Godolphin star Thunder Snow will again have to overcome a wide draw if he is to successfully defend his crown Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Saturday.
The five-year-old provided trainer Saeed bin Suroor with a record eighth victory in the Emirates Airline-sponsored showpiece 12 months ago, before going on to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
He will be expected to strip fitter for his comeback run when second in round three of the Al Maktoum Challenge and bids to become the first horse in history to win the Dubai World Cup more than once.
Christophe Soumillon’s mount does not Appear ideally placed after drawing stall 12 of 13 – but he was widest of all in gate 10 last year.
Other leading fancies Capezzano and North America will break from stalls two and three respectively.
North America trainer Satish Seemar said: “This year we have gone up a little bit but three is a safe draw for him, and we were hoping like to get three to five for him, or even six.
“He’s done nothing wrong this season. He’s very good and fresh, just like we saw in leg one of the Al Maktoum Challenge. He’s a very impressive horse.
“He likes to be fresh and worked out perfectly.”
The Charlie Appleby-trained Old Persian is the likely favourite for the Dubai Sheema Classic under William Buick – and has drawn stall two.
Bin Suroor’s Racing History (four) also carries the Godolphin colours, while Aidan O’Brien saddles Magic Wand (three) and Hunting Horn (five).
David Simcock’s Desert Encounter drew the highest stall in eight.
Almond Eye is very much the star attraction in the DP World-sponsored Dubai Turf and is drawn in the middle in stall seven.
Sakae Kunieda’s four-year-old is unbeaten in five starts including top-level triumphs in the Japanese 1000 Guineas, the Japanese Oaks and the Shuka Sho, before beating the boys in November’s Japan Cup.
Connections have already identified this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp as her long-term objective – setting up a potentially mouth-watering clash with John Gosden’s dual Arc heroine Enable.
However, racegoers may not have to wait until October to see the star fillies lock horns, with Kunieda on Wednesday raising the possibility of Almond Eye first travelling to York this summer.
He said: “I hope to continue in international races – the Arc de Triomphe is the target.”
Almond Eye will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire, who said: “What she did last year – what she accomplished – was nearly perfect. I can’t find a weak point for her.
“She’s got the potential for that (Arc). She’s got stamina and she’s an easy ride.
“There’s a good programme for her in Europe and to challenge in the Arc. Running against horses like Enable and Sea Of Class would be a great challenge.”
Almond Eye’s 12 rivals on Saturday include Bin Suroor’s Dream Castle (stall two), O’Brien’s I Can Fly (eight) and the John Gosden-trained Without Parole (12).
Appleby’s Divine Image (six), O’Brien’s Van Beethoven (11) and Jahbath (two) from William Haggas’ yard all feature in the UAE Derby, while Appleby’s Blue Point (eight) is the long odds-on favourite for the Al Quoz Sprint – in which he will face O’Brien’s Lost Treasure (three) and Richard Fahey’s star sprinter Sands Of Mali (two).
Appleby has a particularly strong hand in the Dubai Gold Cup, with Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter (nine) joined by stablemate Ispolini (six).
Charlie Appleby has the chance to secure another hat-trick at Meydan this weekend with Blue Point, Divine Image and Old Persian all favourites for their respective races on Dubai World Cup day.
The Newmarket trainer took his tally of winners to 26 in Dubai over the last 12 months after three victories at Meydan on March 9.
Although Old Persian capped an outstanding night for Appleby, it was Blue Point who shone brightest under the lights three weeks ago.
The sire of Shamardal cemented his position as the frontrunner for the Al Quoz Sprint with a stunning victory in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint.
Blue Point took time to find himself in the 1200m race, but once William Buick got him rolling a furlong and a half out, they stormed across the line three lengths clear of Ekhtiyaar.
Appleby said: “Blue Point has been foot perfect in both his starts so far this year, winning over five and six furlongs, and came out of his victory on Super Saturday in good shape.
“Last year, we missed out the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint, but I feel that he has definitely benefitted from the extra run.
“He can be hard on himself sometimes at home, but giving him another race has certainly helped get to where we want him to be for the Al Quoz Sprint.
