Every year, one of the highlights on the horse racing calendar is the spectacular Dubai World Cup program at Meydan racetrack in Dubai. With eight Thoroughbred races offering from $1 million to $10 million in purse money, the event annually attracts some of the best horses in the world to compete at a variety of distances on both dirt and turf.
While it’s far from the most prestigious race on the card, the $2 million UAE Derby (UAE-II) is significant to U.S. racing fans since it offers a total of 170 Kentucky Derby qualification points to the first four finishers. You can usually count on the UAE Derby to produce a Kentucky Derby contender (or even two), so the race is worth a special look. Free Brisnet past performances for the entire Meydan card are available on the Brisnet website–check it out here!
Much of the attention in the UAE Derby will be focused on the Japanese shipper Epicharis, since he is already qualified to run in the Kentucky Derby and could be bound for the Triple Crown with a strong effort on Saturday. The unbeaten colt has won all four of his starts by a combined 25 ¾ lengths and has twice won at nine furlongs, so the 9.5-furlong distance of the UAE Derby shouldn’t be an issue. Last time out, Epicharis won the one-mile Hyacinth Stakes while coming off a 3 ½-month layoff, and while his margin of victory was just three-quarters of a length, he should gain a lot of fitness from that effort and be sharper for the UAE Derby.
But while Epicharis warrants plenty of respect, I’m not sure that he’s the best horse in the race, and thanks to his status as a Kentucky Derby contender, he might be an underlay in the U.S. wagering pool. Therefore, bettors searching for the most likely winner might want to take a look at Thunder Snow. Owned by Godolphin, Thunder Snow was among the best two-year-olds in Europe last year and ended the season with a decisive five-length romp in the Criterium International (Fr-I) at Saint Cloud.
With no experience on dirt or at distance beyond seven furlongs, Thunder Snow had a lot of questions to answer in the one-mile UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III) on February 11th, but he answered those questions in resounding fashion, tracking the pace before taking command and crushing eight rivals by 5 ¾ lengths.
Godolphin has won this race on many occasions in the past, and Thunder Snow was recently nominated to the Triple Crown, suggesting that Godolphin might be thinking ahead to a run in the Kentucky Derby. But while I view Thunder Snow as a must-use for any multi-race wagers, I wouldn’t go so far as to single him; after all, he’s drawn very wide in post position thirteen and will be stretching out another three-sixteenths of a mile in distance.
One longer shot that has caught my eye is Thunder Snow’s Godolphin stablemate Fly at Dawn. A decent two-year-old that won three of his five starts, Fly at Dawn has done well at Meydan this winter, with his highlights including a win in the seven-furlong UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial on dirt and a close runner-up effort in the Meydan Classic on turf. With a thoroughly dirt pedigree (by Discreet Cat out of an Unbridled’s Song mare), Fly at Dawn is surely better-suited to the conditions of the UAE Derby than the Meydan Classic, and I think he has an outside chance to upset the race at around 15-1.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien has won this race twice, but both of his winners came when Meydan had a synthetic track, and the transition to dirt is a big question mark for Lancaster Bomber. The son of War Front certainly has the talent to be a factor, having placed in a couple of Grade 1 events last year (including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf), but he’s also never run farther than a mile and is unlikely to offer much value in this deep field.
Master Plan ships in for trainer Todd Pletcher after compiling a solid record in Florida this winter. After finishing a strong second behind future Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) winner Tapwrit in the Pulpit Stakes, Master Plan contested the 8.5-furlong OBS Championship Stakes over a synthetic track and won easily by 2 ½ lengths. The opportunity to support a proven U.S. dirt runner is appealing, but the long trip to Dubai—coupled with the fact that no U.S. runner has ever won the UAE Derby—makes Master Plan a likely underlay.
One other colt I would like to mention is Fawree, who won going a mile at Meydan early in the meet before unseating his rider at the start of the Al Bastakiya Stakes. Having not run a complete race since January, there are questions about Fawree’s fitness for this race, but his pedigree is exceptional (by Candy Ride out of Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill) and trainer Mike de Kock has won the UAE Derby six times. His form lines suggest that Fawree might be on close to equal terms with Thunder Snow, and he’s generally being regarded as the fourth choice to win with British bookmakers.
So to recap, I view Thunder Snow as the most likely winner and prefer him over the Japanese contender Epicharis, with Fawree and Fly at Dawn looming as live longshots to spruce up the trifecta and possibly upset Fly at Dawn. Fawree in particular strikes me as a horse with the talent and potential to outrun his odds, and assuming he stays close to his 8-1 morning line odds, I think he’s worth playing on top.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the UAE Derby?
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