Trainer Mike de Kock's Meydan course record-setter Shea Shea aims for the most lucrative win of his career in the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint Sponsored By Emirates NBD (UAE-I) on the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) undercard March 30.
Other contenders for the 1,000-meter (about five-furlong) turf test include last year's runner-up Sole Power, U.S.-based runners Varsity and Great Attack, Singapore standout Mr Big, former Australian and European champion sprinter Starspangledbanner, and 2010 Al Quoz Sprint winner Joy And Fun.
A two-time group I winner in his native South Africa, Shea Shea won the Meydan Sprint by 2 1/2 lengths from Al Quoz Sprint entrant Sole Power, lowering the course standard for 1,000 meters to :57.02 while making his second start in Dubai on the March 9 Super Saturday card. He made a less than auspicious first start at Meydan Jan. 31 when he was seventh behind winner and Al Quoz Sprint entrant Medicean Man in a handicap at the same distance.
"We knew he had improved a lot from his first run and expected a big effort on Super Saturday and he certainly did not let us down," de Kock said of Shea Shea, a 5-year-old National Emblem gelding.
"He must have a serious chance, but this is a stronger race and I see the American horse Varsity has a blisteringly fast winning time to his credit. He would be a big danger if showing that kind of speed, but Shea Shea is at least as well as he was three weeks ago, hopefully a bit better."
Trained by Christophe Clement, Varsity controlled the pace and scored a 1 1/2-length win in the five-furlong Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint Stakes in a swift :54.17 last time out Feb. 2. Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (gr. III) winner Great Attack, who was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) last November, finished third as the favorite for trainer Wesley Ward.
Sole Power, winner of the 2010 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes (Aus-I), finished second to Ortensia in the 2012 Al Quoz Sprint. In need of a race after five months on the sidelines since finishing fifth in the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp (Fr-I) last October, he tracked Shea Shea from mid-division in the Meydan Sprint and staged a sustained rally from a quarter-mile out but could not catch the winner and finished second.
Mr Big has drawn the stands' side rail in the Al Quoz Sprint, a post position deemed favorable for sprints down the 1,000-meter chute. The 4-year-old Elusive Quality gelding gets blinkers for the first time in more than a year to help him keep focus as he gets a new challenge.
"That's our only query with him," trainer Michael Freedman said. "He's never been down a straight 1,000 meters on turf before, but he has a high cruising speed and I'd expect him to be fairly handy as the race unfolds."
With most of the pre-race attention on presumptive favorite Shea Shea, Mr Big will be under the radar, but his connections believe he is set for a career-best effort. "Whether that's good enough to win we shall see, because it's a very good field but I'm as happy with him as I was with my other horse a couple of years ago," Freedman said. "We're fairly hopeful."
Coolmore and partners' Starspangledbanner is still in search of a first win since launching a comeback to racing following a season at stud in Australia.
The 6-year-old Choisir horse makes his season debut following a 10th-place finish in the 6 1/2-furlong Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. He is a five-time group winner, including the 2010 Darley July (Eng-I) at Newmarket and Golden Jubilee (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot and a pair of group I races in Australia.
Nine-year-old Joy And Fun is a veteran sprinter in Hong Kong and trainer Derek Cruz said he expects the Cullen gelding to be competitive in the race he won in 2010. He finished third in last year's Al Quoz Sprint after taking the Chairman's Sprint Prize, a top-level race at Sha Tin, in February 2012, but is winless in four starts since then.
"He loves Dubai and it's great to be back in this race again," trainer Derek Cruz said. "He's a year older, but he'll still run well and won't be far away."
$1,000,000 Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Emirates EBD (UAE-IT, race 5, approximate post time 11:05 a.m. EDT) 3YO (NH and SH), 5 furlongs, turf
Post, Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Eagle Regiment, O. Doleuze, K. Leung Man
2. Monsieur Joe, W. Buick, R. Cowell
3. Ganas, T. O'Shea, E. Oertel
4. Dux Scholar, S. Benzel, K. Ulubaev
5. Spirit Quartz, J. Spencer, R. Cowell
6. Varsity, J. Bravo, C. Clement
7. Shea Shea, C. Soumillon, M. de Kock
8. Russian Rock, W. Smith, M. Al Muhairi
9. Russian Soul, S. Foley, M. Halford
10. Starspangledbanner, J. O'Brien, A. O'Brien
11. Joy and Fun, T. Angland, D. Cruz
12. Invincible Ash, R. Hughes, M. Halford
13. Great Attack, J. Rosario, W. Ward
14. Medicean man, H. Bentley, H. Gask
15. Sole Power, J. Murtagh, E. Lynam
16. Mr Big, Z. Purton, M. Freedman
All horses carry 57 kilograms (125.6 pounds), except for mare Invincible Ash, who carries 55 KG (121.25 pounds)