Our alarm was scheduled to ring at 3:30am, but the general anticipation of CALIFORNIA CHROME’s only local speed work combined with the time acclimatization, and just the overall excitement of the week just caught up. We were up and ready to go at 3:15am. While most of the media hopped the shuttle which drops you on the backstretch at the 1,600 meter chute, it seemed prudent to go to the grandstand to get a keen eye, and legitimate watch, on California Chrome’s work.
There are no work clockers at Meydan. If you want a time on your horse, grab a watch and get moving. The presence of the massive infield screen at Meydan made it prudent to move as far up the stretch as possible, so we were positioned about 150 meters before the finish, in a good line of sight to the 800-meter pole, where the speed work would begin.
Around 4:45am, we noticed some human activity to the right, and sure enough, Alan Sherman led the way with his father and lead trainer Art in two, along with Steve Coburn in his usual attire and Chrome’s normal work rider Willie Delgado. They came right towards us and settled in to view the work. Once Chrome came on the track, Delgado pronounced – “33 minutes – that’s how long it took him to get from the barn to the track.”
The chit-chat amongst Team Chrome, passing the time as they awaited his appearance on the track, pretty much stopped after that and the focus was all on America’s Horse of the Year. He emerged from behind the infield board and took off at the 800 meter mark under Dana Barnes, longtime exercise rider for Bob Baffert, and a woman with an abundance of experience prepping some top horses for big races, including several in the UAE.
While Alan Sherman had said they would have a watch on the Kentucky Derby winner, once the work was over, they all talked about who had the time, and sure enough, we were the only ones to catch him on the clock. The 200-meter splits came back 13.41, 13.35, 12.40, and 11.65 – an 800-meter work in 50.81 seconds.
It was easy – pure maintenance. Completely unextended, Barnes sat chilly on the Dubai World Cup favorite and plum against the inside rail. After reviewing the times, Alan Sherman indicated it was “perfect, just what we wanted.” And with that, Team Chrome vacated the grandstand and the morning went on.
EURO CHARLINE was the next out on course, getting in a good lap of the turf course in preparation for her first start since the Beverly D in August. The Dubai Turf is a lackluster bunch this year, and the Marco Botti trainee is definitely in with a chance, having been long prepared to return in this spot.
The cavalcade was in motion around 6:30am, with MSHAWISH out for an easy ¾-lap around Meydan before a legitimately faster circuit. His name in Arabic affectionately translates to “psycho,” or “crazy,” and a review of some of his recent in-race antics can confirm the name fits. Fourth in this race a year ago, he honestly looks to have traveled incredibly well for trainer Todd Pletcher, who will not make the trip. Al Shaqab Racing’s American manager, Brad Weisbord, was on hand to oversee the work.
The mover of the day, without question to us, was LEA. The Dubai World Cup contender is, in our eye, a picture of perfection. His gallop around Meydan was controlled power. When coming around the first turn, he caught Sheema Classic chance HARP STAR ahead with a light canter, and immediately got on the bridle and accelerated before his work rider caught a better grip. This is exactly what you want to see from a horse that just traveled, essentially, for the first time in his life. There are many nuances to physicality that, honestly, we miss in the morning. This, to us, was unmistakable. Lively behavior like that exhibited from Lea was absolutely no worse for the trip. He posed and preened walking off the course with assistant Riley Mott on the lead and off they went.
The Japanese contingent was on the track in full force at the same time, and several of the work riders were playful with their charges. EPIPHANEIA’s rider brought the Japan Cup winner straight up to the outer rail as everyone seemed shocked how behaved he was. One reporter today cited his troubling appearance before the Japan Cup yet the yield was a devastating win, noting he looked completely in control of himself in today’s trackwork. Fellow World Cup starter HOKKO TARUMAE made a round or so of Meydan’s dirt and got some schooling in at the barrier.
Some of the Hong Kong-based raiders had their first visit to Meydan. We specifically saw AMBER SKY and PENIAPHOBIA out together on the dirt, while RICH TAPESTRY wasn’t far behind. Trainer Michael Chang was reportedly unhappy with the way in which Rich Tapestry traveled, with the vet reporting that he was a bit dehydrated and was merely hoping he’d be OK for trackwork on Tuesday. Clearly, he was fine to make it out.
The French trio of turfers were present together again, with SOLOW, CLADOCERA, and DOLNIYA in tandem on the dirt.
Godolphin Mile candidates SLOANE AVENUE and BRADESTER were on the dirt at the same time, getting some decent gallops in, while Al Quoz chance LANCELOT DU LAC put in an eye-catching move on the grass.
Johnny Geroudis was aboard PRAYER FOR RELIEF over the dirt, going now for trainer Mike de Kock, with his seasonal assistant, Darley Flying Start trainee Miguel Clement, leading the horse over from the international quarantine. The son of Jump Start handled things in good fashion.
The late morning action switched to the training track, with its Tapeta exterior and grass interior. Dubai World Cup chance SIDE GLANCE, fourth in the last two World Cup renewals, had a good blow over the Tapeta, followed in close attendance by HAVANA BEAT, the Dubai Gold Cup shot. William Muir was present for STEPPER POINT getting over the track, while a headstrong SOLE POWER fought restraint the entire way on the Tapeta.
Dubai Turf filly JUST THE JUDGE got in an easy gallop on the grass course, as did Al Quoz shot MIRZA and the antepost Gold Cup favorite BROWN PANTHER, who looked phenomenal. Local Meydan Sprint winner SIR MAXIMILIAN got a leg-stretch on the Tapeta, as did Golden Shaheen chance SPEED HAWK, with Robert Cowell looking on.
THE GREY GATSBY, for whatever reason, seems to be flying WAY under the radar, and Kevin Ryan was on hand to see him gallop on the grass, going easy. As quickly as Ryan arrived to see the work, he quickly departed.
Graham Motion and wife Anita were on site for a blowout from their yard’s two runners, Breeders’ Cup Turf winner MAIN SEQUENCE and Godolphin Mile chance QUADRIVIUM, both for Flaxman Holdings. After a three-furlong work on Tapeta, which Motion timed around 36 seconds, he indicated he thought the times were quick and that both may have done a bit more than he thought they should. We consulted with trainer Mike de Kock, who indicated the training track Tapeta plays incredibly fast, faster than the firm grass, and is the quickest surface around, suggesting that some of his more average runners have put up 34-second splits for 600 meters. The insight suggests the work might not have been as taxing as the final times indicated, but it’s worth noting that Quadrivium really held his own against Main Sequence.
We had it confirmed that DISTINCTIV PASSION also worked at the training track on Monday, but did not see it ourselves.
The barrier draw for the five Group 1 races is Wednesday afternoon in the UAE, and that means the markets will disappear for a stretch. Here are a few price plays that seem to offer value as of now.
Dubai Golden Shaheen: COOL COWBOY offers value to us at 14-1, in from 20s about a week ago.
Godolphin Mile: QUADRIVIUM at 33s is a compelling price given his solid work with Main Sequence today. He has a plum draw in three and should get drawn into a strong early pace.
Al Quoz Sprint: HOTOTO at 20s is way over the odds, considering he has a win over AHTOUG (legitimately priced at 8s) and has been kept fresh for this race. Both are chances in a wide open race.