 Dubai Millennium, but Zarak impressed. Rated in midpack under Christophe Soumillon, Zarak got into the clear at the top of the stretch, made the lead while only starting to quicken, and by the time he came to the furlong grounds was a bay blur. Soumillon barely moved his hands, and Zarak eased up in the final 50 yards.

“He won his prep race well here – in fact, very well,” Royer-Dupre said.

Zarak’s 3-year-old form strongly suggests he has even more to give. In the French Derby last June, Zarak broke from post 15 of 16 and was forced to take back at the start and head directly to the fence to save ground. He twice encountered traffic while full of run in the homestretch and still rallied to finish second, beaten only a length by Almanzor, the best 3-year-old in Europe during 2016.

Ribchester, another 4-year-old, had an even stronger 3-year-old campaign than Zarak while improving steadily through the season. In the English 2000 Guineas, he finished third, beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Galileo Gold, but two months later, in the Group 1 Sussex, Ribchester got shuffled back through the field and had to switch out late to make his run, and he still roared home to finish third, beaten a nose by Galileo Gold for second.

Ribchester got a Group 1 win in the Jacque les Marois and ended his season with a second-place finish in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes behind the champion Minding. Minding left Ribchester behind about 1 1/2 furlongs out, but Ribchester was gaining again at the end of that one-mile race.

Distance is the major question with Ribchester, who has trained with aplomb here this week for trainer Richard Fahey. The colt, by the sprinter Iffraaj, has yet to race beyond one mile, and eight of his nine starts have come down a straight course.

“I feel like if he settles, he’ll stay,” Fahey said. “The flat turning track here, that’s a bit of a worry, as he’s never been left-handed. I’m hoping that it’s not a problem here.”

Fahey said should rain come and dampen the course, it “would be a bonus” for his horse.

The 6-year-old Mutakayyef is more fully exposed than the two 3-year-olds and has not displayed their brilliance, but he has proven to be a late-blooming sort and is probably at his best distance in the Dubai Turf. Mutakayyef just couldn’t quicken with Tepin in the Woodbine Mile last fall but might have won the Group 1 Juddmonte International, a 1 5/16-mile race, over Postponed and Highland Reel had Postponed not drifted and taken away his path at the fence.

Decorated Knight has been in Dubai for several weeks and overcame difficult circumstances to score a course and distance win three weeks ago in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta, probably a career-best performance. To win Saturday, he will need to improve again.

“The Jebel Hatta was his winter target, and he probably has to find a few lengths in the Turf, but he goes there in good form,” said trainer Roger Charlton, who won this race in 2012 with Cityscape.

Decorated Knight shipped to Arlington last summer to start in the Million but got loose in the quarantine barn the night before the race, injured himself, and had to be scratched. In his absence, Mondialiste won a fairly soft renewal of that race and since then has shown too many cracks in his form to be trusted in the Dubai Turf.

The Japanese horse Vivlos won the Group 1 Shuka Sho in October, but that race was at about 1 1/4 miles, and Vivlos probably would require more distance than the Turf’s 1,900 meters to have a chance.