Two-time Breeders' Cup winner Secret Circle certainly has impressed assistant trainer Dana Barnes before, but in preparing for the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (UAE-I), the exercise rider can feel added strength in the 6-year-old Eddington runner.
Barnes said Secret Circle was moving more powerfully Wednesday, March 25, at Meydan while training for Saturday's 1,200-meter (about six furlongs) test.
"He's a monster," Barnes said Wednesday morning. "He literally dragged me around and then all the way back home (to the quarantine barn)."
Barnes is an assistant to two-time Dubai World Cup (UAE-I)-winning trainer Bob Baffert, who enters Secret Circle off a runner-up finish to Conquest Two Step in the Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 31 at Santa Anita Park.
Secret Circle actually hasn't won in six starts dating back to 2013 but he has registered four runner-up finishes during that stretch, including a second to Work All Week in the XpressBet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) in November at Santa Anita. An earner of $2.47 million, Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman's Secret Circle won the 2013 Breeders' Cup Sprint and the 2011 Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint.
Two other U.S.-trained sprinters have been entered in the Golden Shaheen as Secret Circle in grade I winner Big Macher and grade III winner Salutos Amigos as the U.S. attempts to add to its long list of Golden Shaheen success.
Tom Mansor and Tachycardia Stables' Big Macher also will be making his first start since the Palos Verdes, where the Beau Genius gelding finished fifth. Trained by Richard Baltas, Big Macher won last year's Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar and three other sprint stakes in Southern California.
Baltas has been giving Big Macher extra gate work in Dubai.
"He's always been a bad gate horse and I want to be sure he gets a good break," Baltas said. "He stumbled a bit coming out of the gate in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and it cost him the race."
Former claimer Salutos Amigos enters the Golden Shaheen in top form, carrying a four-race win streak into the race. Owned by Southern Equine Stable and trainer David Jacobson, the 5-year-old Salute the Sarge gelding comes off a four-length victory in the Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III) March 7 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Jacobson said Salutos Amigos shipped well to Dubai and has been getting over the Meydan dirt well.
Of course the U.S.-based trio will face top competition in the expected field of 14, including two-time Hong Kong champion sprinter Lucky Nine, as well as last year's Golden Shaheen runner-up Rich Taptestry and third-place finisher United Color. Rich Tapestry won last year's Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. I) and will be making his first start since finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
In the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) Empowered by IPIC, Hung Kam Po's Amber Skywill try to win the 1,000-meter (about five furlongs) turf race for a second straight year. Last year the 5-year-old Exceed And Excel gelding prevailed by a neck over Godolphin Racing's Ahtoug, who also is back this year.
Based in Hong Kong with trainer Ricky Yiu, Amber Sky enters off a last-place finish in the Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup (HK-I) Jan. 25 at Sha Tin where he reportedly bled. The winner of that race, Huang Kai Wen's Peniaphobia, also will start in the Al Quoz.
Yiu said Amber Sky is back to normal in his preparations for Saturday's race.
The field also includes four-time group I winner Sole Power, who has won the past two editions of the King's Stand Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot and finished second in the 2012 Al Quoz; as well as U.S.-based Green Mask and Distinctiv Passion.
Trainer Wesley Ward will send out Abdullah Saeed Almaddah's Green Mask off a runner-up finish in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint Stakes Feb. 7, and Jeff Bonde will saddle grade III winner Distinctiv Passion. Edward Brown Jr., Alan Klein, and Phillip Lebherz's Distinctiv Passion enters off a 4 1/4-length victory in the Joe Hernandez Stakes Feb. 22 at Santa Anita.
The $1 million Godolphin Mile Sponsored by Meydan Sobha (UAE-II) on the main track will feature a trio of U.S.-based starters in Zayat Stables' Prayer for Relief , Joe Sutton's Bradester , and Flaxman Holdings homebred Quadrivium.
The consistent Prayer for Relief will try to add to a career resume that includes two grade II wins, six total stakes wins, and 14 other stakes placings. In six seasons of racing, the son of Jump Start has earned $1.95 million.
Bradester will be making his seasonal debut after capturing a pair of grade III stakes last year in his most successful season of racing to date. Trainer Eddie Kenneally sends out the 5-year-old son of Lion Heart.
Quadrivium closed out 2014 with victories in allowance and allowance-optional claiming events at Keeneland and Laurel Race Course. The a 4-year-old Henrythenavigator gelding has finished off the board in a pair of graded stakes races this year.
In the day's distance test, the Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (UAE-II), last year's Palmerstown House Estate Irish St. Leger (Ire-I) winner Brown Panther will try to secure the fifth group or graded stakes win of his career.
Andrew Black and Owen Promotions' Brown Panther will be making his first start since finishing 11th in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I).
Saturday's field also includes Star Empire, who finished third in last year's Dubai Gold Cup.