Dubai World Cup Carnival: Cup Contenders



Spanning 11 days and with $40 million worth of prize money on offer, the Dubai World Cup Carnival is one of the world’s premier racing carnivals.

Held at the picturesque Meydan Racecourse, the carnival draws in some of the biggest names in the world of racing every year from January to March, culminating in the show-piece Dubai World Cup Day.

Dubai World Cup Day is the pinnacle event in Dubai’s sporting and social calendar, taking place each year on the last Saturday of March. Nine races make up the day featuring six Group 1’s and two Group 2’s, with a grand total of $3om prize money on offer on the day alone.

Leading up to Dubai World Cup Day, Globeform founder Geir Stabell highlights the main contenders to look out for in some of the feature races.

Dubai World Cup Contenders

The world’s richest horse race, the Group 1 Dubai World Cup is the crescendo of the UAE Racing season. Inaugurated in 1996, the race attracts the world’s best four-year-olds & up and from the Northern Hemisphere and three-year-olds & up from the Southern Hemisphere who vie for a slice of the US $10million purse.

Last years renewal was won by locally trained Gelding Prince Bishop in a time of 2:03.24.

Keen Ice, the horse who managed to beat Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last summer, is a really interesting Dubai World Cup contender. Trained by Dale Romans, a World Cup winner with Roses in May back in 2005, Keen Ice is set to have his final prep in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III on ‘Super Saturday’ on March 5.

Like Roses in May, this contender used the prestigious Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Florida as his stepping stone to a trip to the Middle East. And like Roses in May, he was beaten in the Donn – a race that has been an excellent guide to the World Cup over the years. While Roses in May ran second in the Donn, Keen Ice had to settle for sixth place at Gulfstream, passing the winning post just over four lengths behind the winner Mshawish, who is also pointing to the World Cup.

So can Keen Ice reverse the form with Mshawish on March 26? Absolutely. The son of 2008 World Cup winner Curlin ran a lot better than the bare result might suggest in the Donn, a race staged over 9 furlongs (1800 metres) and lacking early pace. Keen Ice finished well from the back and he galloped out strongly after the line.

It is also worth noting that he was making his seasonal debut (Mshawish was race-fit after a win four weeks prior), and that Keen Ice was carrying 4lb more than the winner (1.8kg), a weight difference that equals almost two lengths in this distance bracket. Stepping back up in trip, and getting a stronger pace to close into, will help Keen Ice enormously. He will also be much fitter on World Cup night.

He was foiled by lack of pace also when finishing a distant fourth behind American Pharoah, Effinex and Honor Code in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, and ran lengths better when staying-on for fourth behind Effinex, Hoppertunity and Looks to Spare in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs three weeks later.

Keen Ice is a high class performer, no doubt about that. His powerful finish took him past American Pharoah and Frosted in the Travers and, though it was a bit of a shock result, it was not impossible to explain. It was further progress on showings that had earned him third place in the Belmont Stakes and second in the Haskell Invitational (both won by American Pharoah).

Foaled on March 25, Keen Ice has been a late developing runner and there’s a good chance that this massive colt will improve again as a four-year-old. He is a serious World Cup contender.

Godolphin’s Dubai World Cup hope Frosted, a four-year-old trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, improved to Globeform 121 when winning the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge series at Meydan in February, and he is a very interesting contender. Most bookmakers have him as second favourite, behind California Chrome, and it is easy to see why.

He was visually most impressive on his seasonal debut, when he won for fun and also smashed the course record for 1900 metres at Meydan. Sure, he had by far the best form going into the race, and he was a hot favourite, but Frosted still exceeded expectations as he powered home by 5 lengths from Gold City. He appears to be a horse that has done really well from three to four, and championship event success must be within reach now.

Frosted was very competitive at the top level in the USA last year. After tasting Grade One success in the Wood Memorial in April, the grey son of Tapit went on to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont Stakes, on both occasions running with great credit in the wake in Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Frosted also took third in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, when Keen Ice managed to beat American Pharoah after Frosted had put serious pressure on the favourite from the outset.

He must have had a hard race that day but Frosted returned to winning form when gaining an easy win in the Pennsylvania Derby in September, before failing to show his true form when facing American Pharoah once more in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, where he beat just one of his seven rivals. His first start at Meydan was miles better than that run. Proven over the World Cup track, Frosted has a good chance in the $10 million race.

Dubai Turf Contenders

The Group 1 Dubai Turf  is run over a distance of 1,800 metres with a prize purse of US $5million. The race also doubles as the second leg of the four-part Asian Mile Challenge.

The first Dubai Turf was held in 1996 at a distance of 2,000 metres on a dirt track, which was won by 5yo Key Of Luck.

The 2015 edition was taken out by French trained Solow, who backed up that win by claiming the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.

Right up to a week before the big day, Intilaaq’s name was on the list of projected World Cup runners, then switched to the Dubai Turf. A move that makes a lot of sense. He may be a son of Dynaformer, but his best form on turf has been on good to firm ground, he has shown an excellent turn of foot on the lawn in England, and this is where he belongs.

