For a race in the middle of the Arabian desert, the Dubai World Cup (GI) has always managed to draw fairly full fields of the world’s top handicap stars. And this year is no different, as 13 are set to race about 1 ¼ miles under the lights of Meydan Racecourse for the winner’s share of the now-$12 million purse (which makes it the world’s richest race once again).
The field consists of some of the best horses in training from across the globe — America, Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea and, of course, Dubai — but the standout is undoubtedly last year’s winner Thunder Snow, who was third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and second in round three of the Maktoum Challenge (GI) as a prep for this race back on March 9.
Since the first Dubai World Cup 23 years ago the “home team” has had the most success, sending out eight winners overall, but American horses have still shown their ability to ship and win — Cigar won the very first running in 1996, but Silver Charm, Captain Steve, Pleasantly Perfect, Invasor, Curlin, Well Armed, California Chrome and Arrogate followed to take home top honors in the years since. The connections of seven current or former American-based runners (two now sport international trainers) will look to add to that list this year and take down the lion’s share of the purse.
It’s been typically hot in Dubai all week with the daytime temperatures reaching into the upper 80s, but nights have been cooler and it’s a good bet that by the time the field breaks from the gate at post time, which is set for 11:40 a.m. ET temperatures will have dipped to a more comfortable level of the upper 70s.
This year’s Dubai World Cup field, in post position order:
1. Gunnevera – American racing’s bridesmaid, this Florida-based horse has earned $4.3 million without winning a single big race, but being right there, including a second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) last year. I think everyone remembers the gruesome foot injury this son of Dialed In suffered in last year’s Dubai World Cup, which helped to contribute to his eighth-place finish and a lengthy layoff. He has been training well and a top finish would not be a surprise under Emisael Jaramillo.
2. Cappezano – This Sultan Ali-owned son of Bernardini rides a three-race win streak, including the third round of the Maktoum Challenge (GI) last out. This is a big step up in class for him, but jockey Mickael Barzalona rode Monterosso to victory in 2012 so he knows his way around this track. Salem bin Ghadayer trains the gelding.
3. North America – The son of Dubawi, who has never actually raced in North America, now calls Meydan home. He won the first two Maktoum Challenges as prep races this year (both Grade 2s) and his connections are no doubt hoping a clean break will get him to his preferred spot on the lead, which will only help him improve off of his dismal 10th and last-place finish in this race last year. Local conditioner Satish Seemar trains this gelding for Ramzan Kadyrov. Richard Mullen will be aboard.
4. Audible – Probably the biggest American hope for a win, last year’s Florida Derby (GI) winner has won one of his three starts since the layoff. The WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners-owned son of Into Mischief carries jockey Flavien Prat for the first time and both he and trainer Todd Pletcher look for their first victory in what is again the world’s richest race.
5. Seeking the Soul – Second to City of Light last out in the Pegasus World Cup, this Chuck Fipke-owned son of Perfect Soul is another who has made a lot of money without winning a ton of races, though he did take home the trophy for his score in the 2017 Clark Handicap (GI). Trainer Dallas Stewart hasn’t won a Dubai World Cup yet, but Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was triumphant aboard Arrogate in 2017.
6. Pavel – This Doug O’Neill trainee was fourth a year ago and then won the Stephen Foster (GI) before mostly struggling the rest of the year last year, though he did finish second to champion Accelerate in the Pacific Classic (GI) at Del Mar. He gets blinkers for the first time for his return to the desert and has looked tremendous training in Dubai. Owner Paul Reddam taps jockey Joel Rosario, who rode Animal Kingdom to the win here in 2013.
7. Gronkowski – Known to American racing fans for his name and also second-place finish to Triple Crown winner Justify in last year’s Belmont Stakes (GI), this son of Lonhro makes his second start for trainer Salem bin Ghadayer after a fifth in the third round of the Maktoum Challenge last out. He hasn’t won a race in a year and this spot seems a tough one if that’s the expectation. Oisin Murphy rides for American-based ownership group Phoenix Thoroughbreds.
8. Axelrod – carries the same connections as Gronkowski, except he will be ridden by Royston Ffrench. He was a non-factor in the Burj Nahaar (GIII) as a prep for this race, finishing 10th of 11, but this son of Warrior’s Reward has earned a couple of graded stakes wins, including the Indiana Derby (GIII) and Smarty Jones Stakes (GIII), and was also second in the Pennsylvania Derby (GI) to McKinzie last year.
9. New Trails – This 5-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro takes a giant step up in class after a second and a fourth in the last two rounds of the Maktoum Challenge races. He’s lightly raced but is the winner of a little handicap race over the Meydan surface. Ahmad bin Harmash trains for Hamdan Sultan Ali Alsabousi and Connor Beasley rides, all looking for an initial Dubai World Cup victory.
10. Yoshida – A Grade 1 winner on both turf and dirt, this Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry carries the same ownership group as Audible, but is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who famously won the inaugural Dubai World Cup with the legendary Cigar in 1996. His fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was better than it looks, but he was a very flat sixth in his last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf with no excuses offered by his connections. Jose Ortiz rides and a clean trip may be all that this horse needs.
11. K.T. Brave – The Japanese invader makes his first start outside of his homeland, though he is a seasoned runner with 34 career starts at age six. He is a multiple stakes winner who has earned more than $8 million, but he has yet to break through in a Grade 1, though he has a few placings at that level. Haruki Sugiyama trains his first Dubai World Cup starter and Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira, who is based in the Far East, rides looking for an initial Dubai World Cup win, though he has been aboard the winners of the Golden Shaheen, Al Quoz Sprint and Dubai Turf races.
12. Thunder Snow – Despite his debacle in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, this son of Helmet is consistent, having finished on the board in 17 of his 22 career races in Europe, America and Dubai. He is known to be a bit difficult (American racing fans probably best know Thunder Snow as the 2017 UAE Derby winner who put on a rodeo show a few jumps out of the gate in that year’s Kentucky Derby) but he’s also a stone-cold runner and his best certainly makes him the one to beat. The near-outside post isn’t ideal considering his preferred running style up near the front end, but Saeed bin Suroor has won this race for the home team a record eight times and regular jockey Cristophe Soumillon knows this horse and is back aboard in search of his second consecutive win.
13. Dolking – Trainer Simon Foster brings this South Korean invader off a third in the Maktoum Challenge he is a winner at this distance over this track. Olivier Doleuze rides this son of Afleet Alex for Simon Foster in what is the biggest race of all of all of their careers so far.