Between 2011 and 2019, nine horses used the Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby starting gate. While Dubai’s signature race for 3-year-olds has yet to produce a Kentucky Derby winner, the UAE Derby is still a productive steppingstone on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
Which horse(s) might take the Dubai route to Churchill Downs in 2021? We’ll get a clearer picture when half a dozen promising sophomores square off in Thursday’s 2000 Guineas (G3) at Meydan, a one-mile prep for the UAE Derby.
Let’s take a horse-by-horse look at the field:
#1 Grand Dubai: Broke his maiden over this track and distance on Dec. 17, but subsequently faltered when facing tougher company in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial and the Al Bastakiya Trial, finishing fifth and 10th by wide margins. The Irish-bred son of Dawn Approach has a turf pedigree and might enjoy a surface switch down the road.
#2 Meshakel: Although he went 0-for-3 on turf in England last year, Meshakel has shown improvement since transitioning to dirt at Meydan. After finishing second in a six-furlong dash at Jebel Ali on Jan. 8, the son of Shamardal came back six days later to crush a seven-furlong maiden sprint at Meydan by seven lengths. Meshakel showed tactical speed and posted a promising 97 Racing Post Rating, setting the stage for another step forward.
#3 Mouheeb: The most inexperienced runner in the field, with only two starts under his belt, Mouheeb nevertheless looms as the horse to beat. After breaking his maiden sprinting six furlongs at Jebel Ali (beating subsequent two-time winner Hurry Up by 2 3/4 lengths), Mouheeb stretched out to a mile and rallied to finish second by a head in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial.
This effort produced a 104 Racing Post Rating, the highest figure in the UAE 2000 Guineas field. A son of successful U.S. stallion Flatter (the sire of champion 3-year-old West Coast plus Grade 1 winners Flat Out, Taris and Paola Queen), Mouheeb boasts a strongly dirt-oriented pedigree and should be tough to deny on Thursday.
#4 Naval Crown: Can this Godolphin homebred handle dirt? That’s the question handicappers must consider. His pedigree (by Dubawi out of the Dansili mare Come Alive) suggests turf will be his forte, and indeed, he showed significant talent on grass when finishing third in the Prix le Rochette (G3) and Prix Thomas Bryon Jockey Club de Turquie (G3) last season.
From a class perspective, Naval Crown is the runner to beat for internationally successful trainer Charlie Appleby. But Naval Crown’s lack of familiarity with dirt could place the front-running colt at a disadvantage against Mouheeb, especially if Naval Crown gets caught in a speed duel with Meshakel and/or Zhou Storm.
#5 Uncle Hamed: American racing fans are sure to recognize the names in Uncle Hamed’s pedigree. The bay gelding is a son of five-time graded stakes-winning router Tapiture out of a mare by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Tiznow.
This is a pedigree geared toward success running long, so the fact that Uncle Hamed has gone 0-for-3 sprinting isn’t too concerning in and of itself — he’s eligible to improve while stretching out over a mile. But Uncle Hamed was beaten 11 1/2 lengths by Mouheeb in their lone meeting and finished well behind Hurry Up on a couple of occasions, so these form lines suggest the UAE 2000 Guineas will be a tough spot.
#6 Zhou Storm: A son of the high-class sprinter Due Diligence, Zhou Storm flashed plenty of speed in his first two starts sprinting over the Meydan dirt, winning both in gate-to-wire fashion. But he faltered when stretching out over a mile for the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, coming home seven lengths behind Mouheeb. With a couple of speedy rivals in the mix on Thursday, Zhou Storm may find it difficult to handle the class and distance of the 2000 Guineas.
If you’re keen to bet the 2000 Guineas, I suggest playing Mouheeb over Naval Crown and Meshakel in the exacta and trifecta. Unless Naval Crown thrives in his dirt debut, Mouheeb should be able to capitalize on a contested pace and rally to victory.
The Thursday card at Meydan also contains the one-mile Firebreak Stakes (G3), in which the talented #3 Matterhorn will make his first start since dominating the 2020 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) by 5 1/2 lengths. He’ll square off against five rivals led by #2 Kimbear, who showed an affinity for this track and distance when claiming the 2020 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) by a short head over #5 Secret Ambition.
2021 UAE 2000 Guineas (G3)
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A. de Vries