Charlie Appleby expects his Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter to prove “very hard to beat” in the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan.
The four-year-old will be a hot favourite to make a winning return, on what will be his first competitive appearance since becoming the first British-trained horse to win the Flemington showpiece.
Appleby said: “This will be his first start of 2019 and we are looking forward to it. The horse has wintered well and his preparation has gone well.
“He is a proven stayer at the trip and if he brings his A-game to the table, he will be very hard to beat.
“We felt he came out of the Melbourne Cup really well. He only travelled back to Dubai and not to England, so he didn’t have such a long haul back.
“He has had all winter on the easy list, but we have freshened him up well and he has taken the travelling well.
“We have sat a bit on the fence as regards targets all winter, as we didn’t know how he was going to take all the travelling.
“All the signs have been good. This is very much a starting point and we will get a gauge of where we are for the rest of the year.”
One of Cross Counter’s biggest threats is his stablemate Ispolini, who is stepping up to two miles for the first time following successive wins at Meydan over a mile and three-quarters.
“He is the horse in the field that could be the progressive stayer. He has won two starts over a mile-six this year and stepped up in class and won the Nad Al Sheba Trophy impressively last time over the course,” Appleby added.
“He is stepping up to two miles and we hope that will see further improvement.
“He is a horse that has got a progressive profile and he will be a lively player.”
Charlie Fellowes is keen on the chances of Prince Of Arran, who was third to Cross Counter in Melbourne and shaped well on his comeback run three weeks ago.
“He ran a fantastic prep race last time, but they probably didn’t go quick enough,” said the Newmarket handler.
“He loves Meydan. Two miles around there should be no problem. He’s in great nick.
“It’s a weaker race than last year, he’s better drawn than last year and he’ll run a big race.”
Appleby has several strong chances on the night and the shortest priced of them all will be Blue Point in the Al Quoz Sprint.
The five-year-old had to be withdrawn at the start in this race last year, but went on to win the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot.
He has returned seemingly better than ever in 2019 – winning both the Meydan Sprint and the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint at this venue.
Appleby said: “He has always been one of our stable stars and has been faultless this winter.
“For me he is the ultimate professional in the sprint division and I feel they have got him to beat – having that course experience.
“He is in good order and I’ve given him that extra run this year going into the Al Quoz, so hopefully he can get it right this year. Last year I felt perhaps I left him a bit fresh and he had that setback before the race.
“Everyone asks me about his best trip, but he has held the track record over both five and six furlongs at Ascot.”
Blue Point is one of two British-trained runners in the Al Quoz, with Richard Fahey’s Sands Of Mali running for the first time since winning the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot last October.
He said: “He’s not run for a long time, but he’s very fit and we’ve not really had to do much with him (since his arrival in Dubai).
“He (Blue Point) will take some beating on his home patch, but he has settled in well – he only lost two kilos on the flight over.
“It’s going to be tough, but I’m very happy with him and you’d be very confident he will be competitive.”
The big sprint on dirt is the Golden Shaheen – in which European hopes are carried by David Marnane’s Irish raider Tato Key.
The Argentinian recruit has already been placed twice at Meydan this year, behind the reopposing Drafted.
Marnane said: “We’ve been very pleased with his two runs in the trials and with this being his third run, he should be at his peak now.
“He seems in great nick and I hope there’s a bit of improvement there. If there’s a bit more of an injection of pace early in the race, I would hope that would be to his advantage as well.
“You wouldn’t see many Irish-trained horses running in sprints on the dirt, so if we can pull it off it will be a great buzz.”