- DUBAI WORLD CUP: Sano ‘So Proud’ of Gunnevera
- DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC: Rey de Oro on the Rise
- DUBAI TURF: Japan in Droves
- DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN: Takaful Takes the Stage
- AL QUOZ SPRINT: The World is Blue Point’s Oyster
- UAE DERBY: The Oaks Could Prove Key
- GODOLPHIN MILE: Sharp Azteca Has the Edge
- DUBAI GOLD CUP: Vazirabad Brings Backup in Nad Al Sheba Trophy
DUBAI WORLD CUP: Sano ‘So Proud’ of Gunnevera – Being a bit overlooked has become a nice way to make a living for Gunnevera. Despite winning multiple graded stakes, a third of his 15 lifetime starts and nearly US$3 million in earnings, the Solomon Del-Valle-owned 4-year-old colt rarely has gone off at low odds and now enters the $10 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) picture as an outsider.
Such is fine with his connections, as the same branding resulted in a fine third-place finish last out in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) on January 27th and a stellar runner-up effort three back in the prestigious Travers Stakes (G1). All in all, the game chestnut arguably remains the only member of his generation to show true mettle in his campaigning. He won graded stakes victories in the summer and late fall of his juvenile season, raced respectably in two grueling legs of the Triple Crown and competed admirably in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). On top of all that, he has commenced his 4-year-old season by finishing third behind champions Gun Runner and West Coast in the Pegasus.
“I am so proud of my horse,” said trainer Antonio Sano. “He is very well right now and I am happy with him. He worked five furlongs (1000m) in 58.3 seconds and never in his life did he look so good. It is a good moment for my horse. I know the others in the (Dubai World Cup) will be very tough and it is a strong race, (but) he is better (than ever). He is bigger and stronger; a different horse.”
Venezuelan-owned and -trained, Gunnevera has become the unofficial ‘pride of Venezuela’ without ever racing in said country and a lot of that has to do with the incredible story of his conditioner. An icon in said nation’s racing industry, with more than 3,300 wins, Sano came from a family of top Venezuelan trainers, but fled the volatile South American country after being kidnapped for 36 dreadful days in 2009. After briefly living in Italy, he made the ambitious move to Miami to ring in a new life for his family eight years ago. Training 60 horses, give or take, from his Gulfstream Park West training base, the affable and detail-oriented 53-year-old now plans to head across the world with a horse who has already brought him a world of happiness and rewarded such vivid sacrifices.
“He has done very well for me,” Sano said. “He has given a lot to my family. He has taken us to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He went to the Travers in New York and California for the Breeders’ Cup. I am glad to have the opportunity to go to Dubai. For my family, that is our one goal and we are so proud of the horse.”
The late-running type will likely have to take on an old nemesis in the 2000m event. West Coast, who has finished ahead of him in their three meetings, remains on target and worked a sharp 800m on Monday in 47.60 seconds at Santa Anita.
In their first clash, Gunnevera chased the Bob Baffert trainee home with a resolute rally in the Travers, coming up 3¼ lengths short, but multiple lengths clear of the winners of all three Triple Crown races – Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing and Tapwrit. Two months later, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Gunnevera rallied belatedly up the rail to finish in a dead-heat for fifth with 2017 Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate, 2¾ lengths astern third-placed West Coast. Last out, he was a distant third after traffic issues, 10¾ lengths behind said rival.
Still, his upbeat conditioner is looking forward to the 2000m, or about 1¼ miles, that brought his pupil much closer to the expected Dubai World Cup favourite.
“He is very good, maybe best, at the distance,” Sano said. “He relaxes and at the three-eighths-pole, he makes his run. I just hope that the trip (to Dubai from Miami) is okay for him. And the race is at night, so I hope my horse has a good race (under the lights).”
“He will leave from here the 20th with my staff and I will leave for Dubai the 25th,” he concluded.
Sano will have more than one rooting interest on the evening. Not only did he pick out Gunnevera for a bargain $16,000 from the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, but he also chose likely Dubai Golden Shaheen runner and Jorge Navarro trainee X Y Jet out of the Ocala August Sale in 2013 for $56,000.
