Dubai World Cup Day - Show of strength stuns, as Japan dominates Meydan
Biggest team yet lands five wins, four more in the money
Japan’s horsemen brought their biggest team to Dubai this year, with 22 horses flying in for Dubai World Cup Day on Saturday, March 26. At the end of the day, Meydan Racecourse was left reeling by a show of strength that saw race after race fall to the competition from the east.
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The day started with a strong hint of what was to come, with Bathrat Leon taking command from the get-go in the Godolphin Mile (G2, 1,600, dirt). Despite having only had a best ninth in his last six starts in almost a year, and it being only his second start on dirt from 13 prior starts, the 4-year-old Kizuna colt grabbed the lead and never led up. He topped the field of 16 by a length and a quarter over Dubai-based Desert Wisdom in 1:36.03. Winning trainer Yoshito Yahagi, who fielded four runners on the day, said, “My instructions were to get to the front, no matter what it took. He broke well and went forward aggressively. When he got the lead, I knew he’d win. The jockey did an excellent job.”
Yahagi stable jockey Ryusei Sakai, was overjoyed. “To win in Dubai has been a dream of mine,” the 24-year-old gushed. “He really ran. I think he preferred the dirt surface here more than the dirt in Japan.”
Seven-year-old dirt specialist Soliste Thunder, with Cristian Demuro up, finished in fourth place. “He had a good run from a wide gate and I’m happy with him, but the dirt is different here.” Japan’s third runner in the Godolphin Mile was Full Flat, who finished 14th in the field of 16 under NAR rider Hiroto Yoshihara. Away slowly, the Hideyuki Mori-trained 5-year-old, fifth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and winner of the Saudi Derby (G3, 1,600, dirt) in 2020, showed none of that form Saturday as he stayed in the rear the whole way and was never in contention.
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Yahagi grabbed a double next up in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2, 3,200, turf) when Stay Foolish, who had tracked the leaders, stepped into the lead 50 meters out and handed the Godolphin-owned, Charlie Appleby-trained Manobo his first loss. Stay Foolish, a 7-year-old by Stay Gold, topped the field of 12 by half a length in a time of 3 minutes 19.64 seconds.
“I didn’t give any instructions to the jockey” Yahagi said. “Christophe Lemaire knows what to do. I think he figured the Godolphin horse Volcanic Sky might take the lead, so he decided to hold back, which was an excellent decision.
“Stay Foolish surprised me with his gutsiness. For a horse that hasn’t won much at home, he really showed me what a tough horse he has become and he did it overseas.” Stay Foolish has had his last three starts outside of Japan, going from a fifth in the Hong Kong Vase last year to a win of the Red Sea Turf Handicap (G3, 3,000) at Riyadh before taking on Meydan.
“He didn’t jump out as fast as he did in Saudi Arabia but he travelled well,” said winning jockey Lemaire. “I wasn’t worried about finding a gap in the straight because the horse in front of me was travelling well.
“When I saw Manobo come alongside me powerfully, I thought we were done. Stay Foolish doesn’t have a big turn of foot but when the Godolphin horse struggled close to the finish my horse gained confidence and went forward again. Obviously Manobo was the one to beat and he also had the weight advantage.”
In seventh place was the 4-year-old Gold Ship colt Veloce Oro, who’d finished sixth in last year’s Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger). "He ran well,” said rider Mirco Demuro, “and I thought he could win. But, in the end, he just didn't have the stamina to stay."
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Japan’s only poor showing of the day was in the Al Quoz Sprint, a 1,200-meter turf G1, which was won by the Adrian McGuinness-trained A Case of You, with British raider Happy Romance a length and a quarter back in second.
Japan’s 5-year-old Lauda Sion, whose best since winning the Keio Hai Spring Cup (G2, 1,400, turf) nearly a year ago was a fourth in the Grade 3 1351 Turf Sprint at Riyadh the previous month, never got closer than mid-division and finished in ninth place. “It was too fast for him," said rider Cristian Demuro.
Entscheiden, third in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret (G1, 1,400, turf) last year at ParisLongchamp, also went to Dubai straight from Saudi Arabia. The 7-year-old son of Deep Impact soon led the Al Quoz Sprint field of 16, but weakened over the final 500 meters to finish in 12th place under Ryusei Sakai.
