Spanish Mission and Oleksandra take aim at Dubai World Cup

Dubai World Cup-winning owner Team Valor International is hoping for more Meydan glory and could have a pair of runners at the world-leading $35 million meeting. If all goes well with necessary preparations and invitations, UK-based Spanish Mission—winner of Belmont’s $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational and Newmarket’s Bahrain Trophy (G3)—could have either the $6 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) or $1.5 million Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2) on his schedule. 

Additionally, exciting California-based G3 winner Oleksandra could throw her bonnet into the ring for the $2 million Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1).

Spanish Mission, trained by David Simcock at Trillium Place in Newmarket, arrived on Feb. 13 and cleared quarantine on Feb. 15 for his conditioner, who has already head a fruitful Dubai World Cup Carnival with a pair of victories from only six starts. The three-time winner from seven tries is expected to open his airways next week in the Dubai Gold Cup’s final local prep, the $300,000 Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) over 2800m.

“Spanish Mission runs on Feb. 27 in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy,” said Barry Irwin, Team Valor CEO. “After which, we will decide whether to run him at 12 or 16 furlongs on (Dubai) World Cup night. He is quite versatile. Long range, we think he is a Melbourne Cup horse.”

Australia’s prestigious Melbourne Cup (G1) is contested over the same 3200m distance as the Dubai Gold Cup and is scheduled for Nov. 3. On the other side of the distance spectrum is Oleksandra, who actually began her career in Australia and is a daughter of Team Valor’s Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom. A turf sprinter, she won Keeneland’s Franklin County Stakes (G3) over 1100m in October for trainer Neil Drysdale and has been working steadily this winter at Santa Anita.

“We are pointing (Oleksandra) for the Group 1 Al Quoz,” Irwin continued. “(She) worked (800m) in :50 this morning, something she has done once a week for more than a month as she was being freshened. Now Neil Drysdale will start cranking her up at Santa Anita, ship her to Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida to breeze on the grass March 16 to break up the trip to Dubai, then fly her to UAE on March 17. Joel Rosario will ride her at Meydan.”

Team Valor, which has already had two lucrative starts this DWC Carnival with Cape Verdi (G2) and Balanchine (G2) runner-up Nisreen, also owned 2003 Dubai Duty Free (G1)—now the Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1)—winner Ipi Tombe.

“We are going to bring Nisreen back to France on Feb 23,” Irwin added. “We are going to breed her in France to Le Havre, keep her in training and probably offer her in December at either Arqana or Tattersalls.”

Spanish Mission, picture Dubai Racing Club|Samantha Cripps


One could easily mistakenly assume that the highest-rated Dubai-based horse is Benbatl (125), but there is actually one horse rated higher in fellow Godolphin colour-bearer Ghaiyyath (126). Unlike Saeed bin Suroor-trained Benbatl, who has earned Group 1 wins on three continents over multiple seasons of grinding out his reputation against the world’s best, Ghaiyyath has been a bit of a project of patience for his connections, racing only eight times over three seasons, but flashing a level of dominance befitting such a high mark.

One of those moments was two races back in September, when the blue-blooded son of two Irish Guineas winners (2005 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) winner Dubawi and 2006 Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) winner Nighttime) ran out a 14-length victor of the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1)—an effort that propelled him into the following month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) as the fourth-favourite in the field of 12. Things did not go to plan that day, as he was eased from pressure after setting the pace and fading. Now, at age five, he has his sights set on another rich 12-furlong prize in the $6 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) and is using Thursday’s $200,000 Dubai Millennium (G3) over 2000m as a springboard.

“He’s the highest-rated horse in the race and we know he predominately runs well fresh, so that’s why we are working backward from the Sheema Classic,” Appleby said. “That’s why I have come a couple weeks forward, rather than the usual trial route in the (Group 2 Dubai) City of Gold (on March 7). I thought this was timing-wise better for him. Preparation has gone well. He looks well and he’s fresh, so we expect a good run out of him on Thursday. Again, the target is the Sheema, so he’s not fully wound up by any stretch of the imagination. He’s fit enough to come out and run. If he turns up (victorious) there, he’s the class horse in the race, anyway. Whatever he does, hopefully we have the improvement there for the Sheema Classic.”

The half-brother to Man o’ War (G1) winner Zhukova appears easily the horse to beat in the 10-furlong affair and returns to a trip at which he is 2-for-3, including a pair of Group victories. He will be joined on the card by fellow high-profile Appleby trainees Zakouski and Mythical Magic, who headline the $250,000 Zabeel Mile (G3), won last year by the latter. The former is a 109-rated, extremely exciting type who has raced only thrice, including a proper pounding of DWC Carnival runners in the 1400m Meydan Challenge (Listed) on Jan. 2.