Other Dubai World Cup Possibles: West Coast, Forever Unbridled, Talismanic, Thunder Snow, Mubtaahij, Hoppertunity
DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC: Rey de Oro Looks Tough – Japanese champion 3-year-old colt of 2017 Rey de Oro has been confirmed for the $6 million, 2400m Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) and appears to be one of the horses to beat, to say the least. A valiant second in the Japan Cup (G1), beating Kitasan Black (3rd) and an impressive winner of the Japanese Derby (G1) earlier in 2017, the son of King Kamehameha was a disappointing third in his season bow on February 11th in the Kyoto Kinen (G2), but was not without excuse that day. The Kazuo Fujisawa trainee was sans his regular rider, Christophe Lemaire, who was suspended at the time.
Very lightly raced, the improving bay 4-year-old colt appears to have taken aim on this race a long way out for a trainer who has had his fair share of top runners. He will likely take a lot of beating in the race and gets the return services of his favourite pilot against a field that looks to include formidable Group 1 winner Cloth of Stars, from the partnership of Godolphin and Andre Fabre.
For those looking to compare the form of the two expected market toppers, Rey de Oro was rated a 121 in 2017, while Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) runner-up Cloth of Stars was a 125 – the 7th-highest rating in the world.
Other Dubai Sheema Classic possibles: Satono Crown, Hawkbill
DUBAI TURF: Japan in Droves – ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is an adage best applicable to Japan’s approach to the $6 million Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1). After winning the last two editions with Real Steel (2016) and Vivlos (2017), they are likely to be represented by each of those top-class runners, as well as others, including lesser-known Crocosmia, whose trainer Katsuichi Nishiura announced this week that the 1800m specialist will aim after the world’s most lucrative event at said distance. Crocosmia exits an eighth in the same 2200m Kyoto Kinen in which Rey de Oro was third and shortens back to her best trip.
Those from the land of the rising sun appear to be taking advantage of rising opportunities, as two of the expected favourites for the Dubai Turf, Hong Kong’s Time Warp and America’s World Approval, have recently decided to take the conservative road and not come after preparatory victories in their respective countries. Neorealism has thrown his hat into the ring, while Deirdre looks to do the same. Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1)-winning Neorealism owns a victory over this trip when impressively taking last year’s Nakayama Kinen (G2). Deirdre is still on the improve and was victorious in last year’s 2000m Shuko Sho (G1), the final leg of the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown.
Other Dubai Turf possibles: Benbatl, Promising Run, Championship, Noah from Goa, Furia Cruzada
DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN: Takaful Takes the Stage – Kiaran McLaughlin is well-versed in what it takes to do well in Dubai, having trained here for many years. The former D. Wayne Lukas assistant-turned-multiple G1 winner in his own right is coming back with a serious chance of winning one of the country’s biggest races, the 1200m $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News (G1), with Shadwell Stables’ Takaful.
“We’re looking at it strongly,” McLaughlin said. “He’s always been a little difficult to train, so we are just making sure he’s 110% and looking seriously at coming with him. He just ran a very good race where he was hooked every step of the way and went 22 and 45 and the track wasn’t that fast that day. It was a hard race and he carried top weight, so he got a lot out of the race. He’s doing well, so hopefully that all goes well the next two weeks.
“You have to have the right horse to come to Dubai,” he continued. “We think he is the right horse. He has a great mind. He’s not in need of medications, and that’s important, and he does everything right. Nothing bothers him, really, it’s just that he can get very keen when he goes to the track to train.”
In his 2018 bow, the dark bay 4-year-old son of Bernardini finished third – pipped at the line for second – in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in New York. The 1400m race saw him set the pace from the inside, while under constant pressure, and then run hard to the wire. In 2017, he capped his season with a subpar 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Del Mar, but had won the Vosburgh (G1) one race prior at Belmont Park and finished second in the H. Allen Jerkens (G1) five weeks prior to that.
The Shadwell homebred is part of what is arguably the strongest assemblage of American sprinters in the history of the Dubai Golden Shaheen. If the race holds together, it feasibly could be one of the best sprint races anywhere in years.
Other Dubai Golden Shaheen possibles: Roy H, Mind Your Biscuits, X Y Jet, D B Pin, My Catch, Comicas, Reynaldothewizard, Raven’s Corner, Muarrab
AL QUOZ SPRINT: The World is Blue Point’s Oyster – It seems that one cannot talk about the 2018 $1 million Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1) without speaking of UAE’s favourite son, Ertijaal. Now, thanks to last week’s fantastic Meydan Sprint (G2) renewal, one cannot mention Ertijaal without referencing the stellar return of Godolphin’s Blue Point, who gave said rival all he could handle in the 1000m affair. Throwing down the gauntlet with 200m to go, Ertijaal dared his younger foe to catch him and Blue Point came at him full-force under William Buick, only to come up short at the wire.
