John Sheeran of the Betfair trading team gives you the inside track on the Dubai Carnival 2018, what to look out for at Meydan and a pair of horses to follow...
"Hornsby was ultra-impressive in winning a 7f handicap on Thursday gone and he has been handed a 6lb rise for that which looks fair. He managed to come from a poor position to win easily without Barzalona having to resort to the whip and I fully expect him to follow up if handed a reasonable task next time out."
Action takes place on the turf and the dirt at Meydan, how do the two tracks ride?
Very different, the dirt track tends to be fast, particularly on the big nights and favours inside speed. The rail is often described as a "golden highway" and securing a forward position on or close to the rail is paramount. It places a lot of emphasis on the draw so ensure that your selection is drawn well before parting with cash throughout the carnival.
The turf track is always very fair, the horse with the best turn of foot usually emerges on top and an inside trip is preferable as passing horses on the wide bends results in much more ground being covered.
Godolphin will look to dominate on their home patch, how is their stable shaping up?
Godolphin always ship a lot of their runners for the winter to Dubai with a view to having a strong hand at the carnival. The initial indications are that they are at least as strong this year and I fully expect them to retain the owners title with relative ease. The tone is very much set this Thursday with no less than 16 runners declared on the card and it would be a shock if they didn't end up with at least a couple of winners on the night.
Blair House is an animal I think could progress during the UAE season, he was very lightly raced last year in the UK, having only raced three times and with a nice break since his last start, I fully expect him to be involved off an opening mark of 102.
Blue Point is reportedly being aimed at the Al Quoz Sprint, I think Meydan would play to his strengths and he is a very interesting runner with an eye on World Cup night.
Of the local trainers and riders that are not as well known, who are the ones to look out for?
Outside the powerhouses that are >Doug Watson and Satish Seemar, Salem Bin Ghadayer is a really good local trainer who may be generally underestimated - he has started the season well and already has four winners at HQ this term. Expect him to continue to get his fair share of winners, Heavy Metal is probably his highest profile horse. He is due to run in Round One of the Maktoum Challenge on Thursday where he should be entirely competitive. Admad Bin Harmash continues to impress with his relatively small string and he should also be respected with his runners.
Adrie De Vries is a veteran of the saddle at 48 years old but he is super talented and underappreciated in my opinion. He struck up a really good relationship with Saeed Bin Suroor last year and was seen to effect on Prize Money throughout the carnival last year.
His rides always deserve a second look as they will not lack for assistance. Antonio Fresu is a young rider to keep onside and is very capable and Sam Hitchcott will also ride his share of winners - particularly for Doug Watson - so pay his rides respect as he is not always 2nd string.
What international stars - equine and human - can we expect to see?
Throughout the carnival and on World Cup night in particular we can expect to see a who's who of the equine world. The Dubai World Cup will likely attract the best of the US dirt 10f division. Currently it would look like a repeat bid from Bob Baffert and Mike Smith is entirely plausible after Arrogate's stunning performance in the race last year. West Coast and Collected, both of whom placed behind Gun Runner in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar in November, currently lead our market and one or both can be expected to make the trip.
Vazirabad will likely aim to retain his Gold Cup crown and make it three wins in three years on the big night, he will almost certainly be partnered by Cristophe Soumillion who is undoubtedly one of the stars of the saddle. Soumillion will also be in good company with Joao Moreira and Ryan Moore both expected to put their talent on show as we reach the culmination of the carnival.
How quick is Ertijaal? Presumably he'll rule the turf sprint division?
Ertijaal is pretty much as fast as they come, granted a fast surface, he is basically unbeatable over the 5f turf track for which he retains the track record. He runs on Thursday in the 5f handicap off a mark of 118 and despite being lumbered with 9-6 and having to give all of his rivals almost a stone, he will take all the beating.
However, with the Al Quoz being over 6f since last year (where he ran a creditable race to finish 3rd on soft ground) he is vulnerable on the big night and with the possibility of either or both of Battaash and Blue Point meeting him there he will have a tough task.
Have you a horse(s) to follow throughout the Carnival?
At the lower end of the scale I have two selections that interest me in the upcoming weeks:
Hornsby was ultra-impressive in winning a 7f handicap on Thursday gone and he has been handed a 6lb rise for that which looks fair. He managed to come from a poor position to win easily without Barzalona having to resort to the whip and I fully expect him to follow up if handed a reasonable task next time out.
The son of Dubawi should continue to improve for Salem Bin Ghadayer and it wouldn't surprise me to see him play a part in carnival handicaps over seven or eight furlongs later in the season.
Majeed for David Simcock is a very interesting horse, he is declared to run over 12f in the final race of the night on Thursday off a mark of 98 and he was very eye-catching last year off higher marks.
He will need to be there or thereabouts off 98 to continue to get a run in the carnival and he had a pipe-opener at Lingfield 19 days ago. He could go close there and would remain competitive in these staying handicaps off such a low weight.