By Noel Michaels
The $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) may be the main attraction on Saturday, but there’s plenty of betting opportunities on the undercard at Meydan Racecourse.
Among the races leading up to the World Cup is the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), a turf race that has attracted perhaps the world’s top racehorse, $20 million Saudi Cup winner Mishriff. It may draw more interest worldwide than the main attraction.
The undercard offers something for everyone, and as a group will serve as a great chance to get a feel for the track leading up to the main event while building a bankroll you can then unload on the big later races.
Here’s our spot plays. Best of luck and enjoy the day.
Al Quoz Turf Sprint (G1) (Race 4)
The Al Quoz Sprint is a 6-furlong turf dash run down the straightaway for a purse of $1 million. The race has drawn a 12-horse field led by morning-line favorite #8 Space Blues (5-2) with William Buick aboard. There is much to like aboard Space Blues, an eight-time turf sprint winner coming in on a long winning streak that included a straightaway win in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville last year. He began his 2021 campaign right where he left off with a win in the turf sprint on the Saudi Cup undercard and appears to be one of the more secure favorites on the card. Looking for an alternative in this race, the best of the rest should come from one of either #1 Equilateral (7-1) coming off back-to-back Meydan wins, and #10 True Valour (8-1), who ships in for trainer Graham Motion. It’s easy to root for turf sprint veteran 8-year-old #2 Extravagant Kid (10-1), but the 6-furlong distance of this race might push him a bit too far.
The Play: Start off the day by cashing a ticket on #8 Space Blues to win. In case he gets beat, he certainly shouldn’t be worse than second or third, so go ahead and box the exactas and trifectas with Space Blues and #1 Equilateral and #10 True Valour.
UAE Derby (G2) (Race 5)
This race offers 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, and therefore will be of particular interest for Derby bettors assuming the winner of this race would choose to ship to Louisville, which is never a given. #1 El Patriota at 15-1 is a southern hemisphere 4-year-old and not eligible, but has a solid chance to win, The UAE Derby is a 1 3/16-mile dirt race with a purse of $750,000 that has drawn a field of 14.
Contenders are made up of locally trained horses, horses exiting the corresponding race on the Saudi Cup card, and Japanese shippers, as well as two American horses who’ve made the trip to earn a Kentucky Derby berth, #2 Ambivalent (20-1) for Doug O’Neill and #5 Lugamo (50-1) for Antonio Sano. Ambivalent is of particular interest, just having broken his maiden at Santa Anita in a turf race, but also sporting competitive stakes efforts including a third-place finish in last fall’s Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar. Ambivalent will have a serious shot in this spot, but to win he will have to knock off #14 Soft Whisper (12-1) for the home team of Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin. He flopped in Saudi Arabia but was best of the Dubai 3-year-olds prior to that and will have a great chance to rebound on his home track. #8 Panadol (9-2), who has begun his career 2-for-2 with a win in the Al Bastakiya Stakes at this track and distance, also deserves serious consideration.
The Play: Bet #14 Soft Whisper to win, and box him in the exactas along with #2 Ambivalent and #8 Panadol. If you’re playing the Pick 6, it’s more worthwhile to spread in a couple of the other legs, so either single Brickyard Ride or go two deep here along with your preference between Storm the Court and Loud Mouth.
Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) (Race 6)
A field of 14 takes to the track for this prestigious Grade 1 dirt sprint with a purse of $1.5 million. As usual, there’s no shortage of North American-based runners, with #13 Yaupon (5-1) and #12 Wildman Jack (10-1) looking the best out of a contingent that also includes #9 Premier Star (20-1), #6 Jalen Journey (20-1), and #14 Zenden (50-1). Yaupon looked unbeatable last year versus 3-year-old competition until losing badly against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Wildman Jack, on the other hand, exits his career-best race when he switched from turf to dirt for trainer Doug O’Neill and blew the doors off the Palos Verdes (G3) at Santa Anita. #12 Wildman Jack will be the horse to beat.
The rest of the handicapping focus falls to the horses exiting the corresponding dirt sprint race on last month’s Saudi Cup card, including winner #3 Copano Kicking (7-1) and runner-up #8 Matera Sky (5-1), who both shipped from Japan. Perhaps their success led to the other Japanese shippers trying their hand in this race, including #7 Justin (15-1) and #10 Red le Zele (15-1), who gets Ryan Moore aboard. Also in with a chance are the best of the Dubai lot, with #2 Canvassed (10-1), #1 Al Tariq (12-1), and #4 Good Effort (15-1) with Frankie Dettori aboard, all in with a chance in this wide-open race.