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Next up, Japan revisited the winner’s circle when Crown Pride captured the 3-year-old exclusive UAE Derby (G2, 1,900, dirt) under Damian Lane. Tracking the leaders, the Koichi Shintani-trained Reach the Crown colt, with only three previous career starts, stepped into the lead with 100 meters to go and topped the field by 2 3/4 lengths over the local runner Summer Is Tomorrow.
“He stepped out OK but didn't travel too well after that, and I had to be careful to help keep his concentration on the race,” said Lane of Crown Pride. “It just took a little bit to get him in a rhythm, but about 1,200 meters out, he found it and was moving nice and smoothly.
“I got crowded a little early, but he was able to stride through and take up position. It was plain sailing from there. I was confident from about 600 meters out and although he made hard work of it in the straight, ultimately he was the toughest out there. He's a strong, tough horse and saw the distance out well.”
Japan’s other three runners in the UAE Derby -- Reiwa Homare, Saudi Derby runnerup Sekifu, and Combustion, a promising Discreet Cat colt with three wins and two seconds from five career starts -- finished in sixth, eighth and 11th-place, respectively.
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Next up in the Golden Shaheen, a G1 over 1,200 meters of dirt, was Red le Zele, runnerup here last year. The 6-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa finished in second once again, this time behind the UAE-trained winner Switzerland. Red le Zele broke from the No. 2 gate and raced in last position amid the field of 13, then flew over the final 400 meters to make second while bettering last year’s margin by a length and a half. American sprinter Dr. Schivel finished in third just ahead of Japan’s Chain of Love.
“I knew from the prerace warmup that he was feeling very good, so I knew he could run his own race,” said rider Yuga Kawada of Red le Zele. “We took the position we did because that’s where he likes to race from. And he showed us some fantastic footwork in the stretch. He went all out and I think he’s given us 2 years in a row of his very best racing.”
Keisuke Fujimaki, assistant to Takayuki Yasuda, couldn’t disguise his disappointment. “It’s really frustrating not to have won, but the jockey did bring out the best of him.”
In fourth place was the 5-year-old Chain of Love. She has never near enough to challenge but did run on well in the straight. Trainer Michihiro Ogasa said, “She quickened along with Red le Zele and really reached down and gave it her best.”
“She was in very good shape and for a moment there in the straight she was gaining ground so well I thought she was going to win it,” said rider Ryusei Sakai. “I think she showed herself very competitive up against some of the world’s best.”
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The most exciting finish of the day and perhaps of the entire World Cup history, came in the $5-million Dubai Turf, an 1,800-meter G1 that nearly ended in a triple dead heat. As it was, a full 8 minutes passed before it was Yahagi’s pacesetter Panthalassa and the 6-year-old gelding Lord North who were declared winners with a time of 1:45:77. Hideaki Fujiwara’s Vin de Garde, last year’s runnerup, and only a nose off the winners this year, had to settle for what was deemed “third.”
“He has always been a really good starter so we weren’t too worried about the draw,” said Yahagi, reeling under his fourth win of the night, of Panthalassa, a 5-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa. “Usually when he runs, he takes the lead and runs off with the race. We thought he was going to go a little bit further wide, but he did hold his ground well to the end.
“I don’t if it was because it was night race or what, but he didn’t move out like I had expected him to. But he made up for that with his determination. At the line, I thought he may just have won, but I’m happy with the tie.”
Panthalassa has done his best so far on fast ground but, according to Yahagi, actually prefers softer going and the globe-trotting trainer said he was eager to take him to Europe. “I’d like to head to Royal Ascot for the Prince of Wales's Stakes.”
Jockey Yutaka Yoshida said he had felt a change in the horse. “He was a bit agitated in the prerace warmup, but did calm down once racing. He was fine in the gate just like for his last race, started well and traveled at his own pace. He did all I asked of him and only just managed to hold on in the end. I knew the others were right behind and my heart was pounding. I’m so glad we won.”
Vin de Garde’s trainer Hideaki Fujiwara said, “The jockey really gave him a good ride and I think the horse gave it everything he had. I thought he had won, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.” Vin de Garde’s connections had to settle for the half a million dollars for third place as opposed to double that for second.
In the saddle was Mickael Barzlona, who said. “He broke well but seemed a bit keen, so I held back a bit to make my move in the final stage. He showed some good footwork there but needed just a bit more. It was a good effort.”
