x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

North American challenge to wrest back the limelight at Dubai World Cup

Royal Delta heads the charge while Chantal Sutherland bids to become first female jockey to win feature race onboard Game On Dude

American horses have not fared well on the Tapeta surface but Royal Delta will look to change that.
American horses have not fared well on the Tapeta surface but Royal Delta will look to change that.

DUBAI // Ten minutes before tonight's Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup, millions of non-essential light bulbs around the globe will be switched back on again.

Earth Hour 2012 will have finished and ushered into the limelight at Meydan Racecourse will be the North American contingent, who will be out to reprise their role as major players in world racing.

The megawatt smile of Chantal Sutherland will be on show, as the Canadian jockey bids to become the first female rider to cash in the biggest cheque in the sport.

Should she win aboard Game On Dude, trained by Bob Baffert, her cut of the $US10 million (Dh36.7m) prize money will equate to around $400,000.

Baffert and Sutherland are two of the greatest attractions for American racing fans. Yet it is the presence of Bill Mott and Royal Delta that have acted as an overlooked undercard all week.

Mott may not have the wisecracks of Baffert, but as the visionary pathfinder for American racing in 1996 there is a fascination about whether he can do it again in the 2,000-metre feature.

Mott won the inaugural World Cup with Cigar, a horse so brilliant he eventually matched Citation's 1948 winning streak of 16 races.

When Cigar arrived in Dubai he was seeking win No 14, whereas Royal Delta did not even win her last race.

"She's not terribly experienced although she had a full year last year," Mott said of his four-year-old filly. "She's won at the distance and she has won on the all-weather when she won a first-level allowance race. It is the only time she has run on that surface."

Royal Delta has been in formidable form all week in morning track work. That marks a direct contrast to the shape Cigar arrived in, with, as Mott remembers it, an absence from training of 11 days.

Although a defeat for Cigar would have been a setback for Mott, and the late owner Allen Paulson, there was little pressure to win from American race fans who thought the trip halfway around the world for a new race was a fool's errand.

This time, however, the stakes could not be higher. When the World Cup was held at Nad Al Sheba, Cigar's win triggered a wave of challengers. The Americans won a further seven times but since the race moved to the Tapeta of Meydan in 2010 the best result they have had was Gio Ponti's two fifth-placed finishes, from five runners.

The injury to Animal Kingdom denied the race of a Kentucky Derby winner, and it is up to Royal Delta and Game On Dude to pick up the baton in the eyes of the American racing public.

"I would say that it is eminently important to have American runners in Dubai," said Nelson Clemmens, the chief executive of AmWest Entertainment, a simulcasting company in America. "The more US horses that can go over there raises the interest level.

"We don't have a large contingent this year but I am hoping that with regards to Royal Delta we have a large fan base rooting for her after her win at the Breeders' Cup." It will not be plain sailing for the American team, with So You Think universally acknowledged as the most likely winner. The eight-time Group 1 winner has an iron constitution that saw him compete on three different continents last year.

Now trained by Ireland's Aidan O'Brien, when he was handled in Australia by Bart Cummings he once ran six times over three distances in 10 weeks, a stretch that culminated in third place in the 2010 Melbourne Cup.

That versatility could well be his undoing. It is all too easy to paint him as a jack of all trades and master of none, but at the elite level it often pays to be perfectly tailored to the task.

With Americans still obsessed by races on dirt, Royal Delta and Game On Dude need to help change that mindset tonight.

Otherwise, the lights could go out on any meaningful American challenge here in the future.

sports@thenational.ae

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