DUBAI // Patrick Shaw remained defiant at critics who have suggested that Rocket Man is on the wane as his ageing Dubai Golden Shaheen champion went about his paces on the Tapeta track at Meydan Racecourse yesterday.
The Singapore-based trainer returns to the Emirates having saddled his sprinter twice in the 1,200-metre contest, coming away with a second-placed finish in 2010 before last year's triumph.
Since 1999, when the race known then as the Nad Al Sheba Sprint was first run, 12 of the 16 winners have been aged four or five.
Now seven years old in the northern hemisphere, Rocket Man has a screw inserted into one of his legs that gives him arthritis and 12 months on from his easy victory over Bob Baffert's Euroears, it is not getting easier to shift his condition. "The older we get the more aches and pains there are," the 54-year-old trainer said.
"It's harder for him to lose weight now. We all do as we get older, I know because I still play squash.
"But I've got him exactly where I had him last year and he's an easy horse to train."
Shaw has steadily brought his Australian-bred charge to race fitness after he won the Kranji Stakes, the race he won a year ago as his prep, by almost five lengths.
Two weeks ago he had a barrier trial over 1,000 metres and stopped the clock at 59.04 seconds, which not surprisingly was the fastest of the morning.
He also won his most recent trial at Kranji Racecourse with ease, which is why yesterday he simply had a quick look at his old stomping ground. Shaw will give his stable star another look at the track this morning before a more sterner test tomorrow.
Rocket Man will emerge from stall one after the draw was made for the 1,200-metre contest, and with most of the pace horses such as Inxile and Baffert's The Factor out wide Shaw was quietly confident of a successful repeat bid, despite the presence of the Hong Kong sprint winner Lucky Nine.
"I'm very happy with the draw and he'll keep everyone honest," Shaw said.
"The pace is out wide and he has no problem chasing it down. I respect Lucky Nine a lot and he is the horse to beat as I think he will go well on the Tapeta."
Lucky Nine was one of the last horses to arrive at international stables and remained in quarantine yesterday.
A trip to the track is pencilled in either this morning or tomorrow but one rival who did make track work yesterday was Sepoy, who will race in the royal blue of Godolphin on Saturday.
If Rocket Man is the ageing champion, Sepoy is all too easily painted as the rising star, and the four-year-old colt worked from the 1,000m mark before picking up the pace from the 800m under Kerrin McEvoy.
"He really finished off well, breaking 22 seconds for the final 400m, which suggests to me he has really made significant improvement, he worked as well as at any time he has at home," his trainer Peter Snowden said.
"The Boss [Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] is the best winner and the best loser I've ever seen and I hope my first runners for him in Dubai can do the colours proud."
Rocket Man is one of four horses across the card looking to win the same race for a second time on World Cup night.
Seraphin Du Paon, owned by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, will line up on the first race, the Kahayla Classic, having beaten Neishan last year in the feature Arabian race.
Presvis defends his title in the Dubai Sheema Classic, while Joy And Fun bids to put his injury problems behind him to gain back his 2010 Al Quoz sprint crown.
"I don't think there is the expectation of last year as it's a stronger field but it's a lot easier when we've all done it before," Shaw said.
"Rocket is still a force to be reckoned with and we are happy with him going into Saturday night."