With just Super Saturday left to go before the Dubai World Cup meeting, it seems a good opportunity to have a look at the ante-post markets, particularly as most of them feature horses that have already been ruled out, and in some unfortunate cases, horses that are no longer with us.
Starting with the Dubai World Cup, and Thunder Snow heads the betting and will test his credentials in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge on Saturday. Win, lose or draw, I don’t see his price shifting too much, but he did have a hard campaign in America and no horse has ever won the World Cup twice.
North America will be saved for the World Cup now and his price sums up his chance. He does strike as being the likeliest winner, particularly given the unconvincing challenge from America, and it should be remembered he had Thunder Snow’s measure in round 3 last year and was only a neck behind him in round 2.
The one I would take a chance on, and he will hopefully be a lot shorter after Saturday, assuming he runs well, is NEW TRAILS who has really impressed me on the dirt this year. Acknowledging his two wins have come in handicap company, he was certainly closing on North America last time and the two-and-a-quarter lengths he has to make up isn’t reflected in the odds with one at around 6/1 and New Trails 33s.
Yes, North America probably had a bit more in hand but New Trails has improved from run to run and he is certainly bred to be operating at the top table given he a half-brother to a Stakes winner in the US.
Trained by a Saeed bin Suroor or a Charlie Appleby, New Trails would be a lot nearer the 10/1 mark.
With Benbatl now ruled out of the Dubai Turf, Saeed bin Suroor will rely on Dream Castle but he will have a more formidable challenge up against him in this year’s renewal than was the case with his stable mate 12 months ago. Dream Castle has undoubtedly been the horse of the Carnival for bin Suroor, winning a pair of Group races and is likely to be a short price to supplement those gains in the Jebel Hatta on Saturday.
Gelded and now much more the finished article, he makes some appeal but whether he has the class of Almond Eye, even on his home turf, has to be doubtful.
The current darling of Japanese racing, Almond Eye looks something special and plenty of people will be happy to double her up with Blue Point who is currently a similar price for the Al Quoz Sprint.
There is no real need to take either on, particularly Blue Point who did no more than was expected on his return and is now the finished article according to his trainer, Charlie Appleby. Having been withdrawn at the start 12 months ago, redemption is in the air and he looks to have far too much quality for his opposition.
Rumours abound that Appleby will switch Cross Counter to the Sheema Classic, although those plans may shift following the unfortunate incident regarding Brundtland last week, his intended runner in the Dubai Gold Cup. Either way, Cross Counter hasn’t exactly been missed in the betting and don’t be surprised if his stable mate, OLD PERSIAN, comes to the fore in the next week or two.
Old Persian’s previous two brushes with Group 1s both met with defeat, firstly when held in the Irish Derby then a non-staying fifth in the St Leger. Prior to that he’d beaten Cross Counter in the Great Voltigeur when doing plenty in chasing the early leader and showing good resolution in holding off the subsequent Melbourne Cup winner.
Despite not exactly being unexposed, there is a suspicion he can improve again this year and with little to fear from the European older horses as things stand, Old Persian could just be the one here with it not forgotten that Hawkbill was able to take this race 12 months ago.
Looking at the Dubai Gold Cup and there will be a new name on the trophy this year with Vazirabad ruled out. Cross Counter and Ispolini share favouritism in many places, the latter bursting into the picture following his effortless win in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy. There is likely to be plenty of dead wood in this field and that pair are comfortably the most likely winners at this stage.
The Dubai Golden Shaheen is probably best left to the Americans this year, as it is most years, with the local challenge having all fallen by the wayside bar Drafted, with his odds of around 14/1 highlighting the task he faces. Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Roy H is a warm favourite at this stage and although beaten at odds-on in this race 12 months ago, he was forced into going off very quickly and it is doubtful anything will be able to live with him this time.
I like the look of CAPEZZANO in the Godolphin Mile who finally seems to have matured into the smart performer he has often hinted at being in the past. With stable mate, Heavy Metal, seemingly past his best, Capezzano has put forward his claims since sporting the hood in no uncertain terms and was a 14-length winner of his most recent start, a subsequent Carnival winner back in third in the form of African Ride.
Whilst some will be happy to put that win down as being a fluke given the margin, he fairly sauntered through the race and you only have to go back to his three-year-old days to see that the talent was always there. He seems destined to do an awful lot better than he did in the race 12 months ago, and whilst he will still need to control himself in the preliminaries, heading to post early has helped him on that score on his last two starts.
And finally, the UAE Derby could well go the way of Aidan O’Brien again, with the local challenge seemingly not up to much, despite his plans being interrupted by the unfortunate cancellation of Dundalk last Friday where O’Brien was due to trial his Derby aspirants. That race will now be run on Wednesday, but given the meticulous planning that goes into many of the runners from the O’Brien camp, will it have an effect on his Dubai plans?
I put Bila Shak forward as a horse to follow at the start of the season and he could still come good, indeed he won a maiden on the turf last time, but he still strikes as being a bit too raw on the dirt for such an assignment.
That metal may well be tested in the Al Bastakiya on Saturday and if I was to throw something at one at a bigger price it would be him, but I fear it is all going to happen a bit too soon for him.
STEPHEN's Best Bets (scale 1-5 points):
DUBAI WORLD CUP, SATURDAY MARCH 30
1pt each-way NEW TRIALS (33-1 Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet)
DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC, SATURDAY MARCH 30
1pt win OLD PERSIAN (14-1 Bet Fred, Bet Victor, Unibet, William Hill)
GODOLPHIN MILE, SATURDAY MARCH 30
2pts win CAPEZZANO (6-1 Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power, Unibet, 11-2 bet365, 5-1 Coral, Ladbrokes)