The flat turf season is just gearing up in most jurisdictions around the world but proceedings get a big jumpstart March 27 at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
The Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) on the Meydan dirt track is the marquee event. But the eyes of Europe, Japan, and even the United States grass racing world will be on the $5 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), the $4 million Dubai Turf Sponsored by DP World (G1), and the $750,000 Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2).
The Sheema Classic, at 2,410 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), is indeed a classic, replete with heavyweight contenders bringing the classiest of credentials from around the globe.
Mishriff, who detoured to the dirt and ran down Charlatan in the late going to win the $20 million Saudi Cup in his last start, returns to the turf for a race likely to have implications for the remainder of the season in England and Europe.
Mogul, a Coolmore-owned 4-year-old by Galileo, is in town for his first start since winning the Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) at the same trip Dec. 13 at Sha Tin Racecourse.
Japan brings a powerful 1-2 punch in Chrono Genesis, winner of the Arima Kinen Grand Prix (G1) in her last start Dec. 27, and an improving Loves Only You, winner of the 2019 Yushun Himba Japanese Oaks (G1). Loves Only You is a full sister to Real Steel, the 2016 Dubai Turf winner.
Channel Maker and Neil Poznansky walk to the track for morning training at Meydan Racecourse
Bill Mott’s operation brings Channel Maker, a multiple grade 1 winner in the United States, for the Sheema Classic. The 7-year-old English Channel gelding exits a second-place finish in the Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia, where he couldn’t quite match True Self through the final yards. This field is much deeper.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin team has three in the 10-horse field—Walton Street, Star Safari, and Dubai Future. All are relative long shots on the international wagering markets but that kind of status hasn’t prevented Godolphin runners from enjoying success on past World Cup programs.
All of the contenders are eyeing the Sheema Classic both as an end unto itself and a springboard.
Mott assistant Neil Poznansky said he is trying to strike a balance with the veteran gelding’s training.
“He’s got to run a mile and a half so you can’t go too easy with him. But he’s not a sprinter, so we don’t want him too sharp, either,” Poznansky said after a 2,400-meter gallop March 24. “He was full of himself today when we galloped over the track. He looks good, he feels good, and he has plenty of energy. Now we just have to get him to Saturday.”
Thaddy Gosden, Mishriff’s co-trainer with his father, John, said the decision to put the 4-year-old Make Believe colt back on the grass was prompted by two factors: The relative merits of the Riyadh and Dubai dirt courses and plans for the rest of the year.
While the Saudi dirt course is among the world’s best, he said, “Here you have a wonderful turf track and, with the mile and a half, depending on how he runs in that, it will likely decide his route map for the season, if you will.
“Charlatan’s probably the top horse in America right now,” the younger Gosden added. “He’s got a lot of natural speed and to run him down means a great deal, indeed.”
Jockey David Egan concurred that, “The dirt in Dubai is not the same as the dirt in Saudi, and I think the mile and a half will give him a pre-test run for the upcoming season, whether they are aiming him at the top mile and a half races or whether they are thinking about dropping back for the remainder of the season.”
Northern Farm’s Yasuhiro Matsumoto, representing Chrono Genesis’ owner, Northern Farm, compared his mare to some of Japan’s best Dubai competitors and hinted at further ambitious international plans—including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), the great race that keeps eluding Japanese racing.
Chrono Genesis trains March 25 at Meydan Racecourse
“Of course it’s going to be a very tough race,” Matsumoto said. “But she is kind of in the same class as Almond Eye and Gentildonna who won the Sheema Classic before so, yes, very happy to compete with them.
“An option will be the Arc,” Matsumoto said. “But for Northern Farm, we will target the races that Northern has never won before, like the King George and the Breeders’ Cup, and she is a filly that can compete well in those kind of races.”
Adian O’Brien said after Mogul’s Hong Kong victory, “I think next year could be his year.” Running up to the Sheema Classic, he added, “He seems to be in good form. He is a horse that likes nice ground and a flat track seems to suit him.”
The turf program on the World Cup card also caters to the middle-distance crowd with the Dubai Turf at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) and the true stayers with the 3,200-meter Dubai Gold Cup.
Lord North trains over the turf course at Meydan
Lord North, a 5-year-old son of Dubawi, was last seen finishing fourth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T), one slot ahead of Channel Maker. He won the 2020 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot over runner-up Addeybb, who is among the favorites for Saturday’s Ranvet Stakes (G1) in Australia.
Lord Glitters, the senior member of the group at age 8, finished third in the 2019 edition of this race, won by Almond Eye. He exits a victory in the Jebel Hatta Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) over course and distance on Super Saturday March 6.
The Gold Cup appears wide open with Godolphin runners filling four of the 11 starting slots.