Racing: Premium Tap can muscle in as Discreet Cat and Invasor square up for world's richest race
Saturday 31 March 2007
The physical symmetry that tends to distinguish the very best thoroughbreds is seldom matched by their sense of theatre. On paper, the richest race in history is poised exquisitely between two champions. Almost everyone here tonight will be hoping to see Invasor and Discreet Cat hook together in the long straight at Nad al Sheba, rip off their gloves and slug it out for the six million dollars. But racehorses often show an exasperating indifference to their script, and nobody should be too disappointed if the 12th running of the Dubai World Cup reveals a third dimension.
Though they happen to be owned by brothers, there is a tempting polarity between the pair. In terms of raw speed, Discreet Cat is the hottest horse on the planet, a ball of fire. Invasor, in contrast, owed his success in the Breeders' Cup Classic last autumn to rugged commitment, picking off rivals that had probably gone too hard, too soon. This clash of styles will create another gripping showdown, a duel within a duel, between Frankie Dettori, a master in his prime, and the 19-year-old sensation from Panama, Fernando Jara.
Something has to give. Discreet Cat is unbeaten in six starts, while little meaning can be attached to the fact that Invasor's sole defeat in 11 came behind him at this meeting last year. Invasor had just been imported from Uruguay, where he was discovered by one of Sheikh Hamdan's scouts, and nobody is deceived that he showed his best, beaten seven lengths in fourth. It was only when Kiaran McLaughlin took him to New York that he began to flourish.
The sole shadow cast by his performance that night is that lasix, the anti-bleeding drug in common use in the United States, is again prohibited. Overall, however, Invasor must be counted the one to beat. His performance in Louisville was officially the best in the world last year, and he made an impressive rehearsal in Florida last month.
Discreet Cat, on the other hand, must reach a new peak over a distance that may stretch him. Treated as a precious, delicate jewel by the Godolphin stable, he has responded with a flair reminiscent of Dubai Millennium himself. But whereas that horse was born for this race, indeed christened for it, it is hardly the natural destiny of Discreet Cat.
In winning his first Grade One race, in New York last autumn, he went so fast over eight furlongs that his first six trimmed the time of the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Clearly different tracks ride at different speeds on different days. Unequivocally, however, it would take an unprecedented freak to keep up the same sort of tempo over 10 furlongs.
With their obvious obligations to this race, the Godolphin team have duly been concentrating on keeping their dynamic colt settled - much as he was, in fairness, when winning over nine furlongs here last year. But he may prove dangerously fresh and eager, having missed an intended warm-up three weeks ago with a temperature.
From his rail draw, it is conceivable that Dettori might try to control the pace and so restrict the demands on his mount's stamina. But Clive Brittain is not here to oblige runners with a bigger reputation than Kandidate, who was a revelation from the front here last time. Though much better on this surface than turf, the sole European runner surely needs to dictate terms to this small field if he is to play a part.
If Invasor is most solid of the favourites, the value rests in Premium Tap. He does not have much ground to make up on his Breeders' Cup third, not least because he was exposed to that excessive pace after a difficult preparation. On his next start he destroyed a Grade One field by seven lengths, in a lightning time. He was then purchased by the Saudi royal family with the idea of winning their most cherished national prize, something he accomplished with ease last month.
The bookmakers are credulously expecting some kind of prizefight. But life is seldom like that, and Premium Tap has a better chance than his odds suggest.
Red Rocks a lurking danger to Sir Percy
At $21m (£10.5m), the Dubai World Cup card is the richest in history, and salivating horsemen have brought runners from 13 different countries - including four winners at the Breeders' Cup last autumn.
Last year, Brian Meehan made the perfect start to his tenure at Manton by pillaging the Dubai Duty Free Stakes with David Junior. He ended the season in no less momentous fashion by winning the Breeders' Cup Turf with Red Rocks, and that colt now surfaces in the Sheema Classic.
His rivals include Sir Percy, an admirable Derby winner of the old school. Many have lost faith in him after the one blemish of his career, and it would be edifying to see his owners' perseverance into another season rewarded. Sadly another of the great bargains of recent years, Collier Hill, was scratched yesterday with a recurring joint problem that seems destined to end his remarkable adventure. Britain still has Youmzain, too, but perhaps the one to beat is Pop Rock, runner-up in the Melbourne Cup for Japan.
Youmzain's trainer, Mick Channon, runs Flashy Wings in the Duty Free, where Godolphin run two recruits in Formal Decree and Best Name. Stormy River is an interesting runner from France if he lasts the extra furlong.
Unusually, Britain musters a runner in the Golden Shaheen, a dirt sprint, but Areyoutalkingtome may be taken aback by its demands after spending the winter quickening round bends on a milder surface, and matters are better left to National Colour. In Asiatic Boy, South Africa also has the one to beat in the UAE Derby, though Godolphin as usual field interesting runners in Folk, who receives generous allowances, and Eu Tambem, winner of the Argentinian Derby.
Very Wise answer to Lincoln puzzle
With the bulldozers still doing their best with Doncaster, the William Hill Lincolnshire Handicap - that venerable, nomadic heirloom - turns up at Newcastle today.
The resumption of Flat racing on turf prompted the BHB this week to "clarify" the formal span of the Flat and jumps campaigns, though basically the situation is unchanged. Deplorably, the jumpers still lack any kind of hiatus whatsoever.
At least the return to grass today signifies an authentic shift for the Flat, and keeps the endeavours of jockeys and trainers within a sensible parameter. These days, it must be said, the real opening fanfare for Flat racing comes here in the desert.
Still, Newcastle should remind punters that for every leader who falls at the last fence there is a moral winner hopelessly marooned by the draw. High numbers are expected to prosper on the straight mile, which should further enhance the prospects of Gentlemen's Deal, radiantly well handicapped on the turf after his success in the Winter Derby last week.
Having already shown such enviable versatility - blending the wholesome endeavour of his racing career with ravenous promiscuity as a part-time stallion - he should certainly adapt to a mere change in racing surface. But he was well beaten in this race (at Redcar) last year after his first unbeaten spree on the all-weather, and equally could recoil so soon after that generous effort.
Very Wise, in contrast, has long given the impression that he would prefer a bit of cut in the ground and today returns to a straight mile for the first time since dragging two very smart colts six lengths clear of a big field on his debut at Yarmouth. His perfectly competent displays over the winter (a stalls mishap aside) leave him fit and still fairly handicapped on turf.
The perceived draw advantage is tested in the consolation Spring Mile, where Focus Group looks interesting after losing his way last summer. He once beat no less a horse than Notnowcato in a mile handicap - on his first start in a year - and the drop in trip on easier ground could well trigger a revival from stall 17.
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