Though it seems to madden those obsessed by more parochial agendas, the fact remains that elite Flat racing is an international sport. So while the British calendar could admittedly make a more coherent start, nothing is nowadays going to supplant the world's most valuable race meeting as the ideal curtain-raiser to a new campaign. The first big prize of the domestic programme, the William Hill Lincoln Handicap, has commendably been salvaged from the snows of last weekend – but it is a blast of desert heat that will sooner lure Flat racing aficionados from their hibernation.
The Dubai World Cup crowns a card so magnetic that it has even thawed the froideur between its hosts, the Maktoum family, and their traditional antagonists at Coolmore, who send runners from Ballydoyle for the third consecutive year. At the same time, however, the cosmopolitan quality of the meeting has become somewhat diluted by the struggles of American horses since its transfer to the opulent new track at Meydan.
The switch from dirt at Nad Al Sheba to the synthetic Tapeta circuit at Meydan has reduced them in much the same way as did their brief experiment, back in California, with a similar surface for the Breeders' Cup. Since 2010, in fact, the only American raider to have scored on World Cup night is Kinsale King, who won a sprint – on turf – that first year. Some will also wonder whether the loss of a congenial surface is compounded by prohibition of raceday medication, not least in view of a disappointing retreat from promised drugs controls at the Breeders' Cup.
It would be highly apposite, then, if the Americans could stop the rot in the big one itself with Animal Kingdom (6.05). His owners are very much representative of the far-sighted minority gathered on one side of a painful schism in the American sport. Barry Irwin, who heads the syndicate, has not only expressed disgust with the timidity of drugs policy back home, but also plotted a highly adventurous path for Animal Kingdom since his Kentucky Derby success two years ago – one that he hopes will proceed to Royal Ascot in June.
Switched to turf for the Breeders' Cup Mile last November, and making his first appearance in nine months, Animal Kingdom ran a sensational race to split the top-class pair, Wide Dan and Excelebration. Moreover, he barely came off the bridle, having been caught up in traffic on the home turn. This is a deeply talented animal, adaptable to all surfaces, and a perfectly sound rehearsal at Gulfstream last month makes him look very solid value, despite a wide draw, at 11-2.
The two Godolphin trainers field the usual strong home defence, with five runners, but it would arguably be wholesome for the race if it did not fall to one of those horses that have thrived conspicuously in the local environment. Hunter's Light looked exposed as Group Three standard less than a year ago and has charged his way to favouritism with his form at the International Carnival.
St Nicholas Abbey was arguably unlucky not to win the Sheema Classic last year but may have his work cut out against the Japanese filly Gentildonna (5.20).
It is good to see his stablemate Imperial Monarch resurface for only his sixth career start earlier on the card, albeit two miles on firm ground represents new territory in every sense. Aidan O'Brien also saddles Lines Of Battle in the UAE Derby, and he is entitled to improve at the longer trip after an experiment with blinkers backfired at the Breeders' Cup.
Perhaps no British trainer in Dubai will be as excited as David Simcock, who has two legitimate chances in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes. But both French raiders look tempting at the prices, French Fifteen set to retrieve the lost promise of his 2,000 Guineas second last year and Giofra (4.40) already a proven operator on the international stage.
As for those keeping the home fires burning, with no fewer than 10 races on Channel 4, the postponement of last Saturday's card at Doncaster has given rise to fresh perplexity. Swiftly Done was picked out as the Lincoln value last week, but is now joined in the field by one that originally missed the cut, Bancnuanaheireann (3.05). Though things did not always drop right for him last season, he thrived for a similar scenario when fourth at 50-1 in the Cambridgeshire and his upwardly mobile trainer considers him best fresh.
Cry Fury (2.55) has an awkward draw in the Betvictor Rosebery Handicap at Kempton but should be helped by a decent pace, if dropped out, and it certainly seems significant that his powerful connections have persevered. He can go well fresh and is entitled to turn over a new leaf as a gelding.
With the honourable exception of Richard Hannon, southern stables should be rebuked for dozily spurning the valuable Totepool Royal Mile Handicap at Musselburgh. The opportunity is not wasted on Mark Johnston, who sends four up from Yorkshire and can gain due reward with Greeleys Love (3.35).
Chris McGrath's nap
- Bancnuanaheireann (3.05 Doncaster)
- Move In Time (5.15 Musselburgh)
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