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Weekend Stakes Preview: From Dubai to New Mexico

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A ton of non-stop racing action on the calendar this weekend, beginning with the Dubai Carnival of Race in the United Arab Emirates, and ending with the Sunland Derby Sunday evening in New Mexico. Three of this weekend's big races are Derby preps (Louisiana Derby, Spiral Stakes, Sunland Derby), while the rest are a mix of sprints, handicaps, and turf events.

Below is the line-up for the top stakes races this weekend, along with post times and race conditions. All times are listed as East/Pacific.

Day Post Time Race Track Age/Sex Dist. Surf.
Sat 9:15 / 6:15 Al Quoz Sprint Meydan 4up 5.0 Turf
Sat 9:50 / 6:50 Goldolphin Mile Meydan 4up 8.0 Poly
Sat 10:25 / 7:25 UAE Derby Meydan
3yo 9.5 Poly
Sat 11:05 / 8:05 Dubai Golden Shaheen 
Meydan 3up 6.0 Poly
Sat 11:45 / 8:45 Dubai Duty Free Meydan 4up 9.0 Turf
Sat 12:50  9:50 Dubai Sheema Classic Meydan 4up 12.0 Turf
Sat 1:35 / 10:35 Dubai World Cup Meydan 4up 10.0 Poly
Sat 3:49 / 12:49 G2-New Orleans Hcp. FG 4up 9.0 Dirt
Sat 4:33 / 1:33 G3-Bourbonette Oaks TP 3yo, f 8.0 Poly
Sat 4:56 / 1:56 G2-Fair Grounds Oaks FG 3yo, f 8.5 Dirt
Sat 5:02 / 2:02 Rushaway Stakes TP 3yo 8.5 Poly
Sat 5:25 / 2:25 G3-Pan American GP 4up 12.0 Turf
Sat 5:29 / 2:29 G2-Mervin Muniz FG 4up 9.0 Turf
Sat 5:31 / 2:31 G3-Spiral Stakes TP 3yo 9.0 Poly
Sat 6:03 / 3:03 G2-Louisiana Derby FG 3yo 9.0 Dirt
Sat 6:36 / 3:36 G3-Tokyo City Cup SA 4up 12.0 Turf
Sun 5:46 / 2:46 Sunland Park Oaks SUN 3yo, f 8.5 Dirt
Sun 7:45 / 4:45 G3-Sunland Derby SUN 3yo 9.0 Dirt


Below is a look at some of the major stakes races this weekend:

G2-New Orleans Handicap

Thoroughbred Time news editor Ed De Rosa noted on his blog the strange weight assignments for the New Orleans Handicap (Weight a minute).  His discussion on how the weights were assigned for this race leads to the more general question of "whatever happened to the true handicap, and what's the point of even assigning weight difference any more when 1) it's a rare handicap where there is significant difference from the high weight to the low weight, and 2) the weight assignments are really geared towards the low end (really low weights for the long shots, instead of "high" weight for the favorites)?  I wrote a bit about this last spring and came to the conclusion that the handicap, at least as it was known twenty years ago, is long gone.

Anyway, enough about the weight....

With what appears to be plenty of early speed in the New Orleans Handicap, 4-Demarcation (4/1) should have every chance to make a big run in the later stages.  He won the G3-Mineshaft last time out and he's a solid 6-3-1-1 at the Fair Grounds in his career. 

Morning line favorite, Giant Oak, is on good form and also possesses a good late kick, but I don't like that 0-for-4 lifetime record at the Fair Grounds.  I'll pass at low odds.

G2-Mervin Muniz

The thing that struck me while going through the PPs for the Mervin Muiz was the almost complete lack of early speed within the field.  There are some horses that like to stalk and press, but very few that want to get out and run on the frontend.  I think that's a huge benefit to 5-Workin for Hops (6/1), a horse that probably needed his last race after a long layoff.  If he is able to click off fractions as soft as the ones he ran in the Fair Grounds Handicap, he should be in excellent position to pick up the win.

