reports from Dubai
Wherever it was that Richard Mandella learned to train racehorses, he clearly skipped a class. It was the one which most British trainers seem to have taken twice, where they learn to be suspicious, aloof and evasive - everything, in fact, that Mandella is not.
The American will saddle Siphon and Sandpit, the first and second favourites in the Dubai World Cup, the richest race on the planet, this Saturday, which is pressure enough in itself. Yet even after hearing yesterday that both had drawn a difficult wide stall for the $4m (pounds 2.5m) event, Mandella discussed their chances with a willingness and turn of phrase which would appal many of his British counterparts.
"The way the race-track's set up here, I don't think it makes a lot of difference," he said. "Siphon [drawn 10] will be spinning his tyres and going to the front when he leaves. There's not much we can do to change that and I wouldn't want to try. We're just happy to be in there. Two bullets are always better than one and I couldn't split them."
Both Ladbrokes and Hills make Siphon their favourite for Saturday's main event at around 5-2, while Sandpit, who recently finished just behind Siphon in the Santa Anita Handicap when running on dirt for the first time, is 7-2 with Ladbrokes. That the dirt-hardened Americans are rated so highly is not surprising given that they filled the first three places in last year's inaugural World Cup, and it is a measure of the task facing Helissio, last October's brilliant Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, that he is freely available at 6-1 with William Hill.
For British punters, a Flat race of such quality between the jumping pinnacles of Cheltenham and Aintree may be a difficult concept to grasp. Yet the standard of Saturday's 10-furlong contest is undeniable, not least when summed up by Mandella as only an American can.
"Flemensfirth looks a million dollars," the trainer said. "He breezed a mile in 1.35 and change here last week and he has a great race-record. Helissio won the Arc pulled up, and how great a horse does it take to do that? Singspiel, if he can adapt from dirt to turf is a great horse too, it's just one after another. The Japanese mare [Hokuto Vega] is 10 for 10, so how are you going to know what that means until it happens?"
Five of the 13 runners will run for British yards, with John Gosden's Flemensfirth (10-1) and Singspiel (6-1), who won the world's second-richest race, the Japan Cup, for Michael Stoute last year, reckoned to stand the greatest chance of success. They drew stalls six and two respectively yesterday, while Helissio will start from box four. Even Top, runner-up in last season's 2,000 Guineas, is against the rail in one, while the outsiders Bijou D'Inde and Luso pulled out five and seven.
All this left the line-up with a slightly lop-sided look, since the obvious pace-setters Siphon and Key Of Luck (in 13) are wide and those which tend to be held up (Even Top, Singspiel) are close to the rail. However, Richard Hills, the man who will be steering Even Top, was not unduly concerned.
"It all depends on how you ride this course," he said, and having enjoyed an extremely profitable winter on the dirt of Nad Al Sheba, he should know. "There are long straights and long corners so there's plenty of time to move around."
A more important factor than the draw for all the European challengers will be their affinity, or otherwise, with Dubai's dirt track. Even Top has at least been acclimatising for almost two months, and always gallops behind another horse to give him a taste of the kick-back, but whether he will enjoy receiving constant facefuls of the stuff on Saturday is impossible to say. "I don't know if you'd call it an advantage for us," Mandella said, "but for us there's a better confidence level. We know we've done it."
With Juggler, from Australia, also in the field, the second Dubai World Cup will include Group One winners from four continents, with total earnings of $22m (pounds 13.75m), while victory for the Japanese mare Hokuto Vega would push her past Cigar, the winner of the race 12 months ago, as the highest earner in the sport's history. Great quantities of honour and cash will be at stake on the Dubai dirt this Saturday, and British punters who still believe that the race is little more than a gimmick have just three days left to see sense.Reuse content