AFP – Horses from Britain, France, South Africa and the USA will oppose a five-strong domestic team of runners in the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan racecourse on Saturday.
The world’s richest race, which is run over 2,000 metres, has proved a magnet for some of America’s finest thoroughbreds.
Dual Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta fronts a challenge that also embraces 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and multiple Grade 1 winner Dullahan, the latter from US champion trainer Dale Romans’s stable.
But their collective potency at home may be diluted by the synthetic Tapeta surface over which the race in Dubai will unfold.
Royal Delta returns for a second tilt at a race she contested last year, although the five-year-old mare met severe traffic in running and could never express herself.
As a consequence her connections remain in the dark over whether the artificial surface is to the champion racemare’s liking.
Nevertheless, Royal Delta’s trainer, Bill Mott, is encouraged by what he has seen in the build-up.
“She is doing very well, having travelled over very well,” said Mott, who won the inaugural Dubai World Cup with Cigar in 1996.
“I also feel the surface is a bit faster this year. It was more oily last year but my horse seems to be moving extremely well over it this time.”
Royal Delta, who changed hands at public auction for $8.5 million in 2012, bids to become the first female to win in 17 renewals.
Only one, Japan’s To The Victory in 2001, has gained a placing when she ran second to Captain Steve.
Animal Kingdom has been in high spirits on the training track since arriving in Dubai. However, the five-year-old’s prospects were compromised when he was allocated post position 12 in the 13-runner field.
Only one horse has won from post position 11 or higher in 69 races run on Tapeta at the recent Dubai Winter Carnival.
The home team of five emanate from two stables: those of Mahmood Al Zarooni and Saeed Bin Suroor, both of whom train almost exclusively for the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
Al Zarooni won the World Cup 12 months ago with Monterosso, who lines up once again, although the horse has since failed to advance on that achievement. The trainer also fields Capponi, last year’s runner-up but absent from the racetrack since.
French pilot Mikael Barzalona renews his partnership with Monterosso while Emirati jockey Ahmed Ajtebi is aboard Capponi.
Bin Suroor’s three include Hunter’s Light, who disputes favouritism with Royal Delta and who dismissed stablemate Kassiano – another World Cup runner from the Bin Suroor stable – over the Meydan course three weeks ago.
The trainer’s third runner, African Story, is highly talented but has never previously raced over 2,000 metres.
Britain’s best chance of taking home the $6 million winner’s prize appears to rest with Planteur, who finished third in last year’s Dubai World Cup.
Neither Red Cadeaux nor Side Glance, who complete Britain’s challenge, has yet shown the requisite level of ability to win such a competitive race.
The French challenger, Meandre, has been equally devoid of high achievement since winning the 2011 Grand Prix de Paris, while Treasure Beach, representing South Africa, has been sparingly raced of late and must step forward considerably if he is to contest the finish.
On a day bolstered by $27 million in prize-money spread across eight thoroughbred races, Japan’s Gentildonna is a strong favourite to win the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic, sponsored by Longines, over the 2,400-metre turf track.
The four-year-old filly has drawn a large Japanese media contingent to Dubai as she bids to enhance a formidable haul of big races, among them the Japan Cup, the Japanese 1,000 Guineas and Japanese Oaks.
Gentildonna has won six of her seven starts to date.