The experiment to try Little Mike on Meydan’s Tapeta surface didn’t turn out quite as well as expected for trainer Dale Romans, but the 6-year-old son of Spanish Steps did get the acclimatization needed for his return to the grass in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free Sponsored by Duty Free (UAE-I) March 30.
The about 1 1/8-mile test, which drew a field of 14, will be Little Mike’s attempt at a third million-dollar prize, having already captured the $2,727,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) and $1 million Arlington Million (gr. IT).
Owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza and bred by Carlo Vaccarezza, Little Mike’s main weapon is speed, although he did come from just off the pace in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III (UAE-I) March 9 and in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Prior to that, he was a pure speed horse, who would go to the lead whether it was a mile or 1 1/2-mile race.
Little Mike was ridden by Irish jockey Kieren Fallon in his Meydan debut, and now gets the services of Gary Stevens for the Dubai Duty Free. Stevens won the 1998 Dubai World Cup aboard Silver Charm.
It will be interesting to see what tactics Stevens employs breaking from post 4. If he decides to go to the front, it is doubtful there is anyone in this field that can outrun him or force him into suicidal fractions. The main question is the course itself, which has not been kind to American turf horses.
Little Mike’s toughest opponent could be Godolphin’s 6-year-old mare Sajjhaa, who has won her last two starts at Meydan impressively at the Duty Free distance, defeating the South African super mare Igugu both times. The daughter of King's Best, who has a powerful stretch kick, is trained by Saeed bin Suroor and will be ridden by Silvestre De Sousa.
The Australian-bred Igugu, trained by Mike de Kock, is back for another try after winning 10 of her first 12 career starts in South Africa. The 5-year-old mare will be ridden by regular rider Anthony Delpech.
Another hard-knocking mare is the 6-year-old English-trained I’m a Dreamer, who is quite familiar with racing in North America, having raced there four times, winning the Beverly D (gr. IT) last year and finishing second by a head in the 2011 E.P. Taylor (gr. IT). Her last start was a sixth-place finish, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).
But this is far from a Mike vs. the Mares battle. Little Mike also will have to contend with the Australian star Ocean Park, winner of eight of 14 career starts, his most recent coming in a group I at 1 1/4 miles in Australia March 9, in which he won by 3 1/2 lengths. The New Zealand-bred 4-year-old will be ridden by Johnny Murtagh.
De Kock will saddle two other runners and should have a live chance with The Apache. The South African-bred, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalida Al Maktoum and Winston Chow, won first time out at Meydan in a grade II on Jan. 31 and then came back to run a strong second to Sajjhaa, beaten three-quarters of a length. A winner of seven of 17 career starts, he will be ridden by Christophe Soumillon.
De Kock also will send out the 4-year-old Mushreq, who is coming off a 3 1/4-length victory over Master of Hounds in a grade II going a mile on the turf at Meydan Feb. 21. He will be ridden by Paul Hanagan.
David Simcock, who trains I’m a Dreamer, also will saddle Trade Storm, who has won his last two at Meydan, including a one-mile grade II stakes in his last start March 2.
- Aesops Fables (USA), K. Fallon, S. bin Suroor
- I’m a Dreamer (IRE), H. Turner, D. Simcock
- City Style (USA), M Barzelona, M. Al Zarooni
- Little Mike (USA), G. Stevens, D. Romans
- Sajjhaa (GB), S. De Sousa, S. bin Suroor
- Igugu (AUS), A. Delpech, M. de Kock
- Ocean Park (NZ), J. Murtagh, G. Hennessy
- Fulbright (GB), A. Ajtebi, M. Al Zarooni
- Giofra (GB), M. Guyon, A, De Royer-Dupre
- The Apache (SAF), C. Soumillon, M. de Kock
- Mushreq (AUS), P. Hanagan, M. de Kock
- Wigmore Hall (IRE), R. Moore, M. Bell
- French Fifteen (FRA), O. Peslier, N. Clement
- Trade Storm (GB), J. Spencer, D. Simcock