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On Saturday, March 26, the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai will host the biggest international Kentucky Derby Prep race in addition to one of the headlining races for the entire sport. Get my analysis and selections for the big races.
ANALYSIS

Dubai World Cup and UAE Derby Horse Racing Picks

The Grade II UAE Derby will award 100 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby while the biggest names in the sport including the #1 horse in the world, Life Is Good, will race in the Grade I Dubai World Cup with a $12 million purse.

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Race 5 – Kentucky Derby Prep Race (100 Points to Winner)

  • Distance: 1 3/16 miles
  • Name: UAE Derby - Grade II
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Dirt

We do not get many Kentucky Derby Prep Races overseas and the UAE Derby is the only international race to award 100 points to the winner. The morning line favorite is the Bob Baffert-trained Pinehurst (3-1) who traveled overseas early and won the Grade III Saudi Derby last month. While Pinehurst is an excellent horse, I am worried about distance. He’s stretching out over a mile for only the second time and the only other race in which he went over a mile was the Breeder’ Cup Juvenile where he faded late finishing 8 ½ lengths behind eventual winner Corniche. If you have been following the Derby Trail, then you know the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has not produced many strong Derby contenders and I think Pinehurst is best-served as a one-turn miler. Stretching out to 9.5 furlongs seems like too much of an ask.

Looking past the favorite, I think an intriguing choice comes at a great price in the form of Quality Boone (15-1). The Argentinian horse has been racing at Meydan for the last year and seems to relish the extra distance as he put away his competition at 9.5 furlongs last time out at the Al Bastakiya Stakes. The fact he’s one of two horses in the field to have won at the distance is important, but so too is the fact that the field is littered with sprint horses that will flash early speed and should give Quality Boone plenty of pace to run into.

The horse that finished second to Quality Boone last time out, Withering (15-1), is the other horse in the field who has won at 9.5 furlongs, which he did two races back at Meydan at the Al Baktakiya Trial Stakes. Admittedly, he’s probably a better turf horse, but he’s taken to the dirt at Meydan surprisingly well. He should also benefit from a strong early pace as he’s a deep closer reminiscent of Mine That Bird. The track tends to favor early speed, but in a race where so many horses are stretching out for the first time, I tend to lean toward horses that will still be going strong the last furlong.

There are two strong Japanese horses stretching out for the first time in Sekifu (4-1) and Combustion (5-1). It’s been quite a year for Japanese horses dating back to November’s Breeders’ Cup that saw them collect their first two Breeders’ Cup winners in Loves Only You and Marche Lorraine. Both Sekifu and Combustion have incredible talent, but both seem poised for prosperous careers as sprinters. Sekifu came overseas earlier and finished second to Pinehurst last time out but that was coming back from a three-month layoff. Meanwhile, Combustion has never finished worse than second and has gotten the better of Sekifu once before. However, when it comes to stretching out, Sekifu would appear to have the slightly better pedigree and I think the prep race in February helped get him ready for this spot.

Race 5 Picks

  • Win: Quality Boone
  • Place: Sekifu
  • Show: Withering

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Race 9

  • Distance: 1 1/4 miles
  • Name: Dubai World Cup - Grade I
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Dirt

While the race has an international flair and features horses bred in five different countries (USA, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and Ireland), it would appear to be a battle between fellow American-bred horses Life Is Good (4-5), Hot Rod Charlie (3-1), Country Grammar (8-1), and Midnight Bourbon (10-1). The next closest horses from a morning line standpoint are Magny Cours and Hypothetical, who are both 20-1, with the latter having the best chance of crashing the All-USA board.

The race centers around the #1 horse in the world, Life Is Good, whose last race was a dominating effort at the Grade I Pegasus World Cup when he dispatched the reigning #1 horse, Knicks Go. Life Is Good has drawn the inside post, but his early speed should overcome any potential post disadvantage on a course that tends to heavily favor early speed. The biggest question facing Life Is Good is distance. He’ll be stretching out to 10 furlongs for the first time and the fact he’s never been tested does leave open the question of whether he’ll wilt if someone comes at him down the stretch. Everyone covering the race at Meydan has been raving about the way Life Is Good floats over the track. I have a feeling we’re going to see something special on Saturday morning.

One of those horses charging late should be Hot Rod Charlie (3-1) who has shown a willingness to battle down the stretch. He shipped overseas early and got a prep race in at Meydan where he easily put away the competition in the Grade II Al Maktoum Challenge. The biggest question mark with Hot Rod Charlie is that he has often come up short when racing against the best in the world whether that be Essential Quality at the Belmont Stakes or Knicks Go at the Breeders’ Cup. He’s able to beat very good horses like Midnight Bourbon and Mandaloun but he’s not been able to get over the hump of beating great horses.

Speaking of very good horses, Midnight Bourbon (10-1) comes back to race again after his third-place performance in February’s Grade I Saudi Cup. Unlike most of his races, Midnight Bourbon was forced to run from off the pace, which I think will suit him better as he does not have the ability to challenge Life Is Good early. While I think Midnight Bourbon might be best at a shorter distance, the best performance of his career came at the Grade I Travers Stakes where he finished a neck behind Essential Quality at 10 furlongs. I refuse to bet on him to win after getting burned several times, but at 10-1, he finally provides good value to use underneath for a horse that has hit the board in 11 of 12 graded stakes races where he’s crossed the finish line.

The X-factor is Country Grammar (8-1), who is trained by Bob Baffert and came back from a nine-month layoff to finish second in the Grade I Saudi Cup last month. It was an amazing effort as he outdueled Midnight Bourbon before getting overtaken by longshot Emblem Road in the final stretch. For a horse that has not run consistently in such a long time, I wonder if he’ll be able to put together consecutive efforts against this strong of a field. He’s had mixed success at the distance, and I have a feeling he’s going to struggle with the pace. As mentioned earlier, Hypothetical (20-1) is an intriguing longshot to play underneath to add value to your exotics as he is coming off a Grade I victory at the Meydan track over 10 furlongs earlier this month.

Race 9 Picks

  • Win: Life is Good
  • Place: Midnight Bourbon
  • Show: Hypothetical

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Article Author

Horse Racing

Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.

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