x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Gio Ponti leads pack at Dubai World Cup

Form, talent and precedence are why this five-year-old looks good to win the World Cup. But for that, the American horse has to beat some serious competition tonight.

Gloria de Campeao is a familiar face in the UAE, having been a runner-up in the 2009 World Cup.
Gloria de Campeao is a familiar face in the UAE, having been a runner-up in the 2009 World Cup.

Form, talent and precedence are why this five-year-old looks good to win the World Cup. But for that, the American horse has to beat some serious competition tonight. Sarah Tregoning examines the leading contenders. Horse Gio Ponti (USA) Owner Castleton Lyons Farm Jockey Ramon Dominguez Trainer Christophe Clement This is a serious horse who will be given a lot of respect by his rivals and fully deserves his status as favourite. Predominantly a turf runner, the duel Eclipse Award winner boasts some of the classiest form of any World Cup contender this year. The five-year-old owns four Grade One titles but has never raced outside the USA. History is also on his side - American horses have won the World Cup eight times. Gio Ponti proved he can act on synthetics when coming second by a length to Zenyatta in November's Breeders' Cup Classic over the World Cup distance. There is no shame in that - no horse has beaten the all-conquering mare in 15 starts. Gio Ponti was most recently runner-up by a nose in the mile-and-a-half Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup on turf. He holds form over the World Cup contenders, Gloria de Campeao in the Arlington Millions and Twice Over and Richard's Kid in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Horse Vision D'Etat (FR) Owner Jacques Detre Jockey Olivier Peslier Trainer Eric Libaud Vision D'Etat comes into the World Cup off the back of a winning run in the Group One Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin in December. The time before that he was disappointing in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe when finishing 10th but there is a school of thought that the 1m4f of Longchamp was two furlongs too far. That said, he has won over that trip in the past and the 1m2f of the World Cup should not be an issue. Vision D'Etat has triumphed in nine of his 13 starts and until the Arc had never run worse than fifth. His best result to date is the Group One Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2009 when he beat Tartan Bearer into second and more importantly, the World Cup contender Twice Over, into fourth. The manner of that win was impressive with Vision D'Etat battling gamely from the rear to put his head in front. But he will have to pass a fitness test by the racecourse veteranarian today if he is to start.

Horse Twice Over (GB) Owner Khalid Abdullah Jockey Tom Queally Trainer Henry Cecil It is not inconceivable that Twice Over could win the World Cup. Though the Group One Emirates Airline Champion Stakes winner has been prepared in frozen England, his trainer, Cecil has been uncharacteristically bullish in his pre-race comments. He hasn't run since coming third behind Zenyatta and World Cup rival Gio Ponti in the November Breeders' Cup Classic, but many World Cup horses are coming back from a lay-off. He did nothing wrong in the Breeders' Cup in his first start on a synthetic surface and kept on well at the finish. Viewed alongside his Champion Stakes win in which he defeated serious horses including Mawatheeq, Sariska and Fame and Glory, Twice Over must be seen as a threat today, especially since his trainer believes he is a better horse than he was last year.

Horse Red Desire (JPN) Owner Tokyo Horse Racing Jockey Christophe Soumillon Trainer Mikio Matsunaga The Japan Cup third, Red Desire is a genuine filly who adds a lot of interest to the World Cup field. She runs with the hopes of a nation on her gleaming bay shoulders after Japan's favourite and most successful female race horse, Vodka, was forced into retirement a few weeks ago. Red Desire won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III at Meydan Racecourse on Super Thursday, beating a number of her World Cup rivals in the process including Gloria de Campeao, Mr Brock, Allybar and Lizard's Desire. At home she is considered the No 2 filly, after being beaten into second twice - in the Japanese 1,000 Guineas and the Japanese Oaks - by Buena Vista. That runner contests today's Sheema Classic, while her other tormentor, Vodka will not race. Whether she can withstand the challenge presented by the three above her in this list remains to be seen, but Red Desire is certainly capable of being in the frame.

Horse Gitano Hernando (GB) Owner Team Valor Jockey Kieren Fallon Trainer Marco Botti His trainer has described him as "spot on" for the world's richest race today and he certainly looked convincing when winning his warm-up race, the Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield in February. The globetrotting colt gave his young trainer his biggest success to date in the Grade One Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita, beating fellow World Cup contestant, Richard's Kid. Gitano Hernando is improving all the time and after missing out on his planned run in the Belmont Stakes in October last year - because of lameness - his trainer might feel he is due some big-race success. And they do not come much bigger than the Dubai World Cup and its accompanying millions of dollars. While the four-year-old may not yet be in the same class as Gio Ponti, there is a definite buzz about his form and it is not inconceivable, given the rate at which he is progressing, that Gitano Hernando could spring a surprise tonight.

Horse Gloria de Campeao (BRZ) Owner Estrela Energia Stables Jockey Tiago Periera Trainer Pascal Bary Gloria de Campeao is a truly international contender with his Brazilian breeding, French trainer and Swedish owners. He is also a familiar face in the UAE, having been a runner-up in the 2009 World Cup, albeit a record 14 lengths behind Well Armed. He went on to claim the Singapore Cup at Kranji Racecourse in April that year, beating last year's Dubai Duty Free runner-up, Presvis, by a head. He came to Meydan Racecourse off the back of a lacklustre showing in the Arlington Millions in the USA. But that outing was in August last year and when he arrived in the UAE, he immediately impressed with his winning run in the World Cup prep, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round One. He was pipped on the line by Red Desire in Round Three of the race series, but obviously goes well on Tapeta and performs well in Dubai. He is possibly a horse that runs best when fresh. stregoning@thenational.ae