Timeform's Calum Madell takes a look ahead to the climax of Dubai's World Cup Carnival on Saturday and gives his six best chances...
"California Chrome won last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and has held his form admirably since, his second to Shared Belief last month as good a run as he's produced."
The 2015 Dubai World Cup will represent the first time the world's most valuable race will take part on dirt since the switch to Meydan, and more controversially since the decision to change the surface from tapeta.
The anticipated Breeders' Cup Classic rematch, made possible by the switch to dirt, has nonetheless failed to materialise, with Bayern, Toast of New York and Shared Belief all missing out for one reason or another. It's been left to Candy Boy (now trained in the UAE by Doug Watson) and more significantly California Chrome to represent that memorable race. California Chrome won last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and has held his form admirably since, his second to Shared Belief last month as good a run as he's produced. For that reason, plus the versatility that suggests he'll be at home here, California Chrome is very much the one to beat.
Further strong US representation comes from Lea, whose trainer Bill Mott landed the inaugural World Cup in 1996 with Cigar. Lea comes here following a good second to Constitution in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream last month and won't need to find much more improvement to be a major player.
The home contingent have yet to set the world alight this Carnival and even last year's winner African Story has doubts to overcome. He became the first World Cup winner since Curlin to win subsequently when taking the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 on Super Saturday, but an unconvincing win over Prince Bishop doesn't allay fears about African Story's suitability to the surface against classier- and certainly more proven- dirt campaigners.
Two Japanese runners will be aiming to add to their nation's sole success in the race with Victoire Pisa in 2011. There's a balancing act to be struck between the pair. Epiphaneia is no doubt the classier, his turf form as strong as it comes including his remarkable Japan Cup win in November from high-class field that included Just A Way, Gentildonna and Harp Star. Still, he's yet to so much as race on dirt, which puts him at a distinct disadvantage relative to his compatriot Hokko Tarumae. After being found to have colitis after a poor run in this race last year, Hokko Tarumae went on to become Japan's champion dirt horse in 2014, winning his last three starts including twice at Group 1 level. With so much more in his favour than last year, Hokko Tarumae represents good value against the US-trained pair at the head of the betting, at least for a place.
The challenge from the Far East is even stronger throughout the rest of the card, notably with Harp Star in the Dubai Sheema Classic. A multiple Group 1 winner with a striking turn of foot, Harp Star could have hardly caught the eye more when a very fast-finishing fifth in the Arc in October after being given far too much to do by Yuga Kawada. Ryan Moore now takes the ride, which is naturally a positive, though the lack of pace in the race is an obvious an issue for one with her style of racing.
For that reason it may be best to look elsewhere and there certainly isn't a lack of challengers, headed by Main Sequence and Flintshire, first and second in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf. Preference, however, is for Hong Kong challenger Designs On Rome who has got back to his best recently, winning his last three starts including the Hong Kong Cup. His class is undeniable and though he's yet to prove himself at 12 furlongs, disappointing on his only try to date, his strong-galloping style very much points to him benefiting from the trip.
The Dubai Turf (formerly the Dubai Duty Free) has been considerably weakened by the recent retirement of Vercingetorix and Hunter's Light due to injury, though that may well open the door for Solow, who has proved a revelation since dropping back in trip. Another French raider Cladocera has already had a fruitful Carnival, comfortably winning the Cape Verdi and Balanchine. It would be no surprise if she took another step forward upped to a Group 1 for the first time and she represents value against higher-profile sorts like Solow and The Grey Gatsby.
One of the stars of this Carnival has been Tamarkuz and he looks the standout candidate in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile for Musabah Al Muhairi. The five-year-old has proved a different proposition since seeming to overcome problems at the start and with another prime draw on the rail he represents the most obvious chance of a locally-trained winner on the night, though he's priced accordingly. Challengers include Jeremy Noseda's Sloane Avenue, who is yet to race on dirt though should relish the surface on pedigree, while Surfer and particularly Layl are entitled to be involved at bigger prices, though neither have been helped by the draw.
Mike De Kock has twice landed the Al Quoz Sprint in the past six years and in Via Africa looks to have another strong contender. A multiple Grade 1 winner in South Africa, she was only ninth in a Group 3 here on Super Saturday, though that was her first run for 10 months and she shaped better than the result, holding up well for a long way and not beaten far. Expect Via Africa to leave that form well behind on Saturday and to outrun currently unflattering odds.
The case for Via Africa only gets stronger when looking at her likely rivals. Sole Power has yet to win at Meydan, races here tending not to suit his exaggerated hold-up style, while Peniaphobia may not be suited by an out-and-out speed test. The main challenge could come from Amber Sky, who has had plenty of issues since his success in this 12 months ago but looked to be coming to hand again when sparkling in a recent trial, or Caspar Netscher, a good third on Super Saturday in what was his first try at the minimum trip since his juvenile days.
De Kock also has a strong contender in the preceding UAE Derby, Mubtaahij having won three of his four starts this Carnival and been beaten only narrowly by Maftool in the UAE 2000 Guineas on the other occasion. He proved his stamina with a ready success on Super Saturday and now has the assistance of Christophe Soumillon to boot. He is sure to take all the beating. Both Maftool and Sir Fever are sure to go well for Godolphin, while Japanese challenger Golden Barows is very much an unknown quantity. He reunites with the rider that he won his maiden under- one Ryan Moore- and is a truly fascinating contender following two further convincing victories at Tokyo.
California Chrome win & Hokko Tarumae place in the Dubai World Cup
Designs On Rome win in the Sheema Classic
Cladocera win in the Dubai Turf
Via Africa win and place in the Al Quoz Sprint
Mubtaahij win in the UAE Derby