Who are the favourites for the Dubai World Cup?

Sam Price
Sam Price

The Dubai World Cup attracts the finest trainers and horses from all over the world. Sam Price and Georgina Lavers look to the great regional hopes

The favourites

Trainers Kiaran McLaughlin / Art and Alan Sherman

Horses Frosted / California Chrome

Much of the media excitement around the headline race for Dubai World Cup night has centred on the two American colts Frosted and California Chrome.

California Chrome is a studdish five-year-old, nicknamed ‘Vogue’ due to his love of photographers’ cameras. The colt is known to like being out in front from the get-go, while Frosted typically stays just off the flank of the leader, a tactic he recently put to good use in round two of the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge in February.

That was Frosted’s first taste of Meydan, but Chrome has been here before. In the 2015 World Cup, the rags-to-riches superstar – who was bred for just US$10,500– made a bold bid from the front before being overtaken by Prince Bishop in the final furlong.

Alan Sherman is Art’s son as well as his assistant trainer in Kentucky, and has high hopes for Chrome in what will be his last campaign on the racetrack.

I was very pleased when [the Cup] went back to dirt... maybe we’ll make it an annual trip 

Kiaran McLaughlin, Trainer of World Cup hopeful Frosted

“This year we switched it up so he could run in the handicap on 25 February. It usually takes two runs to get a horse into peak condition, so he should be perfect for World Cup night. I couldn’t be happier with how he’s training, and everything he’s been showing me tells me he can go one better this year,” says Sherman.

His chief rival, Frosted, is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the World Cup with the brilliant Invasor in 2007 and trains a number of Godolphin’s leading lights for World Cup night. For Frosted, he is anticipating a similar race to Sherman – though obviously with a different outcome. 

“I think this year Chrome will be forward with the pace early, maybe in first or second place, and hopefully we can sit just behind him,” he says. “But I think Frosted can beat him provided he continues to train well up until the race.”

The Americans have a proud history in Dubai. Nine of the 20 winners of the World Cup have been trained in the US, and now that the surface for the world’s richest race has returned to dirt, the American contingent look a dead cert to be regular visitors. 

William Buick and Tryster 2
William Buick and Tryster sail to victory in the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes

A challenge from the Far East 

Trainers Noriyuki Hori / Inseok Seo / Jang G Min

Horses Duramente / Cheongu / Success Story 

Disregard them at your peril: as Japan mounts its latest challenge at Meydan and a new force emerges from South Korea, the Asian contingent look set to make their mark on Dubai.

Japanese horses have a proven track record at the event. The Noriyuki Hori-trained Gentildonna won the Dubai Sheema Classic in 2014 and Victoire Pisa won an emotional World Cup in 2011, just weeks after the tsunami in the country.

Another in Hori’s stable, Duramente, is set to carry Japan’s hopes this year. The four-year-old son of King Kamehameha will race on grass in the Sheema Classic after a win in Japan in late February – his first time on the track after nine months off. 

Owner Shunsuke Yoshida, President of Sunday Racing, says of the event: “In general, we are always keen to take our racehorses to the Dubai World Cup. All the horsemen over the world are watching that meeting, and we need to win those kinds of races.”

While Japan continues to challenge for Meydan’s most prestigious prizes, South Korea broke new ground this year when sending their fist two horses to Dubai to race at the carnival. Seungho Ryu is the manager of the Korean Racing Authority, which is hoping to bring those two horses to the main event: Cheongu, trained by Inseok Seo, and Success Story, trained by Jang G Min. After two tumultuous years of trying to attain competitive ratings for the horses and sorting out the logistics of shipping horses from South Korea to Dubai, Ryu believes that they are as ready as they can be.

“We have only been racing horses overseas for three years. Our rating is not high enough, and we need some experience,” he says – but adds that they have made efforts to open up the market to increase competitiveness.

“Every year we import from the United States, we’ve brought riding instructors over from the UK and South Africa, which has seen improvement from our Korean apprentices...so I’m hopeful.”

