Angus McNae
Angus McNae's Racing UK Blog
Thursday 5th February 2015

Racing UK

Locally-trained horses to strike at Meydan

Today's Al Maktoum Challenge R2 will place into sharp focus exactly where we are in terms of the Dubai World Cup.

We have not seen a horse that is anywhere near good enough to win that race yet. Tamarkuz has put up the best dirt performance at the Carnival so far in posting a speed figure of 108. That marks him as being a borderline Grade Two performer.

The Dubai World Cup urgently needs one of two things to happen and preferably both. It needs locally-trained horses to step up and show that they can run time figures in excess of 110. Perhaps more importantly it needs a commitment to the race from the trainers of Shared Belief, Bayern, California Chrome et al in America.

A large part of the justification for switching to a dirt surface at Meydan was that the World Cup needed to attract champions such as those that we saw at Nad Al Sheba like Cigar and Captain Steve. If the top ten furlong horses in America stay away then with the exception of Toast of New York we will not have a race that fits the bill for those that wanted the switch to dirt.

Part of the problem is that the American thoroughbred is in decline. Performance-enhancing drugs and their effect on the breeding industry, allied to the dalliance with synthetic tracks, has left the American thoroughbred industry in something of a mess. They still have horses good enough to win the Dubai World Cup, but we may have reached the stage where hoping for another Cigar is the stuff of dreams.

If the first three home in the Breeders' Cup Classic turn up on Dubai World Cup night and local horses step up to the mark then we will have a race that will justify the switch to dirt, but that needs to happen.

The locally-trained horses can put a marker down today and the winner of the last synthetic Dubai World Cup, African Story, makes his seasonal reappearance. He is a very talented horse. His win in last year's showpiece has been underrated because it was run on an all-weather surface, but he ran a fast time and it was a top-class effort to run down the future Eclipse winner, Mukhadram, in the straight.

Now he faces a new challenge; that of handling the rigors that dirt racing brings. His run style will be fine as he likes to the track the pace. His pedigree is not so dirt friendly as he is by Pivotal out of a Gone West mare. Pivotal has had three winners on the dirt at Meydan, but the central theme running through this horse's pedigree does not scream dirt performer. He does not move like a dirt horse either. In fact his total lack of knee curl suggests he may not handle it at all. On balance I cannot be with him today.

The second favourite is Prince Bishop and as talented as he is, he may not handle the dirt either. He is a cruise and quicken type who needs to be held up and, if he can adapt that style to winning in the dirt, he will be some horse. The safe play is probably to be with Surfer, the winner of Round 1 of the challenge. He is a confirmed dirt performer who knows how to grind out wins on the surface. He is nowhere near as good as African Story or Prince Bishop, but the surface may serve to level the playing field.

On balance I do not want to get heavily involved in the race because we do not know whether the front two in the market will handle the track, but you will do little damage if you lay African Story in the win and place markets on the exchanges.

I am taking a much more positive approach to the six-furlong turf handicap at 3.20pm. I believe Fityaan represents tremendous value each way at 14/1 - if he gets a run as he's first reserve.

He has run two solid races over five furlongs so far at the Carnival where the pace has not been strong. On both occasions he finished his race off well and I believe this step up to six furlongs will show him in a better light. He could be labelled as something of a late headway monkey but his headway has been made in races that were not collapsing, which paints him in a better light.

Today's Selections

5.40 Meydan African Story lay win and place on the exchanges

3.20 Meydan Back Fityaan each way at 14/1 bet365

Coral Double Your WInnings