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The Dubai World Cup is the ultimate ‘winter meet’ race, a Gulf states version of the Belmont, minus the punishing extra quarter-mile and open to all ages, but very much with the outsized purse — in Dubai’s case, it’s a $30-million weekend of races with a $12-million pot at the end of the feature race, 7.5 million of which is bestowed on the victor. Four of the five top Saudi Cup finishers are vying for that, very much including top favorite and Saudi Cup place horse Country Grammer — Baffert-trained and with his usual legendary jock aboard, Frankie Dettori.
Post time is 8:35 p.m. Dubai, or 11:35 p.m. Eastern (US), nine hours earlier. Which is to say, race day in the Gulf brings a special morning rush to players in the States, what with the post times so close to noon. Fox Sports and ESPN will be carrying the race live in the U.S.
The Dubai event follows Gulfstream’s Pegasus and the Saudi Cup’s gargantuan weekends, and it also serves as a big international hundred-point win toward an almost certain berth in the Kentucky Derby (for those horses who meet the Derby’s age requirement).
But it’s the Dubai Cup’s role as the last of the big-money winter races that keeps ’em coming back, and that’s why the Bob-Baffert trained Country Grammer, who placed smartly behind Panthalassa in Riyadh a month ago, is looking to take the Japan-owned Saudi winner down. Country Grammer won the 2022 edition of this race, and he’s not seeming to let up, with the formidable Frankie Dettori in the irons. Since we’ve just seen them do this thing four weeks ago — and there was no moss left on Country Grammer at the finish in Riyadh — there’s a fine chance of another duel.
In fact, the top five finishers in the Saudi Cup have entered this weekend’s feature, and that’s going to entertain the players no end, not least because, in the fifteen-horse draw, Panthalassa will be breaking from the far outside, with Country Grammer in the stall immediately to his left, the fourteen-hole. Hint: At the Meydan, nobody really worth their salt ‘likes’ the outside.
But before we get into the finer points of why, in this Saturday’s one-and-a-quarter-mile run, Country Grammer, who won this race last year and who is now as low as 7-2 in London, is actually the top favorite over the Saudi Cup victor Panthalassa — who at this writing sits as third favorite at a shockingly high 10-1 — let’s take a look at the post positions and pre-race odds.
Nota bene: We’re going to be using London odds for this race because the British bookmakers slice their odds rather more finely than do the Americans, and not least because the British know the Meydan and its operations better than most other international horsemen — indeed, British trainers and equine administrators are largely responsible for augmenting the architecture of racing in the Middle East over the last three decades. Although there are several horses in the race with US sires in the pedigrees, the dearth of American trainers — save for the redoubtable Baffert — in either the Saudi Cup or the Dubai World Cup is proof of that.
(Post Position, Horse, Odds)
1) Remorse, 66-1
2) Emblem Road, 16-1
3) June Light Bolt, 18-1
4) Salute the Soldier, 40-1
5) Vela Azul, 11-1
6) T O Keynes, 9-1
7) Bendoog, 50-1
8) Ushba Tesoro, 17-2
9) Geoglyph, 12-1
10) Cafe Pharoah, 10-1
11) Super Corinto, 50-1
12) Crown Pride, 14-1
13) Algiers, 7-2
14) Country Grammer, 7-2
15) Panthalassa, 16-1
(Odds Source: William Hill, London, 3/25/2023, 2:27 a.m. Eastern)
Notable here over the last week has been the Saudi Cup winner Panthalassa’s slide down in the estimation of the British bettors. Panthalassa did, just, hold off Country Grammer for the $10-million victor’s slice of the pot in that race, at the ungainly distance of 1800 meters, or 1.118 miles, and the Dubai World Cup is at what American and British trainers would consider the flat mile-and-a-quarter. In a word, Panthalassa is not thought to have this Kenucky Derby distance as part of the toolkit, and the British bookmakers and players alike are thinking this isn’t going to be Panthalassa’s day. The horse is at this writing in the middle of the pack at William Hill, at 16-1.
For his part, early top favorite Country Grammer now shares top billing at 7-2 with Algiers, a 6-year-old gelding (with Storm Cat as his great-grandfather) who has spent the bulk of his successful career in France and England, which is one good reason the British bettors have jumped on him to the extent that he now shares the top rung of the ladder with Baffert’s Country Grammer. Bottom line: The hard-nosed British have seen Algiers at this distance, and they believe he’s got the stuff to take it to Country Grammer.
Whether that delightful match race comes to be for this running of the Dubai World Cup or not, Algiers’ presence in the race makes it a deeper challenge for Country Grammer, and brings more sport to the show. That noted, both of the co-favorites have the (perceived) Meydan disadvantage of breaking from the far outside — Algiers is gunning it from the 13-hole, the stall just to the left of Country Grammer and Dettori.
Which is another way of saying that the break will be of tremendous, if not actually outsized, significance to this race. As we noted in the Saudi Cup, the Japanese owners and trainers are coming on strong in the Middle East meetings — Panthalassa being the prime example — and Ushba Tesoro, Cafe Pharoah, Geoglyph, Vela Azul are will be happily coming at the top two favorites with all they have.
With the size of this field, it’s difficult to gauge precisely how this break will work, thus it’s also hard to say what, or who, the pace will be. But if the pace is hot and the break is an ungainly one for Algiers and Country Grammer, then we can certainly expect the Kentucky-Derby mechanics of the Meydan to kick in: The two favorites and their jockeys will be working hard to come up the backstretch to gain footing in the race. Their problems in doing that will be multiplied by the large field with all the Japan-trained talent in their way.
That means: Algiers and Country Grammer will have no cake-walk.