If America is going to finally crack the Tapeta blockade that has prevented it from having a single horse finish in the money in the three Dubai World Cups run at Meydan, this will be the year.
In dealing with the Tapeta and acclimatization issue, Dullahan has that one covered by coming early to Dubai to have a prep over the track. And although he finished a distant 11th in the group III Burj Nahaar Sponsored by Emirates Holidays at a distance (one mile) shorter than he likes, he should have learned a great deal from that race and more importantly gotten a feel for the track. The 4-year-old son of Even the Score , who was asked for a premature run by Kieren Fallon in his prep, previously had won three grade I stakes on Polytrack—the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity and Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and the TVG Pacific Classic against older horses at Del Mar. Trainer Dale Romans said he looks better now than he did before his prep race.
Royal Delta's prep for the Dubai World Cup actually took place in last year's World Cup when she was unable to overcome a rough trip and finished ninth, beaten 8 1/2 lengths. But now that she's already made the long trip and has a feel for the surface, trainer Bill Mott is confident she will give a much better account of herself this year. The 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker will attempt to land the big prize coming off only a 1 1/16-mile prep this year—an easy five-length romp in the Sabin Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 17.
As for Animal Kingdom, well, he is the one horse who will try to restore some sense of order to the one-time U.S. domination of the World Cup by doing it the old fashioned way—no prep and no acclimating; just come, see, and conquer, the way eight others have done in the past when the race was run on good old fashioned dirt. What the 5-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux has in his favor is his remarkable versatility and ability to handle any type of surface at any distance, whether it be in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) on grass, the Spiral Stakes (gr. II) on synthetic, or the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He has already pioneered new territory by becoming the first horse in history to win the Kentucky Derby in his first ever attempt on dirt. Now he attempts to become the first U.S. horse to win the Dubai World Cup on Tapeta.
His only start this year was a solid second-place finish to the top-class Point of Entry in the 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) Feb. 9.
All in all, the American horses drew well in the 13-horse field, with Animal Kingdom in post 12, Royal Delta faring best of all in post 8, and Dullahan in post 3. After the horrific trip Animal Kingdom encountered in the Breeders' Cup Mile, trapped down on the rail for most of the race, he should at least have clear sailing on Saturday, and new jockey Joel Rosario just has to avoid getting caught too wide from that outside post.
"To tell the truth, I was glad 1, 2, and 3 were already taken," said trainer Graham Motion. "I talked to (Animal Kingdom's former rider) Ramon Dominguez and he said that we wouldn't want to see him caught on the inside. Hopefully Joel Rosario will have him in a good spot. Our tactics won't change and he's capable of coming from off of it if he has to. After all we won the Derby from post 16."
Dullahan, who does his best running late from the outside, will have to avoid the trip he had in the Burj Nahaar and work his way toward the outside, otherwise he has to hope the holes open up for him. Going from Fallon (a leading rider in Ireland) to Gary Stevens (who won the World Cup on Silver Charm in 1998) should be a big help.
"Post 3 is alright," Romans said. "It's a good spot and we'd rather not (start) from the outside. He'll probably settle and come running. Gary Stevens and I will study the race and come up with a strategy."
Royal Delta, who has been looking great in the morning according to reports from Meydan, drew perfectly, and Mott is looking for a much-improved effort from his two-time champion.
"I just decided to take one post outside of 7; last year we were 7," Mott said. "The filly did well coming into the race last year, but we didn't have the easiest of trips, so we decided to come back right then and there. She is bigger and stronger this year."
Even if the Americans can overcome the surface, the travel, and the expected heat, there is the competition to deal with. This year's field drew some heavy hitters from around the world, including last year's World Cup winner Monterosso, the Godolphin-owned 6-year-old who has shown no indication he is anywhere near back to last year's form after finishing a dismal 10th in the Al Maktoum Challenge-Round 3 Sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I).
His jockey, Mikael Barzelona, who is known for his excessive and dangerous pre-wire celebrations, was not exactly effusive in his confidence, giving pretty much a stock comment after the draw.
"He is doing well and we are pleased with him," he said. "I am happy with the draw (post 10) and I hope for success."
The morning line favorite is another Godolphin colt, Hunter's Light, an Irish-bred 5-year-old who is coming off impressive victories in both the Al Maktoum Challenge-Round 2 Sponsored by Tabloid and Round 3, winning both convincingly. The son of Dubawi drew post 4.
The Maktoum family also will be represented by the German-bred Kassiano, African Story, and Capponi. Kassiano, a winner of seven of his 10 career starts, had won three straight before finishing second to Hunter's Light in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3. Capponi has not run since his second-place finish in last year's Dubai World Cup.
Americans will be familiar with the name Treasure Beach, who drew the inside post for trainer Mike de Kock. The 5-year-old son of Galileo won the 2011 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Ire-I) for Aidan O'Brien and was second, beaten a head, in the Investec Epsom Derby (Eng-I). Last year, he was fourth in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I). In North America, he captured the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) and was second in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT), third in the Pattison Canadian International (gr. IT), fifth in the Man o' War (gr. IT), sixth in the Arlington Million (gr. IT), and ninth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).
Andre Fabre will saddle Meandre, winner of the group I Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris in France and Grosser Preis von Berlin in Germany. This is his first trip to Dubai.
Another European with back class is group I winner and French Derby (Fr-I) runner-up Planteur, who is coming off a 1 1/4-mile victory over the all-weather track at Lingfield Feb. 23.
From England comes the hard-knocking world traveler Red Cadeaux, whose last race was a victory in the Longines Hong Kong Vase in December.
English-trained Side Glance is coming off a fourth-place finish in the group I Jebel Hatta Sponsored by Emirates Airline at Meydan March 9.
$10,000,000 Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates (UAE-I), race 9, approximate post time 2:05 p.m. EDT NH4YO&Up and SH3YO&Up, 1 1/4m, Tapeta