Whether short on seasoning or not loving the shorter distance, the Charlie Appleby pupil is considered by many to have the upper-hand when the two likely meet again in the 1200m Al Quoz Sprint. An improving sort, Blue Point is a son of Shamardal who has had his races spaced out judiciously throughout his career. A fine third to Caravaggio in Royal Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup (G1) in June, he set a course record at Ascot during the season and also beat sprint titan Harry Angel in May’s Pavilion Stakes (G3).
Other Al Quoz Sprint possibles: Ertijaal, Baccarat, Faatinah, Richard’s Boy, Music Magnate, Jungle Cat, Hit the Bid
UAE DERBY: The Oaks Could Prove Key – Thursday’s $250,000 UAE Oaks (G3) could have as much to say about the $2 million UAE Derby sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) as any race, thanks to the burgeoning talents of its main two players, Winter Lightning and Rayya. After a thrilling battle in the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial over 1400m in January, the upstarts returned for another fine showing in the 1600m UAE 1000 Guineas (Listed), which again resulted in the former winning. On Thursday, the two get a UAE Derby course and distance stamina test in the Oaks, which has racing analysts guessing as to whether the outcome could be more of the same or a reversal of fortunes.
Other UAE Derby possibles: Mendelssohn, Gold Town, Seahenge, Threeandfourpence, Yulong Warrior, Last Voyage
GODOLPHIN MILE: Sharp Azteca Has the Edge – Once again, America’s speedy Sharp Aztecaappears so tough that it will take a super-performance –or a super-weird set of circumstances, like last year– to beat him in the $1 million Godolphin Mile (G2). This year, the son of Freud appropriately appears a more psychologically sound prospect, having learned to rate beautifully and pounce on his prey with an explosive turn-of-foot in the final 300m. The nearly black charge, trained by Jorge Navarro, enters off a disappointing off-the-board finish in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) in late January.
“He’s ready for the race and he was ready for the Pegasus (World Cup Invitational),” Navarro said. “He was one of the horses that I took over (to the race last time) and absolutely everything was right, but then everything in the race just turned the other way and he never had a chance to show who he is. He’s a great horse. Whether he can go that far (1800m), I’m not sure, but that race did not tell us.
“(Jockey) Irad Ortiz (Jr.) worked him the other day and said he was ready,” Navarro said. “He galloped out (to 1200m after working 1000m in a bullet 58.80) in 1:10. We will just turn the page with him. He didn’t have any luck (in the Pegasus) and we will hope for the best at Meydan.”
The prohibitive favourite in last year’s Godolphin Mile, he was entangled in a grueling speed duel while going wide on the far turn under young rider Edgard Zayas. He gave way begrudgingly in the final 150m to Second Summer and Ross, finishing third.
“Last year was heartbreaking,” Navarro said. “We took a young jockey, and nothing against, him, but he wasn’t quite ready and made a bad decision, but we leave with that and turn the page, like I said. We can get it this year. When you go into these big races, going out of the country and across the world, you have to respect who you’re running against. Hopefully it plays out well for us.”
Other Godolphin Mile possibles: Heavy Metal, Ross, Kimbear, Boynton, Classic Emperor
DUBAI GOLD CUP: Vazirabad Brings Backup in Nad Al Sheba Trophy – Thursday’s 2810m $200,000 Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) includes Dubai’s favourite stayer, two-time $1 million Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2) winner Vazirabad. Arguably, though, the more intriguing part of his resurfacing is his partner-in-crime, fellow stayer Canndera, who has every right to improve when she starts in the same Dubai World Cup Carnival event. Both owned by the Aga Khan and trained by Alain de Royer Dupre, each will take a lot of beating in the main prep for the 3200m Gold Cup 30 days later.
Other Dubai Gold Cup possibles: Sheikhzayedroad, Big Orange, Zamaam, Los Barbados, Prince of Arran
Caption: Dubai World Cup prospect Gunnevera (Photo credit: Mathea Kelley)