Singspiel can have the last word

DUBAI WORLD CUP: It's the richest race in the world. And it could be coming home to Britain; Greg Wood predicts victory for a Michael Stoute-trained globetrotter
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The organisers are far too sophisticated to even dream of such a thing, but a rather appropriate slogan to sell today's Dubai World Cup would be "Racing's coming home". Over the three centuries since Arab stallions were exported to Britain to found the thoroughbred line, their descendants have spread throughout five continents, and now the best of them have returned to the tiny Gulf state which is modern racing's seat of power, lured by the biggest purse on the planet.

It is easy to snipe at this event, for its invitation-only entry system or, more significantly, the decision to run it on dirt, which ensures that the American horses turn up, but places everyone else at an immediate disadvantage. What cannot be denied, though, is that this is a fascinating race, albeit one which for betting purposes must be treated with caution.

The better the race the more chance you have of backing the winner, is a reliable law of punting, but the Dubai World Cup takes it a step too far. There is simply no way to compare the claims of horses from America, Europe, Japan and Australia, who far from racing against each other before, have not even raced against something which has raced against something else which has.

Nor, unlike the inaugural running which featured Cigar, is there an obvious champion in the field. This contest is far more evenly matched than the betting, which makes Siphon the 3-1 favourite, might imply.

The best that those on the ground can hope to do is to twitch an antenna in the breeze of talk and rumour and track the most positive smells back to their source.

In fact, though, the most noticeable whiffs are the negative ones. Takao Nakano, trainer of Hokuta Vega, the Japanese mare who has won 10 straight races on dirt, clearly feels that she will not like the rain-clogged surface, while much more significantly, the noises surrounding Helissio, last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner and a 7-1 chance for today's race, are dreadful.

Elie Lellouche, Helissio's trainer, has kept a very low profile this week, but everyone in Dubai seems to know that he is far from happy with the colt's preparation and is running him today only because of the strict orders of Enrique Sarasola, the colt's owner.

Nor is there much confidence that Bjiou D'Inde, last year's St James's Palace Stakes winner, will improve on his dismal first outing on the dirt surface earlier this month.

"If the track is very heavy it could be that it will make a difference to everyone," Mark Johnston, Bijou D'Inde's trainer, said earlier this week, which from an instinctive optimist is not encouraging. Even Top, meanwhile, is poorly drawn in stall one and will receive great facefuls of stodgy kickback from the moment he leaves it.

This, indeed, is a fundamental problem for which no amount of exercise on the track can prepare a horse accustomed to racing on turf. "We train on dirt all the time," Kiaran McLaughlin, the American-born trainer of Key Of Luck says, "but it's very hard to evaluate whether a horse that's trained on dirt will race on dirt because they haven't had to face the kickback."

Key Of Luck, who with Kammtarra forms the locally-based team, was the 20-length winner of last year's Dubai Duty Free race - a consolation event for horses just short of World Cup class, for which Tamayaz (3.30) is strongly fancied this year.

Again, though, there is a feeling that he - and Kammtarra for that matter - just lack the necessary talent for this latest assignment. As a result, Key Of Luck's most important role today will probably be to scrap with Siphon for the lead, since, as every American on the track will inform you, when Siphon gets in front, he stays there.

Perhaps, but on a heavy track the mile and a quarter will take some getting, and if, as seems certain, the pace is fierce, Siphon may just falter inside the final furlong.

Richard Mandella, who will also saddle Sandpit, the second-favourite, says that he cannot split them, which may mean that they will finish one and two, or alternatively that the American squad - which is completed by Formal Gold, a 6-1 chance - is not as strong as it appears. At such cramped odds, it is not a risk worth taking.

This leaves two options. Juggler, the Australian runner, is a tough competitor and has a serious each-way chance and is particularly tempting at Ladbrokes' morning price of 40-1. The first prize, however, may be coming to Britain.

SINGSPIEL (nap 4.15) is no stranger to valuable races abroad, having finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf before travelling even further afield to win the Japan Cup.

Of course, he faces one familiar problem. "The big danger is the surface," Michael Stoute, his trainer, says. "Singspiel is a pretty decent horse on the turf, and if the race was run there you'd have to say he had a very strong chance, but now we are going into the unknown. I think the trip will suit him because you really need to get the mile and a quarter. We're happy he's fit, his weight is good and his blood picture is excellent."

There is only one way to find out if Singspiel truly acts on dirt, but what he does have, which several of the other Europeans do not, is a ground- grabbing action which should, in theory, work well on this surface. At odds as long as 8-1, he stands every chance of bringing back the richest prize in racing to a British yard.

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