The trouble with "nearly" horses is that they are that for a reason. There is a difference between being good – or even very good – and not quite good enough. In the case of Youmzain, the difference can be measured at £727,693, which represents the extra he would have collected had he finished first instead of second in Europe's two richest middle-distance all-aged contests, the Arc and the King George, last year.
It is not likely, though, that any owner would quibble at a colourbearer like Youmzain, who cost 30,000gns as a yearling, has earned just shy of £1m in his 16-race career and has competed with honour at the highest level on his last seven starts. Jaber Abdullah is the lucky man.
But the fact remains that the five-year-old has not won since landing his sole Group One prize, the Preis von Europa in Cologne, in September, 2006. A year ago he started his sequence of near-misses on bigger stages by taking third in the Sheema Classic at Nad Al Sheba and tomorrow will be trying to launch his new campaign by going two better.
Twelve months ago, from an unfavourable wide draw in a field of 14, he finished fastest of all, and best of the Europeans, on the heels of Vengeance Of Rain, from Hong Kong, and Oracle West, representing South Africa. This time Youmzain will emerge from a box perceived as better, the five of 16, flanked by the Godolphin second string West Wind and US raider Better Talk Now. Trainer Mick Channon is confident the son of Sinndar, who has been acclimatising in Dubai since mid-February and will again be ridden by Richard Hughes, will mount a potent challenge for the £1.5m first prize, with one caveat.
"It is competitive," he said yesterday, "but obviously we have a decent chance. The draw is good; perhaps it would have been better if we had a horse who really wanted to go forward next to us, but we're happy and we can take our time from there.
"He's in good form and ready to go but my one problem is the pace, and whether there will be a good gallop. We may need our share of luck, because he's a hold-up horse, who is always most effective off a generous gallop."
Last year's edition of the 12-furlong turf contest, the final warm-up act tomorrow before US star Curlin's bid for wonder horse status in the £6m Dubai World Cup, was conducted at an ordinary pace, which suited the style developed by Vengeance Of Rain on his home track of Sha Tin. This time the hot favourite is another Hong Kong horse, Viva Pataca.
The six-year-old – who was known as Comic Strip when with Sir Mark Prescott in his previous life – missed an invitation to the prestige meeting last year, to the annoyance of his trainer John Moore. A point was emphatically made when Viva Pataca left Vengeance Of Rain insultingly in his wake twice afterwards and Moore looks forward to making another tomorrow. "I think we've brought the right horse to win the race," he said.
Yellowstone, who helped with pacemaking duties for the Arc winner Dylan Thomas and was afterwards sold out of Ballydoyle for a near-record 520,000gns at the end-of-season auction in Newmarket, will have his first run for Jane Chapple-Hyam in the Sheema Classic after the split between owner Fitri Hay and former trainer Stan Moore.
The British challenge is completed by David Elsworth's charge Gower Song and Mourilyan, from John Oxx's yard, represents Ireland in an eight-nation field. Both are already good winners at Nad Al Sheba this year, as is Frankie Dettori's mount Gravitas.
l Trainer Paul Nicholls has confirmed that Kauto Star and Master Minded will run at Aintree next week. Gold Cup runner-up Kauto Star reappears in Thursday's totesport Bowl Chase while Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Master Minded runs in Friday's John Smith's Melling Chase. "We plan to run Kauto Star and Master Minded at Aintree, providing they come through their workouts on Saturday without any problems," Nicholls said. "Master Minded will step up to two-and-a-half miles for the Melling Chase and I have no worries about the trip."
Nap: Given A Choice
NB: Binnion Bay