G2-Louisiana Derby

On paper, the Louisiana Derby appears to set-up nicely for Mucho Macho Man (9/5), the morning line favorite and winner of the Risen Star last time out.  A couple of speed horses, 1a-Pants On Fire and 7-Majestic Harbor, should provide the perfect situation for Macho to track the early pace.  If he's able to kick on in the stretch llike he did in his last effort, he'll be tough to catch in deep stretch.

Wilkinson put up a nice effort in the LeComte but I think he'll need to improve a bunch to really have a good shot of winning in this spot. 

For some reason, I like 10-Left (10/1) as a long shot play in this race.  He's taking a big step up in class but he's run a couple of good races to start his career.  His maiden breaker on the grass has produced four other next out winners, including three at the Maiden Special Weight level.  He had to work a little harder than you'd like in his last start against OC/N1X-ers, but it's not like he's facing a tremendously deep field in this spot.  If he can improve a bit off his last start he should have a shot to be in the mix at the end.  Perhaps a win is asking too much, but a spot in the top 3 might be in the cards.

G3 - Spiral Stakes

2-Positive Response (3/1) dominated the John Battaglia from gate-to-wire last time out in his first start at Turfway Park.  He comes into the Spiral as the morning line favorite and he looks to be a likely winner based off his recent form.  Since jumping up to stakes races, Positive Response has won the Gold Rush and Cal Derby, finished 2nd in the G3-El Camino Real, and won the Battaglia.  He may not be at the top of this three-year-old class, but he's a solid lower-level stakes horse.

While Positive Response is a deserving favorite, I like 8-King Congie (4/1) to make the transition from turf to synthetic after a nice performance in the Hallandale Beach at Gulfstream Park on February 6th.  He was disqualified  in that race (1st to 3rd) after drifting out in the stretch and interfering with Master Dunker, who was awarded the win by the stewards. If he's able to stalk the leaders as he has in his races on the lawn, King Congie should have the turn of foot to make a winning move in deep stretch.

UPDATE: No King Congie for me as he's going to scratch out of the Spiral tomorrow morning due to a strained hind leg. (via

Group 2 Al Quoz Sprint

I'm going to keep it simple with the Al Quoz Sprint as I think 11-J J the Jet Plane (SaF) is the true standout in this field.  He's run well at Meydan, he's strong at the five furlong distance, he's got a ton of tactical speed at his disposal, and he's proven against top class competitions (as evidenced by his win in the G1-Hong Kong Sprint last December).  Some might not llike the outside draw, but I'd rather draw wide in a turf dash than get stuck down on the inside.  (The race is on the straight so pretty much scratch what I wrote about the outside draw.) Additionally, he's been a strong runner at six furlongs, so you'd think he's got the stamina to run a wide trip and yet still have something left in the tank when going five.

The odds will be low, but I think J J the Jet Plane is clearly the best of the bunch.

Rick Dutrow's Stradivinsky is the top American threat in this race, coming in off of a nice score in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint back on January 23rd.  Less than a year ago, Stradivinsky was running in $25k claiming races but since a claim by Dutrow at Churchill on May 27th, this gelding has won a grade 3 and a listed stakes race.

Group 2 Goldolphin Mile

10 - I Want Revenge (5/1) will likely take considerable action from the American bettors but I'm not convinced that he's anywhere near as good as he was when he was a three-year-old.  Furthermore, I Want Revenge, while successful on synthetic tracks, appears to be much better on dirt than he is on plastic.  I'm not sure he's going to really love the Tapeta surface at Meydan.

8-Zafeen Speed (GB) (20/1) is my top choice in the Goldolphin Mile, and my longest priced horse of the day.  Honestly, I'm not quite sure why the morning line oddsmaker pegged him at 20/1; Zafeen Speed has run very well at Meydan (so you know he'll handle the surface), he's strong at the distance (4-3-1-0), and he just missed winning the Group 3 Buri Nahaar last time out.  The proficiency on the surface and at the prior success at the distance alone are enough to pique my interest, but when you throw in the possibility for some big odds...well, count me in.

