A cosmopolitan gathering of horses from seven different countries will contest the US$10 million Emirates Dubai World Cup at Meydan racecourse, in Dubai, on Saturday.
A maximum 16-runner field has assembled for one of the most open events in the 19-year history of the world's richest race.
Ruler Of The World, trained in Ireland by Aidan O'Brien, vies for the favourite's billing in the 2,000-metre contest with Military Attack and Akeed Mofeed, a pair of runners from Hong Kong.
Local hopes centre around three horses owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
The sheikh's Godolphin enterprise is represented by Vancouverite and Cat O'Mountain, from Charlie Appleby's stable, and African Story.
The latter is trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, who saddles a second runner in Prince Bishop. Bin Suroor has won the Dubai World Cup five times, most recently with Moon Ballad in 2002.
"I feel good about our chances," said Bin Suroor. "My horses have trained well in the build-up to the race. I expect both of them to be prominent in the early stages and they can both accelerate."
British hopes rest with Red Cadeaux, Hillstar, Side Glance and Mukhadram, who is owned by Sheikh Mohammed's brother, Sheikh Hamdan.
Red Cadeaux and Side Glance finished second and fourth respectively in last year's race.
"Red Cadeaux likes the warm weather here in Dubai," said Ed Dunlop, who trains the eight-year-old. "It looks like anyone's race and if you offered me second place again, I would take it."
Hong Kong's record is poor but John Moore, the Australian who trains in Hong Kong, believes Military Attack has what it takes.
"I was delighted when my horse ended up in stall eight (at Wednesday's Post Position draw)," Moore said. "He is tactically versatile so we can wait and see how the race unfolds around us before we make our move."
Japan fields a pair of runners in Hokko Tarumae and Belshazzar, the latter winner of the prestigious Japan Cup Dirt in December.
Belshazzar's trainer, Kunihide Matsuda, was delighted to get stall two.
"It will be a victory draw for us," Matsuda predicted.
Completing the cast are Ron The Greek, representing Saudi Arabia, and Shanshaawes, from South Africa.
Yet despite the international flavour, there is no US runner for the first time since the World Cup was inaugurated in 1996.
The synthetic racing surface installed at Meydan has seen US dominance – established when the event was run on dirt – wane considerably since the racecourse laid down a Tapeta surface four years ago.
Australia, another prominent racing nation, has no representative at all.
Spectators at the richest day of racing will be treated to a fascinating renewal of the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on Saturday with last year’s winner Shea Shea (SAF) back to defend his crown against new kid in town, the Hong Kong speedball, Amber Sky (AUS).
Shea Shea is the form horse at Meydan, holding the track record set last year and winning the Super Saturday 2014 Meydan Sprint on his seasonal debut.
Trainer, Mike de Kock’s hopes were bolstered when his charge was drawn 12 of 12 on Wednesday and, therefore, gets to race along his beloved standside rail. His jockey, Soumillon was understandably delighted with the news.
“I soon learned that he likes a bit of cover and a rail to race against so that is the ideal draw,” he said.
Hong Kong speedster Amber Sky (Aus), trained by Ricky Yiu, could not have been more impressive when winning a 1000m Sha Tin dash in January and looks a massive danger to De Kock’s charge.
He and work rider Raymond Tam were out in the heavy rain early on Wednesday morning. Tam joked: “The weather did not faze him and he was a lot happier than I was out there.”
Compatriot and ten-year-old veteran, Joy And Fun (NZ), actually won this race for trainer Derek Cruz the first year it was contested on Dubai World Cup night, when it was run over 1200m in 2010. He was then third in 2012 and second last year after the switch to 1000m.
Ahtoug (GB) was Charlie Appleby’s first 2014 Dubai World Cup Carnival runner when landing a 1000m turf handicap back at the first meeting in early January. He has since been unable to find winning ways, coming up against Shea Shea but his trainer is pleased with his charge.
Appleby said: “We were obviously delighted with that first win but nothing went right on his second start when he was drawn on the wrong side.
“He bounced back with a very good second behind Medicean Man but excelled on Super Saturday, finding only Shea Shea too good over Saturday’s course and distance.
“Hopefully he has another big run in him.”
Dual Group 1 winner, Sole Power (GB), representing Ireland was fourth to Shea Shea 12 months ago having been just in front of Joy And Fun when second in 2012. He and Shea Shea have clashed regularly and the Eddie Lynam-trained sprinter did beat his old rival at Royal Ascot last year, just denying him in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes, also over 1000m.
The Doug Watson-trained Dux Scholar (GB) and Jeremy Gask’s Medicean Man (GB) are both course and distance winners with Gask’s stable star actually winning at the Dubai World Cup Carnival both this year and in 2013.
Representing France, the Philippe Sogorb-trained Catcall (FR) merits plenty of respect after his career-best second in last year’s Prix de L’Abbaye at Longchamp.
He has been beaten by both Shea Shea and Medicean Man this year at Meydan Racecourse but it would be premature to write him off.
Nine Group 1 winners from eight countries are set to face the starter on Saturday in one of the most competitive renewals of the world’s richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup.