Japan’s third Turf runner was Schnell Meister, a 4-year-old Kingman colt who stayed midfield under Christophe Lemaire the entire race and finished in eighth place. “He got a good position and was coolheaded under way, but he didn’t pick it up in the straight and stayed at the one pace, then tired. I don’t know what the cause could be and it’s unfortunate. He’s better than this,” said Lemaire.
“He was in good shape and he moved out smoothly in the stretch, but honestly, I don’t know what could have gone wrong,” said trainer Takahisa Tezuka.
“He did get into some traffic and that may have affected him.”
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Hideaki Fujiwara got to smile next up in the $6-million Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410, turf) when the second of his two runners to Dubai clinched first place, which carried a prize of $3.48 million. Shahryar, a 4-year-old son of the late Deep Impact and partnered with Cristian Demuro, topped Godolphin’s Yibir by a neck, with Japan’s front-running Authority, runnerup in the 2021 Japan Cup, finishing in third half a length later under Christophe Lemaire.
Shahryar won the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) last year and followed that up with a third in the Japan Cup. The Sheema Classic was his first overseas run and his second top-level win.
“I thought Authority would take the lead,” said Demuro. “(Shahryar) started well so I took up position behind him on the rail. After passing Authority, this horse did seem to wait for the others at one point, but when I pulled him out in the straight, I knew he was going to win. For a moment he was a little lost in front, but we felt Yibir coming and I always believed we were going to get there.”
Trainer Fujiwara said, “It's normal for him to get on his toes before he races so I wasn't too concerned and I had full faith in Cristian to handle the horse and take care of him.”
“Both the horse and the rider turned in an absolutely perfect race. If they hadn’t they could not have won amid this competition. I’d like to express my gratitude to both the horse and the rider.” Fujiwara indicated that he would like to take his colt to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Other Japan runners were the 4-year-old Gold Ship-sired Uberleben, who finished on the board in fifth, and Glory Vase, who was returning unprepped from his win of the 2021 Hong Kong Vase. He struggled amid the slow pace to finish in eighth place in the field of 15. The 4-year-old Bago colt Stella Veloce, who was third last year in the first two of Japan’s 3-year-old classics -- the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) – was agitated in the gate and only managed a ninth-place finish under Mirco Demuro.
Uberleben, the 2021 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) champion, ran midfield, gained ground well over the final 400 meters and was able to get within little over a length of the winner. Trainer Takahisa Tezuka said, “I had to get some weight back on her that she’d lost during the trip here, but I still think it was a good race. With the inside draw, there was no option but to get a position further back, but she did gain ground well in the stretch. She’s quite a filly.”
Lane also rated Uberleben (German for “to survive’”) highly. “She started well, but when other horses came in from outside, we had to fall back. A gate a little further out would have been good. I had a lot of horse under me and she really tried hard in the stretch and displayed a fine kick.”
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Wrapping up an incredible World Cup Day was the headline event, the $12-million Dubai World Cup, a Grade 1 over 2,000 meters of dirt, with only one Japanese entrant, 2021 runnerup Chuwa Wizard.
The race went to the two American dirt specialists. In first was the 5-year-old Country Grammer, with a winning time of 2 minutes 4.97 seconds. The son of Tonalist was fielded by three-time World Cup winner Bob Baffert and ridden by Lafranco Dettori. A length and three-quarters back in second was the Oxbow-sired 4-year-old colt Hot Rod Charlie, trained by Doug O’Neill and coming off a win of the G2 Al Maktoum Challenge at Meydan in early February.
Chuwa Wizard, though one back in the placings this year, came within 2 1/4 lengths of the winner, a full length and a quarter closer than last year and took home $1.2 million for the third-place finish.
Piloting the 7-year-old son of King Kamehameha was Yuga Kawada. “He felt really good in the prerace warmup,” said Kawada, “and he was in very good shape. I did think the race would unfold as it did and was able to give him a trip that brought out his strength without him overdoing it.
“Catching and passing horses that were spent in the stretch, we were able to make third. He gave it everything he had in a field that was much stronger than last year’s.”
Trainer Ryuji Okubo agreed. “The race was a very good one. He ran with everything he had, He makes me so very proud!”
Comments: JRA, Emirates Racing Association
DUBAI WORLD CUP (G1, 2,000m Dirt, US$12 million)
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