The Play: This looks like a chaos race and perhaps there will be other places on the card more deserving of greater chunks of your precious bankroll. The pick for a win bet is #12 Wildman Jack. The Japanese horses appear to have had their day in Saudi Arabia last month. If you are looking for a better price in North American pools, a legit case could also be made for betting #1 Al Tariq, who is red-hot on the local surface coming into this race off back-to-back Meydan stakes wins including last month’s Al Shindagha Stakes (G3).
Dubai Turf (G1) (Race 7)
The Dubai Turf is the shorter of the two Grade 1 turf routes on the card with a field of 13 set to go 1 1/8 miles for a purse of $4 million. The invading international big guns have mostly opted to ship-in for a crack at the longer, richer, and more prestigious Dubai Sheema Classic, which gives the Dubai home team its greatest chance for a big win on the card in this race.
The one international A-lister that has shown up in the entries in this race still might have a big say in the outcome of this race, and that is #10 Lord North (3-1) for trainer John Gosden who gets the services of Frankie Dettori. Lord North is familiar to North American bettors after his respectable fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), and his 2020 campaign also included a win in the Prince of Wales Stakes (G1) at Ascot. The big question for Lord North is not whether he is the best horse in this race, which it looks like he is, but whether he is the best horse at this 1 1/8-mile distance. He certainly looks like he might require more ground to do his best, however, the same thing was speculated about his John Gosden barn-mate Mishriff in the Saudi Cup, and we all saw how that one turned out.
Perhaps the more well-suited invader here is #11 Regal Reality (8-1) with Ryan Moore aboard for trainer Sir Michael Stoute. If not, then the winner of this race will likely come from among the first three finishers from the local prep for this race, the Jebel Hatta (G1) at Meydan, #9 Lord Glitters (7-2), #4 Eqtiraan (15-1) or #1 Al Suhail (4-1). Of that trio, the preference goes to Lord Glitters, who outfinished the other two in the Jebel Hatta and is now a multiple graded stakes winner on this course at 1 1/8 miles.
The Play: Go for an upset by picking the “other” English invader, #11 Regal Reality. Then play #11 Regal Reality in exacta and trifecta boxes along with #9 Lord Glitters and #10 Lord North.
Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) (Race 8)
The Dubai World Cup is the featured race, but a stronger case could be made that this race is the best on the card … and it’s not even close. The Dubai Sheema Classic goes at 1 ½ miles on the grass and has drawn an international superstar 10-horse field for a purse of $5 million.
Instead of going to the Dubai World Cup, where he likely would have been favored, #7 Mishriff (5-2) has instead landed in this spot back on the grass where he will be favored, but nevertheless not a sure thing against a loaded field. Coming off a win on dirt in the $20 million Saudi Cup over Charlatan and Knicks Go at a 1 1/8-mile distance that many considered too short for him, Mishriff returns to the turf and stretches to 1 ½-miles, which could prove to be in his wheelhouse based on a series of 2020 European turf victories that included the 1 5/16-mile French Derby (G1).
Top competition in this race is expected to come from co-morning-line favorite, #9 Chrono Genesis (5-2), a consistent performer in Japanese Grade 1 races distance turf races, as well as #8 Mogul (7-2), who won the Hong Kong Vase (G1) as well as last year’s Grand Prix de Paris (G1) for trainer Aidan O’Brien and #1 Channel Maker (10-1), who got good in the second half of 2020 for trainer Bill Mott to become arguably North America’s No. 1 turf horse. He scored back-to-back Grade 1 wins at 1 ½ miles in the Saratoga’s Sword Dancer and Belmont’s Turf Classic en route to a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The Play: #7 Mishriff is too strong with anything close to another effort like the one that propelled him to glory in the Saudi Cup, and he has a shot to steal the thunder from the Dubai World Cup with a victory. Bet #7 Mishriff to win, and box him in the exactas with #1 Channel Maker and #8 Mogul. In the trifecta, key #7 Mishriff above 1 and 8, and add in #9 Chrono Genesis in the two bottom spots.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.