Henry Cecil trains Twice Over who was the impressive winner of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III on Super Thursday on the Meydan All-Weather. That race, over the same 2000m course and distance as the Dubai World Cup, has proved a very reliable guide to the World Cup itself with Electrocutionist, Street Cry and, probably most importantly Dubai Millennium winning it en route to Dubai World Cup glory.
South African trainer Mike de Kock has gone close in this race in the past with both Lizard's Desire and Asiatic Boy finishing second and Victory Moon third. The last pair both won the UAE Derby the previous year as did Musir, one of the trainer's two runners here, on this night last year. However, he was denied by Twice Over on Super Thursday and the suspicion is that he does not quite stay this trip in this illustrious company. He is a quality performer though.
Somewhat surprisingly, no UAE Derby winner has ever won this race but 2002 World Cup winner Street Cry was runner-up in the previous year's UAE Derby. The yard's first string was meant to be Al Maktoum Challenge Round II winner Bold Silvano but a late setback has sadly ruled him out.
However, the yard do have a ready made replacement in Golden Sword, twice a winner at the 2011 Dubai International Racing Carnival and a high-class performer in Europe in 2009.
American-trained horses have a particularly good record in the contest and provided the winner on no less than eight occasions on the Nad Al Sheba dirt. Gio Ponti looks the best of their hopes this year following a good fourth in the race last year.
Trained by Christophe Clement, he will bid to become only the third horse ever to win this race on their seasonal debut. That said, he was an excellent second in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile (turf) when last seen, having filled the same berth behind Zenyatta in the previous year's Breeders' Cup Classic, on a similar surface to the All-Weather.
Fly Down completes the American challenge for 2011 and undoubtedly he is talented but he just does not win often enough for one with such ability.
Cape Blanco won both the Irish Derby and Irish Champion Stakes (Twice Over was behind him) last year and a large share in him has recently changed hands for a lot of money. Trainer Aidan O'Brien is having his first runner in the race but it is entirely possible he will need the run having been off since October (but he has won on his seasonal debut in both seasons racing). A son of Galileo, he should cope with the surface.
Japan has yet to win this race but would appear very well represented on this occasion; Buena Vista was a gallant second on Dubai World Cup night 2010 in the 2400m Dubai Sheema Classic on the turf. She will not be inconvenienced with the drop in trip and, assuming she handles the switch of surface, she looks a big threat to all but, again, she has not raced this year.
Victoire Pisa has beaten his illustrious compatriot in last year's Arima Kinen and has the advantage of a run this season having won in Group Two company late last month. Neither of that pair have raced other than turf, whereas the third Japanese runner Transcend, does have form off turf and won last year's Japan Cup Dirt.
Gitano Hernando was third behind Twice Over and fifth behind Bold Silvano in his two UAE runs this year, as well as sixth in last year's Dubai World Cup. He looks to be improving fitness wise and may surprise a few.
Richard's Kid was seventh in this race last year when trained in America and is now in the care locally of Satish Seemar. He was well beaten behind Twice Over on Super Thursday but connections are hopeful of a big improvement.
Monterosso represents Godolphin's second trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni and was impressive on Super Thursday when winning the Group Two Dubai City of Gold. That was over 2400m on turf but he does have form at this trip, on a similar surface and was deemed good enough by previous connections to contest last year's Irish Derby when he was fourth to Cape Blanco.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that he has a lot of improvement to come and it is interesting connections choose to run him here and not in one of the grass races.