Twice Over and Cape Blanco among the favourites to succeed in the Dubai World Cup and have their names etched among the 15 previous winners.
One horse will join Meydan's roll of honour
DUBAI // Meydan Racecourse has a new Hall of Champions. It went up overnight and is positioned on the way to the parade ring from the Horse Connections Lounge. It bears the names of the 15 winners of the world's richest horse race.
Among them are such legends as Cigar, the first winner, in 1996; Dubai Millennium, perhaps the greatest winner; and Curlin, the US super galloper who won in 2008.
By 9.38pm tonight a new name will be added to the honour roll.
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Several horses have legitimate claims on the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) race, but two stand out: Twice Over and Cape Blanco.
Both are Champion Stakes winners; Twice Over has twice claimed the English Group 1, while Cape Blanco won the Irish version as well as the Irish Derby.
Both are trained by celebrated figures, in Henry Cecil and Aidan O'Brien, respectively.
Yet there the similarities end.
Cape Blanco got his first glimpse of the all-weather track at Meydan on Thursday, having arrived in Dubai in the early hours of Tuesday. Twice Over has been here two months, his connections having learnt a hard lesson last year when finishing 10th on a flying visit.
Cecil is confident of Twice Over's chances, especially after winning the Group 3 prep race on March 3. He said the horse is more balanced, is simply better this season and has improved even since his commanding victory when he beat four World Cup rivals.
"I couldn't be happier with him," said Cecil, a 10-time British champion trainer. "He's definitely a much fitter horse. If he doesn't win there will no excuses."
It is worth noting that Cecil was also confident last season, and that race did not go according to plan. But not even a wide draw in stall 12 was enough to damage Twice Over's claims of pre-race favouritism.
"We thought we had a great chance last year and it didn't go right," said Cecil, who booked regular rider Tom Queally, an 11-time Group 1-winning jockey. "But we have been planning this since his last run last year. We have been programming him for the World Cup since the Champion Stakes."
Not much is known about the progress of Cape Blanco, the second favourite, since he trotted off the plane on Tuesday alongside stable companions Alexander Pope and Master of Hounds, who both run in the UAE Derby.
He worked in a blanket of thick fog this morning, adding to the air of mystery. His trainer, saddling his first World Cup runner, is not expected in Dubai until today.
O'Brien's three runners today represent his first horses in Dubai since Powerscourt finished fifth in the 2005 Sheema Classic and, even then, the master of Ballydoyle was not present.
What is known is that Cape Blanco is newly part-owned by the Dubai-based Fitri Hay and will run in the Hay colours and under the Hay-retained jockey, Jamie Spencer. Spencer sat on the horse on Thursday for the first time, giving him a steady canter. He said: "That was just what Aidan wanted. We are here now and will see how it all goes."
Mike de Kock, the Carnival maestro, saddles two and bids for his first World Cup win, having come close with Asiatic Boy in 2008 and Lizard's Desire last year. He lost his first string, Bold Silvano, with an injury but Musir, the 2010 UAE Derby winner, and Golden Sword are adequate replacements.
"He had all sorts of problems, but he's settled down this year," De Kock said of Golden Sword, who won two Carnival races and has been dubbed the "joker in the pack" by his jockey, Christophe Soumillon.
"He has run very well on the synthetic track and must have an outside chance, although he will have to up his game," De Kock said.
Kevin Shea will ride Golden Sword while Soumillon opted for Musir. "Christophe had the choice and picked Musir. I would have done the same," De Kock said. "Musir's whole preparation has been aimed at the Dubai World Cup and I think he can run a big one."
Japan is well-represented by multiple Group 1 winners, Buena Vista, the mount of Ryan Moore, the three-time British champion jockey, Victoire Pisa and Transcend.
Gio Ponti and Fly Down represent US hopes for trainers Christophe Clement and Nick Zito, respectively. Both Clement and Zito are said to be happy with the way their charges have prepped.
The 2010 contenders Gitano Hernando and Richard's Kid have another crack at the race for Marco Botti and Satish Seemar.