Not only does he belong in the Dubai Turf, he is the best horse going into the race – and open to further improvement. A winner of three of his five starts, Intilaaq was beaten only once as a three-year-old last term, when he finished down the field in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. Such a tough task probably came way too soon for him.

He had raced only twice previously, taking third in an Ascot maiden at two and winning a Newbury maiden on his reappearance at three. Intilaaq was the talk of the town after his Newbury race, which he won by 8 lengths from the favourite Keble after making all and quickening right away from his rivals approaching the furlong-marker. He looked top class and connections went for a supplementary gamble into the Guineas. The gamble did not pay off but, passing the winning post 13 lengths behind winner Gleneagles while looking to be out of his comfort zone, Intilaaq was not at all disgraced in the mile classic.
A break of over two months followed and the Roger Varian trainee returned in a well contested Listed event over 10 furlongs (about 2000 metres) at Newbury in July, which he won readily by 2 ½ lengths from Consort (who was coming off a third to Gleneagles at Royal Ascot). The two three-year-old were well clear at the finish. Dual Listed winner Firefighting was beaten almost ten lengths in third place. He was third once more, beaten 6 ½ lengths, as Intilaaq followed up with a visually taking performance to win the the Rose Of Lancaster Stakes (G3) at Haydock in August. Intilaaq won this event by 5 lengths from the in-form Master Carpenter. He was always prominent, went to the lead with under a mile to go and kicked away with half a mile to go.

The Rose Of Lancaster is run over an extended ten-furlong trip, and the Dubai Turf distance is sure to suit Intilaaq. His good tactical speed should help him get a good position early on, and his stamina will be valuable at the business end of the contest.

Super Saturday at Meydan racecourse, three weeks ahead on the big World Cup night, will have several horses in action hoping to get the ideal rehearsal for bigger assignments on March 26. Godolphin’s Tryster is one of these, and looks sure to start favourite for the Jebel Hatta, a prep race to the Dubai Turf. Both events are run over 1800 metres (about 9 furlongs). Last year, the Dubai Turf was won by the outstanding French miler Solow, who slammed English raider The Grey Gatsby by over four lengths. Tryster is not in the same class as these two, but his reappearance win at Meydan last month was visually impressive and he could well be improving at the age of five.

He was a tremendous earner in England last year, with 6 wins from 8 runs, and he looked a very smart performer when taking the Dubai Millennium Stakes over 2000 metres on February 18. The son of Shamardal was making his first start since September, and he was switching from racing successfully on artificial surfaces to turf, but neither factor seemed to bother him. Nor did the moderate pace, as Tryster quickened right past his rivals to win comfortably by almost three lengths from the favourite Haafaguinea (a good winner at Meydan on his previous start).

In fact, a slow early pace may have helped Tryster. He found himself in a similar scenario when taking the Winter Derby at Lingfield Park just over a year ago – a race he won by three parts of a length from Grendisar (who won this year’s Winter Derby). After that success, Tryster was well below his best finishing last of five in the top class Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in the summer (may have been feeling the effects of his winter / spring campaign and the course may not have suited him). He was given a four-month break and bounced back with a game half-length win over Let’s Go in a minor event at Chelmsford City in September. That was his last run in 2015.

Tryster is a game and enthusiastic runner who always tries his best and Meydan’s flat turf course clearly suits him. His explosive turn of foot means that he will always be best on good to firm ground.


Dubai Golden Shaheen Contenders

The US $2million Dubai Golden Shaheen is ran over a distance of 1,200 metres. Its first incarnation was held in December 1993 under the title of Nad Al Sheba Sprint. It was moved to its current timing to be included in the Dubai World Cup in 1996 and was given Group 1 status in 2002.

Last year’s race was taken out by Secret Circle in a time of 1:10.64.

Rich Tapestry served up a warning to all potential Golden Shaheen rivals when bossing the field for a solid win in the Al Shindagha Sprint in February, and he will be tough to beat as he turns out again on Super Saturday. Sure, his task may have been made easier when Marking stumbled right out of the contest at the start, but Rich Tapestry was by far the best of those who made it to the wire and he proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with at the top level.

Confidently ridden by Frenchman Gerard Mosse, he led all the way and never looked in any danger at the finish. He beat Muarrab, who reopposes on Saturday, readily by 1 ½ lengths. Local hero Reynaldothewizard was third, beaten another two lengths. This was Rich Tapestry’s first run back since a below par effort in the Hong Kong Sprint on turf at Sha Tin in December.

The Hong Kong based veteran has plenty of international experience, having won the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in California as well as the Maham Al Shimaal here at Meydan back in 2014, when he was also runner-up in the Golden Shaheen (behind Australian raider Sterling City).

Rich Tapestry is a tough and battle hardened sprinter, whose early speed is a strong asset. He is defintely on the short list for the valuable sprint on World Cup night.

Dubai World Cup Carnival on The Hub

Geir Stabell from will be providing analysis and ratings throughout feature races during the carnival. Geir is a leading international thoroughbred expert. The founder of Globeform also worked with Racing Post in London, where he held the position as international handicapper. Stabell’s in-depth racing analysis is regularly published in Europe, North America, Dubai and South Africa.