Following his success in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Pegasus World Cup, Life Is Good is the one to stop in the 26th running of the Dubai World cup at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday night.
But anyone who knows anything about this $12 million global horse racing annual highlight will tell you that — as often as not — the World Cup springs a surprise.
Life Is Good will be up against a whole host of top-level winners, representing six different countries.
With five wins from six runs, the Todd Pletcher star is yet to tackle this 2,000m distance, but seems to be more than up to the challenge.
“I’m very happy with him, his weight looks good, I think he handled the ship in perfectly,” said the Kentucky Derby-winning trainer. “The Pegasus was his first time at a mile and an eighth and he handled that well, so we’ve focused on just some good, stamina-building breezes and strong gallop outs. He does everything so willingly; he likes doing it, enjoys his job, and all his work has been super good.”
Drawn in Gate 1, Life Is Good and jockey Irad Ortiz will likely make the others try to chase him down. One who has no concerns about the distance is Hot Rod Charlie, who warmed up for this assignment with a comfortable win over 1,900m in G2 Maktoum Challenge Round 2 last month.
“He’s ready,” said Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill, who has been overseeing the colt’s preparation in Dubai for the past two months. “This horse, I really think he can run all day; he never seems to get tired. Life Is Good is a good horse, but we’re here and we know he likes the track.”
The US challenge in the race is further bolstered by Bob Baffert’s Country Grammer, an excellent second, returning from a break, in the Saudi Cup last time, and Steve Asmussen’s Country Bourbon, who was third in Riyadh.
Aero will represent Uruguay-based Brazilian trainer Antonio Cintra. The winner of South America’s biggest race, the G1 Gran Premio Latinoamericano, in October, his trainer is confident that he has him spot on for Saturday.
“His run in Saudi was amazing, to finish fifth, with a strong finish — it felt like we won,” he said. “We just breezed him once since then and we hope he will run another big race.”
Adding further international flair to the line-up are last year’s second and third, Chuwa Wizard, from Japan for trainer Ryuji Okubo, and Magny Cours, trained in France by Andre Fabre. Three represent home nation the UAE, including Real World, who will aim to win trainer Saeed Bin Suroor a remarkable 10th World Cup, Hypothetical, for trainer Salem Bin Ghadayer, and Remorse, for Bhupat Seemar.
Hypothetical, winner of the main local prep, G1 Maktoum Challenge Round 3, has drawn wide in 10, which his trainer feels is far from ideal.
“We would rather have drawn inside, but what can you do? That’s racing,” said the Emirati. “I’m so happy with Hypothetical. He’s always been a good horse for us, he was fourth in the race last year and I know he will run a good race.”
Earlier in the day, the racecard is just as multinational.
Horses from the United States, Uruguay, UAE, Russia and Japan will clash in a wide-open edition of the Group 2 UAE Derby.
The race is an important step for three-year-olds hoping to run for the roses in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Japan is represented by four runners in the 1900-metre dirt contest: Combustion, Sekifu, Crown Pride and Reiwa Homare. Tentative favourite is Combustion, who will be a first Dubai World Cup day runner for Godolphin’s Japanese arm when he lines up for trainer Keizo Ito.
“He’s had a successful juvenile career and he established a new track record in the Hyacinth last start, so he’s definitely a horse with talent in Japan,” said Harry Sweeney, President of Godolphin Japan. “Most Japanese Group races are on turf though and so we may not have the confidence that we would have with a top-class turf runner. It’s sand really in Japan, so it’s a little bit different from here and it can be much deeper.”
If Japan are to claim the UAE Derby for a second time, following the victory of Lani in 2016, then they must overcome a strong home team which includes three trained by Bhupat Seemar, with Bendoog, the choice of stable jockey Tadhg O’Shea, looking strong.
Since the first running back in 1996, no horse has won the Group 1 Dubai Turf more than once, so history is against British raider Lord North when he defends his crown on Saturday.
Five other Group 1 winners lie in wait for John Gosden’s six-year-old, who was the impressive winner of the 1800-metre contest last year by three lengths from Vin De Garde, who takes him on again in 2022.
A strong British team also includes two for Derby-winning trainer William Haggas, who will saddle Mohaafeth and My Oberon. There are two other British-based runners in the capacity field of 16; G1 Sun Chariot winner Saffron Beach, for trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam, and five-time winner Sir Busker, for William Knight.
The US is yet to win this race, but Todd Pletcher aims to change that with dual G1 Pegasus Turf winner Colonel Liam, who has an eye-catching three-from-three record over this distance.
“We feel that this year, while he’s in his prime, let’s go ahead and take a shot,” said the trainer of the five-year-old. “The spacing suited us really well after the Pegasus, which is another reason we decided to come to Dubai.”
Lord Glitters, trained by David O’Meara, is a non-runner.
The Sheema Classic is often billed as one of the best races in the world and the 2022 edition is no exception. Won in 2021 by Saudi Cup hero Mishriff, the 2,410-metre contest has attracted seven top-level winners this time around.
Japan went close in this race last year with second and third home, subsequent Group 1 winners Chrono Genesis and Loves Only You, and this time they have a third of the field with five of the 15 runners.
Chief among them is G1 Japanese Derby winner Shahryar, who was last seen finishing third in the Japan Cup in Toyko in November. Japan also pitches Authority, winner of the G3 Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia last time out in which he conquered the reopposing Kaspar and Pyledriver.
Authority is trained by Tetsuya Kimura, who is hopeful of another good result, saying: “In Riyadh, the horse took control at the beginning and it was a great ride by Christophe (Lemaire). This is tough compared to Saudi Arabia but I am honoured to compete against so many trainers that I admire.”
Gates at noon, first race at 3.45pm
1 Dubai Kahayla Classic 2,000m (a10f), dirt, $1m
2 Godolphin Mile, 1,600m (a8f), dirt, $1m
3 Dubai Gold Cup, 3,200m (a16f), turf, $1m
4 Al Quoz Sprint, 1,200m (a6f), turf, $1.5m
5 UAE Derby, 1,900m (a9.5f), dirt, $1m
6 Dubai Golden Shaheen, 1,200m (a6f), dirt, $2m
7 Dubai Turf, 1,800m (a9f), turf, $5m
8 Dubai Sheema Classic, 2,410m (a12F), turf, $6m
9 Dubai World Cup, 2,000m (a10F), dirt, $12m