Group 2 U.A.E. Derby

A field of fourteen in the UAE Derby, as the parade of tough races continues on the Dubai undercard.  6-Sweet Ducky (12/1), a recent purchase of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, was a good 2nd in the Holy Bull to Dialed In back on January 30th.  If this race was being run on dirt, he's be an obvious choice.  But since we're talking about a race over a synthetic surface, something Sweet Ducky has never tried in his career, I think we've got to be skeptical of his chances.

There are two fillies in the UAE Derby field, both of which are four-year-old Southern Hemisphere breds: 1-Reem (AUS) (10/1) and 5-Mahbooba (AUS) (5/1).  Of those two, I really like Reem, a Galileo (IRE) filly that beat the boys at Meydan in the listed Al Bastakiya in early March. 

Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen

The Golden Shaheen is a race has traditionally been dominated by American sprinters.  However, the switch from the dirt of Nad Al Sheba to the Tapeta of Meydan has changed the complexion of this race from past edition.  That being said, there are still plenty of North American-based sprinters that excel over synthetic tracks.

1-Kinsale King (5/1) looks to defend his title following a year where he won in Dubai and then struggled to pick up another win the rest of the year.  To his credit, he had excuses for all three races he lost last year as none of them were over a synthetic surface, something he obviously prefers.  Just like last year, his chief rival will likely be 9-Rocket Man (2/1), a Hong Kong and Singapore-based sprinter who is a sensational 17-13-4-0 in his career. 

I'm staying away from 7-Euroears (9/2) in his debut on synthetic as his last couple of tries on the turf have been dreadful and I'm not sure he possesses the versatility to make the switch from dirt to synthetic and still perform at a high level.  If he's able to win, so be it.

Group 1 Dubai Duty Free

I'm not sure I agree with the morning line odds for the Duty Free as 9/2 on 14-Victor's Cry is way too short, in my opinion.  The Eoin Harty trainee has run some nice races in SoCal the last couple of years, but I'd never take him at shorter odds than 13-Tazeez (20/1), 10-Rajsaman (FR) (30/1), or 4-Royal Bench (20/1).  I suppose familiarity will help to push the odds low on horses from the U.S., but I just don't see him as having a big chance in this spot.

With the lack of pace lining up in the starting gate for the Duty Free and the stretch out from sprint races, 12-Better Than Ever (AUS) (12/1) should absolutely be lone speed in this spot.  His career in Singapore has been nothing short of dominant (15-14-0-0) but he's easily going to be facing the toughest race of his career on Saturday. 

I like Tazeez a lot in this spot given his odds, back class and tactical speed.  If he's able to track Better Than Ever without expending too much energy, he should have an excellent chance to hold off the pack in deep stretch.

Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic

I really like 8-Rewilding (GB) in what looks to be a wide-open Sheema Classic, but I don't have strong feelings about any of the runners in this race.  I wouldn't be surprised to see any one of five or six of these horsing winning, depending on how things unfold in the early stages.

Group 1 Dubai World Cup

There was a bunch of talk after the draw regarding the wide post position for 12-Twice Over (GB) (4/1) and whether or not the draw would compromise his chances to win.  While you' like to see a draw a bit more towards the middle fo the gate, I think he'll have plenty of time to get over towards the rail before the field gets in to the first turn. 

After last year's World Cup I'm placing a lot of importance on horses that have either run well at Meydan or have had previous success on synthetic surfaces, even if their class looks a bit on the soft side.  Twice Over doesn't have to worry about surface or class issues as he's a former Group 1 winner that already owns a win over the Medyan main track.

In terms of the American runners, it's tough to get behind 11-Richard's Kid (20/1) after that dreadful performance last time out at Meydan in the Maktoum Challenge (Round 3).  On the other hand, 5-Gio Ponti (8/1) should once again be a contender for win honors.  I don't know if he's as good on Tapeta as he is on the lawn, but he's proven that he can run a big race on synthetic surfaces. 

2-Monterosso (GB) (15/1) is my long shot play in the World Cup based off his strong run in the G2-Dubai City of Gold on March 3rd.  He's got the ability to sit close to the pace in the early stage and he's should easily have the stamina to navigate the ten furlongs.

I like Twice Over and Monterosso in the top spots for the World Cup.