Excitement builds ahead of Dubai World Cup night

Laura King with the lowdown on the Shadwell runners at Meydan
Will His Highness Sheikh Hamdan’s silks grace the winner’s enclosure?

The biggest fixture of the year in the UAE is upon us. On Saturday, Meydan will finally celebrate the 25th running of the Dubai World Cup a year later than planned, after the meeting was lost to Covid-19 precautions in 2020.

His Highness Sheikh Hamdan is no stranger to success at the meeting, having won the Group 1 Dubai World Cup itself with Almutawakel in 1999 and Invasor in 2007. He has no representative in the feature race this time around, but a select bunch of runners on the nine-race card as a whole.

The action starts with the Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic for Purebred Arabians, in which Shadwell run multiple Group 1 winner Al Zahir, trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi. Fifth in this race in 2018, he has been largely campaigned on turf since, including when sixth in the Group 1 President’s Cup at Abu Dhabi last month. Drawn in five, the now eight-year-old will be ridden by Jim Crowley when he takes on a formidable bunch of rivals, including Mubasher Al Khalediah and Mutawakel Al Khalediah, first and second in the Obaiya Arabian Classic in Riyadh five weeks ago.

Crowley rides Khaadem, one of two Shadwell runners in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, over the straight six furlongs on turf. Charlie Hills’ five-year-old has some top class form in the UK, including when fourth, beaten three lengths, in the G1 Darley July Cup at Newmarket when last seen in July. The winner of the prestigious Steward’s Cup at Goodwood in 2019, the Dark Angel entire is an exciting prospect here, and Hills plans to use this race to start off a hopefully profitable European campaign.

“We think he’s a very talented horse as he showed when he was fourth in two Group 1s last season,” he said. “He lost weight after the July Cup and then the ground went against us later in the season.

“He went to Shadwell Stud for a break and has thrived over the winter, he’s come back a lot heavier. This has been the plan since the end of last season, we knew he’d get his ground here, and hopefully he should have a good year.”

Motafaawit, who used to be trained in the UK by Richard Hannon, takes his chance in this race for Doug Watson. A winner over five furlongs here two starts ago, he followed that up with a head second to the reopposing Final Song in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint, and Watson is hopeful of another big run. 

“He seems to love that Meydan straight track and has powered home in each of his last two starts,” said the six-time UAE Champion Trainer. ”They are bound to go quick which will give him something to aim at but, obviously, this is a much stronger race. He seems in great shape though.”

Sheikh Hamdan runs two in the Group 1 Dubai Turf, over nine furlongs. The first string is Eqtiraan, the mount of Crowley for Al Rayhi. A winner here over course and distance in January when dictating the pace, the Helmet gelding was a good second to Lord Glitters in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta three weeks ago, ensuring his spot here.

Al Rayhi, who won this race in 2010 with Al Shemali, is happy with the bay, saying: “Eqtiraan ran a good race and seems to have improved and come forward from that run so we are very much looking forward to running him in the Dubai Turf. He is a happy horse who is doing well and training well. He came out well from the Jebel Hatta and has improved all along.”

Eqtiraan’s rivals include the Musabbeh Al Mheiri-trained Zainhom, who won his spot here courtesy of a seven furlong Listed Carnival handicap win in February. A talented but somewhat tricky performer, he will need a very strong gallop to suit his late-closing style, on what is just his second try at this distance.

In the $12million Dubai World Cup, the card’s official feature, Sheikh Hamdan’s brother Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation run three in the race, including favourite Mystic Guide, who is trained by Michael Stidham in the USA.