It’s hard to find a more competitive and diverse group of international horses than the group set to contest the $2 million UAE Derby (UAE-II) on Saturday at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
Among the nine starters are horses representing the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Ireland. Held at 1,900 meters (about 9.5 furlongs), the race has drawn such a diverse field in part because it offers 100 Kentucky Derby qualification points to the winner, essentially making it a “Win and You’re In” for the Derby.
The heavy favorite among British bookmakers is #5 Gold Town, who represents Godolphin Racing, the stable that has won this race a record eight times. Trained by Charlie Appleby, Gold Town is 2-for-2 at Meydan this year, winning the 1,400-meter UAE 2,000 Guineas in gate-to-wire fashion by 4 ¼ lengths before stretching out to a metric mile and crushing the UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III) itself in even more dominant fashion, prevailing by 10 ½ lengths.
However, Gold Town will be stretching out beyond a mile for the first time and facing considerably tougher company this time around, so at a short price he doesn’t necessarily offer any value. Then again, the same can be said about the expected second choice #4 Mendelssohn, who will also be running beyond a mile for the first time while making his debut on dirt. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Mendelssohn certainly has class—he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) last year and recently returned from a layoff to win the Patton Stakes over the synthetic track at Dundalk with a sharp late run—but the switch to dirt is a big question mark, even though he is a half-brother to the two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Beholder.
Experience on dirt is a major asset for #3 Reride, the lone U.S. representative. Trained by Steve Asmussen, who has enjoyed success shipping horses to Dubai in the past, the son of Candy Ride is 4-for-5 so far and recently defeated future Sunland Derby (gr. III) winner Runaway Ghost by 2 ½ lengths in the 8.5-furlong Mine That Bird Derby. My only concern is that Reride could find the waters a bit deeper here, and it’s worth noting that no U.S.-based horse has ever won the UAE Derby.
I’ll lean against #7 Yulong Warrior, who rode a strong speed/rail bias in his most recent victory, and also #8 Taiki Ferveur and #2 Ruggero, two Japanese representatives that seem a cut below the best in their own country.
Since I don’t have a strong opinion on who will win, I’ll play Gold Town and Mendelssohn on top of the exacta and trifecta while trying to catch a longshot for second or third place: