Only one contest of the seven on Dubai World Cup night here on Saturday does not carry the cachet of pattern-race status. It may, however, turn out to be the most significant. The UAE Derby contains trainers and jockeys of great note, but, not, as yet at least, horses of much distinction. That situation will almost certainly change in less than three months' time.
For this contest is little more than a trial for far greater Classics around the globe. It is Godolphin's first salvo for the year ahead. It may well be that a Kentucky Derby representative for Team Dubai emerges under the floodlights at Nad Al Sheba on Saturday and, if the whispers are correct, that horse is likely to be China Visit.
The once-raced colt, a winner at Deauville for the David Loder nursery last season, was cut to 33-1 for the 2,000 Guineas by William Hill earlier this month. He now stands at 10-1 with the same firm, but as he is about to be tried over 1m1f on dirt it may well be that Louisville emerges as the forum for his talents.
Godolphin will confirm nothing until after Saturday and the volley of turf trials behind closed doors at the Al Quoz training complex in the middle of next month, but the expectation is building. "We've got those two checkpoints and as soon as we put these horses to the test we will find out the truth," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said yesterday.
"We've been delighted with China Visit but we've been delighted with plenty of others too. They all look good at this time of the year whether they're in Newmarket or they're here. It's when you get them on the racetrack and give them a proper examination that they identify themselves as being contenders for the Classics.''
Godolphin's sights have been refocussed for Churchill Downs. "It's not a race you can turn up to with a nice horse and just expect to win," Crisford says. "Everything has to go right. Preparation and travel has to be spot on and, first and foremost, you have to have the best horse. It is a much, much harder race to win than the Guineas, where the horses concerned are lightly raced, inexperienced and running on a straight mile. They don't have to be seasoned or battle-hardened horses. You'll never win a Kentucky Derby with horses like that.''
A win for China Visit at Churchill Downs would cheer both Sheikh Mohammed and Loder, who sent out both fewer winners and runners than expected from Godolphin's French depot at Evry racecourse last season. "We had a lot of lightly-raced, unexposed horses and, right now, we're very happy, but we need to see them winning some nice races this year to justify the project we have developed in France.''
Loder can, though, still trade on his nurturing of Dubai Millennium, who is as short as 4-7 (with Coral) to win Saturday's main race. The Dubai World Cup was greatly trumpeted at yesterday's draw ceremony as "the championship of champions", which is a little rich considering the best of the Americans are absent and that Britain's runners are the limited Running Stag and Lear Spear. Still, the event may be a springboard for a special horse.
"These are the best around at the moment,'' Crisford says. ''Those Americans will be very hard to beat because they're professional dirt specialists. It's still a fabulous race.''Reuse content