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Ocean Park will be in the starting gates Saturday for the Dubai Duty Free. Jake Badger for The National
Ocean Park will be in the starting gates Saturday for the Dubai Duty Free. Jake Badger for The National

Dubai World Cup: Ocean Park looks for top competition in Duty Free

Ocean Park is considered to be the best horse out of Australasia in the middle distances and he is ready to prove himself at the Meydan Racecourse, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

DUBAI// The UAE is a destination often viewed by expatriates as a lucrative stopover before moving somewhere else, and connections of Ocean Park are getting in on the act with a whistle-stop tour during Dubai World Cup week.

Ocean Park is the best horse over middle distances in Australasia and the US$5 million (Dh 18.365m) purse on offer for Saturday's Dubai Duty Free at Meydan Racecourse is the main draw card for trainer Gary Hennessy.

Sunline, trained by Trevor McKee, was the last horse bred in New Zealand to make a significant impact in the nine-furlong event when third to Jim And Tonic in 2001, but Elvstroem last won the Group 1 contest for Australasia in 2005.

Elvstroem subsequently embarked on an unsuccessful trip to Europe and, having utilised the compression suit made famous by Black Caviar last summer on Ocean Park to get here, Hennessy plans to use a slice of the prize-money he hopes to gain to fund an audacious raid on Royal Ascot in June.

"I've spoken to Trevor McKee and he regrets not going on to Ascot," Hennessy said during morning trackwork at Meydan. "Dubai is a stepping stone for us and hopefully we can win and pick up our expenses on the way."

Ocean Park's reputation was secured when he denied All Too Hard, Black Caviar's younger half-brother, and Pierro in the Cox Plate, Australasia's premier weight-for-age championship. Neither All To Hard nor Pierro have been beaten since and have racked up three Group 1 wins and one at Group 2 level since then.

Following Monday's declarations, Ocean Park will face 13 rivals and will be ridden by Johnny Murtagh, who has had almost unbridled success at Royal Ascot.

Murtagh met Hennessy in Hong Kong in December and with the Irish rider now a free agent after his split last season with the Aga Khan, the prominent owner, the two have hatched a plan to steer Ocean Park through a full European turf campaign.

"To have a freelancer like that in our pocket is a huge advantage," Hennessy said. "We can draw on his vast experience of European racing to see where Ocean Park can be best placed."

Although Ocean Park has won over 10 furlongs before, the Queen Anne Stakes over Ascot's uphill mile is the race the pair are targeting, while Murtagh's Irish link has Hennessy eyeing up a tilt at the Irish Champion Stakes over ten furlongs at Leopardstown.

So You Think, who was fourth in the Dubai World Cup 12 months ago, advertised the strength of New Zealand bloodstock when picking up five victories at Group 1 level in Europe.

The former Ballydoyle inmate is currently providing Coolmore stud with a healthy income considering his stud fee is A$66,000 (Dh253,946). Hennessy owns a part of the five-year-old son of Thorn Park, a Group 1 winner in Australia, and is hoping for a similar income if wins at the highest level can be achieved here and in Europe.

"He has a lovely temperament and is very intelligent," Hennessy said. "He has a huge turn of foot when you ask him and every jockey who has ridden him says it's push button."

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