Dubai World Cup: Country Grammer vs. Japan heavyweights

Dubai World Cup: Country Grammer vs. Japan heavyweights
Photo: Liesl King / Dubai Racing Club

The thunderous tones of famed ring announcer Michael Buffer might be the only missing element ahead of what undoubtedly will be a heavyweight world championship bout in the Grade 1, $12 million Dubai World Cup.

Perhaps announcer Larry Collmus, the first American to act as the dirt feature’s soundtrack in its 27-year history, will roll out Buffer’s most famous copyrighted drawl “let’s get ready to rumble” before the gates fly at the 2,000 meter start on Saturday.

In the red corner, fielding a team of eight, will be the might of Japan, arguably now international racing’s Muhammad Ali. The Japanese do have one victory to their name in the feature, but not on dirt; that famous success came on Tapeta when Victoire Pisa delivered an emotional triumph for a country left reeling after the devastating aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

In the blue corner is a seven-strong, rest-of-the-world contingent, a cosmopolitan collective of horseflesh, horsemen and horse form representing the United Arab Emirates, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Peru and Chile.

Forget the rumble in the jungle or the Thrilla in Manila. This is the skirmish on the sands, a race already set to enter the history books well before race day.

As a group, the 15 runners represent the richest group of Thoroughbreds to ever contest a single race, with combined earnings approaching $65 million. Among their number are three winners at last year’s Dubai World Cup meeting, two horses triumphant in the Saudi Cup (G1) and victors of races as varied as the Japan Cup (G1), the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and the Gran Premio Hipodromo Chile (G1).

When the bell rings and the action begins at 12:35 p.m. EDT, a flurry of jabs and hooks will be employed from the get-go when last year’s Dubai Turf winner and last-start Saudi Cup hero Panthalassa rolls to the front from the outside draw, spearheading the Japanese challenge.

“Even if he misses the break, we have one tactic and that is to roll forward,” said his trainer, the indelible Yoshito Yahagi. “We considered going towards the Dubai Turf again but, given his win in Saudi Arabia, we thought why not have a go at the Dubai World Cup. He deserves his chance.”

Just as in the Saudi Cup, he is likely to be pressed by compatriots Geoglyph and Crown Pride on the pace, but the Dubai rematch adds in locally trained Bendoog for Bhupat Seemar and Bahrain’s Salute The Soldier for Fawzi Nass, both of whom have led in recent starts.

With Simon and Ed Crisford’s revelation Algiers and South American star Super Corinto also capable of settling handy to the speed, a Panthalassa victory will require a deft hand from jockey Yutaka Yoshida and a herculean performance from the intrepid marvel.

Reopposing from Riyadh is last year’s Dubai World Cup champion Country Grammer, captain of the rest of the world squad. The Bob Baffert representative will aim to emulate 2018 and 2019 winner Thunder Snow, who remains the only horse to take this race on two occasions.

He also will mark the final World Cup ride for the retiring Frankie Dettori, who, with Jerry Bailey, holds the riding record of four winners in this race.

For Chase Chamberlin, representing co-owners Commonwealth, the return to the Middle East has invoked a sudden sense of nostalgia.

“I went for a walk with my girlfriend at Meydan and once we walked by the paddock, all the emotions came jumping back from last year’s World Cup victory,” he said. “I was in tears last year in the winner’s circle and I’m sure if it can happen again, the same tears will come out again. I love this horse. He means the world to us and I can’t wait for Saturday night.”

Should Panthalassa or Country Grammer prevail for the second time at the Dubai World Cup meeting, their connections can legitimately borrow Ali’s famous exclamation and proclaim, “I am the greatest!”

Victory for either horse would see them earn the world heavyweight championship belt as the highest-earning Thoroughbred of all time, dethroning champion mare Winx and eclipsing past Meydan heroes such as Arrogate, Almond Eye, Thunder Snow and Gentildonna.

Closely guarding the Australian queen are a slew of Japanese Group 1 winners, standing like samurai to protect her crown. And although horses like Ushba Tesoro, T O Keynes, Cafe Pharoah and Jun Light Bolt have proven their worth at the top level on dirt, perhaps of most interest is Japan Cup conqueror Vela Azul.

Racing on dirt for the first two seasons of his career, he was a fairly plain 2-for-16 on the surface before a switch to turf and a step up in trip brought him to life in 2022. He now returns to dirt for the biggest test of his career but arrives as a different horse from the one who originally toiled on the surface.

Among the significant obstacles in their way is Algiers, an also-ran in last year’s Godolphin Mile who has flourished since returning from Newmarket to Meydan. With two wide-margin victories in traditional lead-up races to the Dubai World Cup, he represents the home team and, to a large extent, the United Kingdom for Crisford Sr. and Jr.

“The horse has transformed for racing on this surface,” the elder Crisford said. “He was a rock solid horse on turf but since he’s been running on the Meydan dirt, which really plays to his strengths, he’s stepped up to another level. He’s the best local horse in the race and if he can run the same sort of race as he’s done in the lead-ups, he’ll be right in the mix.”

In a fitting postscript, Simon Crisford’s journey toward Saturday night began almost three decades ago. He was part of a group put together by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum to recommend a new global race meeting which culminated in the first Dubai World Cup, run in 1996 and won by Cigar.

“When it was initially started, His Highness formed a committee and we came up some proposals for this race,” he said Thursday. “It was rubber-stamped by Sheikh Mohammed and ever since then, it’s become an extraordinary race. The winners of this race have been the best horses in the world, and I think what the race set out to achieve has been achieved in absolute international spades.”

Top Stories

Unbeaten since transferred to turf three starts ba...
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Administratio...
Red Route One posted a half-mile breeze in 50.85 s...
Echo Zulu , the champion 2-year-old filly of 2021...
Leading trainer Phil D’Amato’s international hit p...