The disappointment of missing Royal Ascot could turn out to be the secret of California Chrome’s success come World Cup night.
That is the view of Alan Sherman, assistant and son of trainer Art, ahead of Saturday’s running of the world’s richest race.
Nothing really went right for Chrome at last year’s World Cup.
Sherman’s charge ended up covering more ground than any of his eight rivals but was running on empty when Prince Bishop threw down a late challenge to snatch first place.
Then injured when being prepared for Royal Ascot and almost retired at one stage, Chrome has returned this year with victory at Santa Anita, in the Group 2 San Pasqual Stakes, and then a handicap at Meydan. His Meydan win was over the same 2,000m course and distance as Saturday’s race and, interestingly, was the equivalent race won by Curlin in 2008 on his way to World Cup success.
This year’s California Chrome, even to the untrained eye, is a far bigger and stronger specimen than the one frustrated last year.
And Sherman said: “Missing Royal Ascot and having that long break has probably turned out to be a real blessing. You just need to look at him to see he has really blossomed with time.
“Everything has gone to plan with him and we wanted to come to Dubai early this time and get a race into him at Meydan. As we have always maintained, we really think, after a long break, a horse will be at his peak for his third start back and that is what Saturday will be.
“He worked on Saturday and did a good piece over 1,000m in just under 52 and a half second. It was a great workout and he should be spot on come Saturday.
“Basically, we are all excited and cannot wait for Saturday.”
California Chrome, who looks likely to start favourite, is being prepared at Meydan whereas the second favourite Frosted is “out in the desert” at Charlie Appleby’s Al Marmoon Stables.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said: “We have a great facility here at Al Marmoon and it is perfect for us. It is so peaceful and the horses are just totally relaxed and thriving.
“I do not think we have ever had him (Frosted) in better shape and he has been working superbly, posting great times. He did his last serious piece last week and that will have put him spot on for Saturday.
“Hopefully we get a nice low draw which can only be an advantage. It looks a good race but I would not swap him.”
Meanwhile, the Dale Romans-trained Keen Ice was one of many horses who failed to deliver on Super Saturday on a card and dirt surface, seemingly, strongly biased to the horses contesting the early speed.
The only horse to beat Triple Crown hero, American Pharoah, last year when winning the Travers Stakes, he must improve on his Meydan debut.
With the owner providing five of the 12 runners, it was a difficult choice for his retained jockey, Paul Hanagan, but he made the right one and the pair led, close home, to deny stable companion Munaaser, also owned by Sheikh Hamdan.
Hanagan said: “He won the prep for this over course and distance a month ago before never really getting competitive in a 2000m Carnival handicap at Meydan.
“He took a while to get going today but I always thought we would get there in the straight to catch Munaaser.”
The Purebred Arabian equivalent, the Group 1 Emirates Championship over the same 2200m, produced an ultra game performance from Abhaar who made every yard of the running under Wayne Smith.
Trained by Eric Lemartinel and owned by Sheikh Khalifa, Abhaar was tackling by far the longest trip he has faced, but showed both stamina and great resolution to land the spoils.
Smith said: “Eric said to be positive on him and credit to the horse who has just kept finding every time I asked him.”
It was a big race double for Sheikh Khalifa and Lemartinel who had already combined with Tadhg O’Shea to land the UAE Arabian Derby with Mahbooba.
O’Shea said: “It is actually the first time I have ridden her in a race and she is a lovely, straightforward filly. She is also now a valuable broodmare prospect.”
Jockey Smith completed a double, driving the Erwan Charpy-trained Cheik Roque to land the ‘Grand Finale’, a 1600m handicap and, as the name suggested, the final Abu Dhabi meeting of the season.
Dorhess De Brugere, trained by Satish Seemar and ridden by Richard Mullen, won the opening 1400m maiden with the other two winners on the card both owned by Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda.
AF Maqayes, trained by Al Raihe and ridden by O’Shea, landed a 1400m conditions contest before Fernado Jara partnered AF Madrub to victory in a 1400m maiden for Ernst Oertel.
No horse has won this race twice, but that could well change with last year’s winner, Dormello, looking the one to beat for trainer Dhruba Selvaratnam and his main patron, Sheikh Ahmed.
Winner of a 2000m Carnival handicap at Meydan on his latest start, he arrives here in great form with Pat Dobbs taking over in the saddle from Chris Hayes, required to ride in Ireland on the first day of their flat season.
Selvartanam said: “He has been running well all season and must have a big chance of following up last year’s win.”
Dormello would appear the one to beat but the Satish Seemar-trained Cross Grain is a fascinating contender among his 11 rivals.
The mount of Richard Mullen, Seemar’s charge has only one previous turf outing to his name, a 1400m victory at Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago. That was actually only his sixth career start and Mullen explained: “He has always been a really nice horse but has suffered numerous setbacks.
“We were keen to run him on turf so when that race appeared two weeks ago, we saved him for that. He won then and should, hopefully, cope with this big step up.”