The 19th running of the Group 1 US $10m showpiece boasts a maximum field of 16. Among them is the Epsom Derby winner, Ruler Of The World.
The Aidan O’Brien-trained star is only the second winner of the UK’s premier race to try his hand in the Dubai World Cup.
Connections will be hoping Ruler Of The World can fair better than the 1998 Epsom Derby winner, High-Rise, who failed to beat a rival in the 1999 Dubai World Cup.
The four-year-old will now sport the colours of Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani’s Al Shaqab Racing following the last-minute purchase of a 50 per cent interest in the colt by the Qatari racing operation.
On Wednesday, Harry Herbert, racing advisor to Al Shaqab Racing, drew stall 12 for their latest investment.
“It is really exciting to be involved with such a nice horse and at such a great meeting. We would have preferred a lower draw but his jockey, Joseph O’Brien, is a master at getting a good racing position and we will discuss it with his father, the trainer Aidan.”
Godolphin stalwart, Saeed bin Suroor, has saddled the winner of the Dubai World Cup on five previous occasions. Three of those winners (Dubai Millemmium Moon Ballad and Electrocutionist) had previously won the concluding Group 1 third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, over the same course and distance, albeit on the Nad Al Shiba dirt track.
His Prince Bishop (IRE) won that race on Super Saturday three weeks ago and Kieren Fallon, unbeaten on the horse in three starts, retains the partnership.
They were drawn one on Super Saturday and have the lowest draw again here. Stable companion, African Story (GB), was only eighth in that Super Saturday race but chased home the same rival in the Group 2 middle round of the Al Maktoum Challenge over 1900m on their previous starts.
Bin Suroor said: “We have always really liked Prince Bishop and he has thrived this year. He has a good draw and we expect a big run.
“African Story lost his chance at the start last time when he banged his head. He is better than that and was a closing fifth in this last year having won the Godolphin Mile in 2012.”
Fellow Godolphin handler, Charlie Appleby, preparing for his debut World Cup meeting, also saddles two with stable jockey, Mickael Barzalona, choosing to ride Cat O’Mountain (USA).
That leaves William Buick to ride Vancouverite (GB) and Appleby said: “The draw has not been kind to Cat O’Mountain and Mickael is particularly disappointed. We will have to ride him for luck and hope some gaps appear in the straight.
“Vancouverite ran well on turf on Super Saturday over 1800m, and will appreciate this extra 200m and the switch to the all-weather should not be an issue.
“I am really looking forward to running them both.” When Prince Bishop won over course and distance on Super Saturday, he was chased home by the Mike De Kock-trained Sanshaawes (SAF), himself just ahead of Surfer (USA), trained by Satish Seemar.
South African De Kock has yet to win this race but his charge is well drawn in five and the trainer said: “We had a poor draw last time so a good one here can only help. He has improved throughout the Dubai World Cup Carnival but will need to do so again in a tough renewal.”
Of Surfer’s draw in ten Seemar said: “That is actually one of the better draws this horse has had. We would have preferred lower but it could have been worse.”
Akeed Mofeed (GB) and Military Attack (IRE) both represent Hong Kong and fared well in the draw. The latter is in stall eight, to the delight of his trainer, John Moore who said: “That is the one we wanted – eight is considered lucky in Hong Kong.”
Richard Gibson trains Akeed Mofeed, drawn four. “By the time I drew all the wide gates had gone so the pressure was off. We are very happy with four.”
The UK has four representatives, including Hillstar (GB), trained by Sir Michael Stoute who is looking for a big race double having won the 1997 Dubai World Cup with Singspiel for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
His name was the last to emerge at the draw when stall seven was the only one remaining. Fellow UK challengers, Red Cadeaux (GB), trained by Ed Dunlop and the Andrew Balding-trained Side Glance (GB), were second and fourth in this race 12 months ago.
HH Sheikh Hamdan has seen his famous blue and white silks carried to Dubai World Cup victory twice before and he owns the fourth runner from England, the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram (GB), who has been ridden in trackwork this week by Sheikh Hamdan’s former first jockey, the now-retired, Richard Hills.
He was improving last season and, if adapting to the Meydan Racecourse all-weather surface, is an interesting runner.
Sheikh Hamdan said: “The surface is an unknown for him. Richard Hills took him to Kempton on a similar surface and he seemed to handle it but we will only find out on Saturday if he really copes with it.”
He is drawn in 13 and a disappointed Haggas said: “We would have preferred a lower draw certainly and the surface is a big question mark.
We will find out on Saturday whether he handles it.” Seeking a second win in the race after the victory of Victoire Pisa in 2011, Japan have two runners, in the shape of Belshazzar (JPN) and Hokko Tarumae (JPN).
The hopes of a first Saudi Arabian-trained winner were severely diminished yesterday when their Ron The Greek (USA), a former US-based horse was drawn widest of all in 16.
“I could hear a sigh of relief from the other connections when I drew 16,” said his trainer, Frenchman, Nicholas Bachalard. “It was not what we wanted but we will have to get together and try and devise a plan to overcome the draw.”