Even if Cheongu and Success Story don’t make it to the starting gates for this year’s World Cup, South Korea looks a training centre to watch out for at future Dubai carnivals. 

Last year in the Dubai Turf, Euro Charline popped the gate, caught her Brazilian rider [João Moreira] by surprise, and was gone – she was like a runaway freight train 

Barry Irwin, Owner, Team Valor International

The British contingent 

Trainers Charlie Appleby / Marco Botti 

Horses Tryster / Euro Charline 

The first time she went through the sales ring in 2012, Euro Charline changed hands for just £840. Four years on and the mare looks set to take on some of the most impressively bred horses in the world – although the ride there has been anything but smooth.

Says legendary talent-spotter Barry Irwin, her owner: “Aside from [jockey] Ryan Moore, no one else has been able to control her. Last year, her first race of 2015 was in the Dubai Turf. She popped the gate and was gone. She caught her Brazilian rider [João Moreira] by surprise, and once she went there was nothing he could do to slow her down – she was like a runaway freight train.”

This year, Newmarket-based trainer Marco Botti is changing tactics, running her with Moore onboard in the Balanchine Stakes on 3 March before World Cup night.

States Irwin: “Hopefully we can get her to start the year in the right frame of mind. If she can relax and produce that turn of foot, she is a very hard horse to beat.” 

Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby has also had to change tactics, after his World Cup hope Tryster struggled to adapt to Meydan’s dirt. Quickly switched over to grass, the five year old easily clinched the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes, with Appleby now considering Dubai Turf on World Cup night as the gelding’s piece de resistance.

“The plan was the World Cup and we took him to Meydan for a trial gallop on the surface and his work was OK, but I just wasn’t entirely confident that his action was suited to the dirt,” says Appleby.

“He’s a hold-up horse, and on the dirt you need to be ridden positively up with the pace, which just isn’t his running style.”

While the switch in surfaces means Tryster avoids the imposing American challenge, he would still need to run a career-best to prosper in the Dubai Turf and defeat last year’s winner, the brilliant French miler Solow.

Appleby is not ducking the challenge with his stable star, however.

“It’s a proper World Cup this year,” he says. “To have any horse running on World Cup night is great, but to have a horse that you think you have a real shot of winning with adds to the excitement.” 

Sheikh Hamdan, Crown Prince
of Dubai
Sheikh Hamdan, Crown Prince of Dubai, and trainer Saeed bin Suroor in 2013

The home front

Trainers Mike de Kock / Ali Rashid Al Raihe 

Horses Mubtaahij / Ertijaal 

For the UAE’s trainers and owners, Dubai World Cup has a special significance that transcends any prize money.

“My favourite memory has got to be the very first time I ever raced here, back in 2003,” says Mike de Kock, a South African trainer who has made another home base out of Dubai.

“I had two runners and two winners – Ipi Tombe won the Duty Free and Victory Moon won the Derby. We were complete outsiders, coming in with unknown South African-bred horses, and the reaction was massive – it blew us away.”

Over a decade on, and de Kock predicts a small but top-quality field running in the headline race, with only a few he considers could take home the big prize. “My gut feeling would say that it won’t be a big field. And realistically, from what I’m seeing, there’s only four or five that can win it right now.” 

His hopeful is Mubtaahij, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum. “He’s very comfortable around Meydan on the dirt, that’s for sure,” says de Kock of the four-year-old colt, winner of the UAE Derby on World Cup night last year. “His style of running is quite versatile, so he can either sit off them or set the pace himself.

De Kock has had stiff competition from the local trainers this year, who also hold some leading chances for World Cup night. For example, Ertijaal, trained by Ali Rashid Al Raihe, was the easy winner of the 1,000-metre EGA Billet Trophy for owner His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum in February, and is fancied to follow up in the Al Quoz Sprint.

Al Raihe also runs Le Bernardin in the Godolphin Mile – a race won last year by local trainer Musabah Al Muhairi – and it would be no surprise to see the home defence again upset some big reputations on the grandest stage.