“If he turns up on his A-game, he is the one they all have to beat.”
Meanwhile, Divine Image is bidding for a unique UAE Triple Crown, having captured the UAE Oaks in February and the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday.
The sire of Scat Daddy is the favourite in the 14-strong field for the G2 UAE Derby, where he will face the stiff challenge of Walking Thunder.
The 43-year-old said: “We were very pleased with Divine Image in the Al Bastakiya and she is a filly who is improving all the time.
“I think it was important to run her on Super Saturday to give her a bit more experience, mentally more than anything else.
“She is coming up against a couple of different rivals compared to her latest start, but we feel that she is going to be a major player again.”
Old Persian will also be a major contender for the Dubai Sheema Classic.
The Dubawi colt has only raced once this year, producing a late burst to beat Racing History by a short head in the Dubai City of Gold on March 9.
The four-year-old showed strong form in Europe last year, including G2 victories over 12 furlongs at York and Royal Ascot.
With sufficient rest over the last three weeks, Appleby will be hoping one of his finest horses can rise to the occasion.
The Southampton native said: “I was delighted with Old Persian on Super Saturday.
“It was great to get some course and distance experience ahead of the Dubai Sheema Classic, while he has definitely come forward for the run.
“This is a stiffer test compared to last time, but he needs to be bang there in a big race like this if he is going to be a nice mile and a half horse this year, which we hope he is.”
Dubai Sheema Classic: Old Persian
UAE Derby: Divine Image
Al Quoz Sprint: Blue Point
The milliners are manic and the tailors tied up as the Dubai World Cup returns to the iconic Meydan racecourse this Saturday.
Last year Thunder Snow, owned by Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and ridden by Christophe Soumillon and, took the spoils on home turf for the Godolphin stable.
One of the biggest days on the UAE’s sporting calendar, the Dubai World Cup can be a slightly overwhelming experience for first-timers so Sport360 have enlisted our five top tips for surviving at Meydan.
1) PLAN AHEAD
With 60,000 plus race goers flocking to Meydan you can imagine the logistical nightmare facing organisers come 10pm.
Booking a Careem or Uber taxi to pick you up at a set location and time will not only save you the headache of queuing for hours but also ensure your are home at a reasonable hour.
Alternatively, if you’re down with the cool kids and plan on partying the night away with Gwen Stefani at the post-racing concert then again make travel arrangements in advance.
2) PICK UP A PROGRAMME
While Dubai World Cup night is as much about the vibrant social scene as it is the world-class racing, it’s well worth keeping the official racing handbook close to hand.
Not only will it win you brownie points among the true horse racing aficionados, but will also ensure you’re not left with that nagging feeling that you’re missing out come the start bell.
There is also no greater thrill than selecting a winner on the night, especially if that means getting one over friends or those who claim to be ‘in the know’.
3) DRESS TO IMPRESS
This is a once-a-year chance to lose your inhibitions and go all out in the style stakes. The weirder and wackier the better.
Those who put in the most effort and originality into their World Cup outfits will be rewarded handsomely. A Jaguar F-Type coupe for a weekend, a Longines watch and cash prices are all up for grabs in the Jaguar Style Stakes.
4) IT’S NOT FASHIONABLE TO BE LATE
Get there early. And no, that’s not just to avoid the heavy traffic on the journey in but, more importantly, it gives you a chance to sample the Meydan Racecourse in all of its glory.
The mile-long grandstand, which opened in 2010, is the biggest anywhere in the world. It’s a thing of beauty although capturing all of it in a photo is impossible.
Getting there before the masses gives you the rare opportunity to embrace the calm before the storm, and of course scout for the perfect vantage point.
Gates open at noon with the first race, the Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic, scheduled for 3:45pm GST.
5) PACK THE CAMERA
Such is the glitz, glamour, pomp and ceremony of the night you’d be foolish not to pocket a camera or fully-charged smartphone.
Whether it’s the horses battling for supremacy on the track or the fashionistas seeking your attention off it, the World Cup is an all-out attack on the senses. Making sure you document every bit of it is simply a must. If anything, it will help give your Instagram following a boost.