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Naoji Inada

Gentildonna Towers in Dubai Sheema Classic

Japan's reigning Horse of the Year looks to be the horse to beat.

Japan's brilliant filly Gentildonna begins her international campaign March 30 in the $5 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) on the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) undercard at Meydan and will bid to become only the third female to win the race.

The 2,410-meter (about 1 1/2-mile) turf event attracted 10 other entrants, including group I winners St Nicholas Abbey, Dunaden, Shareta, and Girolamo.

Japan's reigning Horse of the Year, Gentildonna enters with a five-race win streak that includes her thrilling nose defeat of star colt and Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) runner-up Orfevre in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) Nov. 25 as well as her sweep of Japan's Filly Triple Crown. She comes into the Dubai Sheema Classic off a four-month layoff since making history in the Japan Cup as the first 3-year-old filly to win the nation's signature race, in which Arc winner Solemia finished 13th.

With a triumph in the Dubai Sheema Classic the Deep Impact filly, who is owned by Sunday Racing Co. and trained by Sei Ishizaka, would join Sun Classique (2008) and Dar Re Mi (2010) as the only female winners. Her long-range goal this year is the Arc, Europe's premier middle-distance race.

Japanese horses have won the Sheema Classic twice previously: Stay Gold (2001) and Heart's Cry (2006), and Buena Vista came close to being the third when Dar Re Mi narrowly defeated in 2010.

Coolmore and partners' always dangerous St Nicholas Abbey was runner-up in last year's Dubai Sheema Classic after uncorking a strong stretch rally and getting to within a neck of winner Cirrus Des Aigles at the finish line. He makes his first start since his third to Little Mike in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), a race he captured in 2011. Little Mike is a contender in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) earlier on the Dubai World Cup card.

A 6-year-old Montjeu horse trained by Aidan O'Brien, St Nicholas Abbey has finished off the board only three times in 19 career starts. His record includes seven wins, with four at the highest level.

Dunaden, campaigned by Sheikh Fahad al Thani's Pearl Bloodstock, is in good form ahead of the Sheema Classic, Chantilly-based trainer Mikel Delzangles said.

The 7-year-old globetrotting son of Nicobar is the 2012 Australian champion stayer. He too makes his season debut, which follows a fifth to Dubai World Cup contender Red Cadeaux in the Longines Hong Kong Vase (HK-I) Dec. 9 at Sha Tin.

A model of consistency, Dunaden has placed 26 times in 36 career starts, winning 10 races, including the 2011 Emirates Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) and Hong Kong Vase. Last October in Australia, he stormed from near the back of the field to win the BMW Caulfield Cup (Aus-I).

The Aga Khan's Shareta, the only other female in the Sheema Classic, will try to close her career on a winning note before she is to be bred to elite sire Redoute's Choice at her owner's Haras de Bonneval in France.

The 5-year-old Sinndar mare bids to add a third group I victory to her record after capturing the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I) and Qatar Prix Vermeille (Fr-I) last summer. She has not started since finishing fifth in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Turf, a race that followed a disappointing ninth-placed finish in the Arc.

Girolamo's career-defining win came in his final start last season as a 3-year-old when he defeated older rivals in the Preis von Europa (Ger-I) Sept. 23 at Cologne. Idle in six months since, the German-based 4-year-old Dai Jin colt arrived in Dubai in early January. He is trained by Peter Schiergen for owner Gestut Ebbesloh.

The Dubai World Cup undercard also includes the $1 million Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (UAE-III).

The 3,200-meter (about two-mile) turf test attracted 10 contenders, including top-level winners Cavalryman and Imperial Monarch.

Godolphin's Cavalryman warmed up for Meydan's marquee marathon with a third to Jakkalberry in the 2,410-meter (about 1 1/2-mile) Dubai City of Gold Sponsored by Emirates Skycargo (UAE-II) March 9 at Meydan.

The 7-year-old Halling horse, who was among Europe's prominent 3-year-olds in 2009, has stretched out to longer distances since finishing seventh in the 2012 Dubai Sheema Classic. He kicked off his new career as a stayer by winning a pair of long-distance stakes in England but came up flat in the Emirates Melbourne Cup (Aus-I), finishing 12th in Australia's most famous race, also run at 3,200 meters, last November.

While Cavalryman is a veteran at longer distances, Coolmore and partners' Imperial Monarch tries out the staying division for the first time as he has yet to race beyond 1 1/2 miles. The 4-year-old Galileo colt won the 2012 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-I) and Bet365 Classic Trial (Eng-III) and was unplaced in the Canadian International (Can-IT) Oct. 14 at Woodbine in his most recent start.

Trainer John Oxx will send out Saddler's Rock, a 5-year-old Sadler's Wells horse who captured the two-mile Artemis Goodwood Cup (Eng-II) last August after a good third in the 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot. He has had one start since arriving at Meydan, staying on for fifth in the 2,810-meter (about 1 3/4-mile) Nad al Sheba Trophy Sponsored by Haras Estrela Energia (UAE-III) March 2.

"He has improved from that and the further distance on Saturday will play more to his strengths," said Oxx's assistant Jim "Slim" O'Neill.

$5,000,000 Dubai Sheema Classic presented by Longines (UAE-IT, race 8, approximate post time 1:20 p.m. EDT), NH 4YO&Up, SH 3YO&Up, 1 1/2 miles, turf
Post, Horse, Jockey, Weight (in KG), Trainer
1. Shareta, C. Lemaire, 55, A. De Royer-Dupre
2. Royal Diamond, J. Murtagh, 57, T. Carmody
3. Girolamo, A. Starke, 56.5, P. Schiergen
4. Prince Bishop, M. Barzelona, 57, S. bin Suroor
5. Sharestan, S. De Sousa, 57, S. Bin Suroor
6. St Nicholas Abbey, J. O'Brien, 57, A. O'Brien
7. Trailblazer, Y. Take, 57, Y. Ikee
8. Gentildonna, Y. Iwata, 54.5, S. Ishizaka
9. Very Nice Name, O. Peslier, 56.5, A. de Mieulle
10. Dunaden, J. Spencer, 57, M. Delzangles
11. Await the Dawn, P. Cosgrave, 57, M. de Kock