“Mythical Magic is doing the same sort of route as last year, where he was second in the (Group 2 Al) Fahidi (Fort on Jan. 23) and then hopefully he can step forward one place and go very close there in the Zabeel Mile. He’s come out of the Al Fahidi in good order and the step up to a mile was always going to suit him, so he was always going to be a major player and the one to beat.

“Zakouski is a horse who’s obviously won nicely in his handicap debut there and he’s definitely come forward for that run,” Appleby continued. “He obviously had been tried at Group company in the past in the Craven, but he’s a different individual and character now and we’ve gelded him since then. This is his first step back up into Group class again, but we feel he deserves to have a crack at it and he’s the younger pretender compared to Mythical Magic, who’s sort of been there and done it. Two nice horses to have in the race.”

Ghaiyyath has drawn the outside post six in the Dubai Millennium and will be ridden by William Buick. Said jockey will also be aboard Mythical Magic (post two), while James Doyle rides Zakouski (post one) in the seven-horse Zabeel Mile.


Looking to earn Group 2 credentials, Equilateral takes on a field of 10 in Thursday’s $250,000 Group 2 Meydan Sprint over 1000m. The 5-year-old son of Equiano, a Charlie Hills trainee, began the year a dominant winner of the $175,000 Dubai Dash (Listed) four weeks ago over this distance. He was ridden that day by James Doyle, who will be aboard once again on Thursday.

In said effort, he beat Waady by two lengths and boosted his rating top 112. Waady has since come back and won well in the Reach Handicap by a half a length and returns for another chance at the big favourite over the same distance.

If all goes well for Equilateral, and Waady for that matter, a trip to the $2 million Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1) could be in order. The 1200m affair has been won by Meydan Sprint winners Shea and Blue Point in 2013 and 2019, respectively.

“It’s always been the plan to run him in this race so that we had a chance to freshen him up (after the Dubai Dash),” Hills said. “We have had a couple very nice pieces of work with him and James Doyle came and sat on him and was very pleased. I couldn’t be happier with how he’s training and how he looks. He’s put his weight back on and his coat is coming through nicely, so I think he really enjoys it over there. The track also suits him, being a flat, fast course.”

Gelded over winter, the well-regarded charge looks to stake his claim as the best sprinter on the grounds with a repeat performance.

“We weren’t getting too far with him being a full horse and he always worked very well, but never seemed to put that on the racecourse, but he certainly has now,” Hills explained. “It’s nice to see him improve like this and the prize money is fantastic at Meydan. He just seems to be thriving.

“(Any lack of pace) shouldn’t be an issue for him, as he’s made the running before and won,” he continued. “If he runs well, we’ll keep (training) him the same way and if he goes on to the (Group 1 $2 million Al Quoz Sprint over 1200m), hopefully he will keep travelling and finishing like he did last time. I think we could still see some improvement from him.”


Runners in Thursday’s classic $250,000 UAE Oaks (G3) are vying for ‘top local filly’ bragging rights, as well as 85 (50 to the winner) qualifying points for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) and a spot in the gate for the $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2). In such, many will have a first chance to run over a distance of ground, including lightly raced Tapi Sioux, who has made a mere three starts, but shown steady improvement for trainer Doug Watson.

The six-time champion conditioner has already won the UAE Oaks twice—Rayya in 2018 and Polar River in 2016—and is hopeful the 3-year-old bay filly will continue the progression she has shown this season. She will also be looking for a first victory, as she is winless from three starts. A daughter of sophomore stallion Tapiture, she settled mid-pack in a 15-horse field last out, a spot that afforded her no break from the kickback, but closed in eye-catching fashion to five horses to get up for third against the boys. The winner and runner-up from that race, Emblem Storm and Lake Causeway, went on to finish third and fourth in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3).

“She’s done really well from that maiden,” Watson said. “She’s eaten every day and hasn’t missed a note, which can be unusual for her, as she’s small and light. She has beautiful action and a shorter field should suit her, when she won’t get as far back. We won’t try to hustle a horse like her, so this gives her some room to make her way through. She’s a nice filly who’s going to mature. It was great to see (Emblem Storm and Lake Causeway) run so well in the Guineas, which proved her form a little bit.”

Tapi Sioux will face a tough field, including Japanese representative Serein, who exits a good-looking victory in the 1800m Kuratake Sho on Jan. 25 at Nakayama over males. Also in strong contention and likely international favourite is Godolphin homebred Dubai Love, who is coming off of a one-sided win in the UAE 1000 Guineas (Listed) last month. None of the contestants have raced as far as 1900m, but the additional real estate appears squarely in Tapi Sioux’s wheelhouse.

“I think the distance and race will suit her and we’re hopeful,” Watson said. “It’ll be tough to beat Dubai Love, but Tapi Sioux is in good shape and I couldn’t be happier with how she’s worked since her last race.”

Doug Watson also touched on multiple G3 winner Muntazah, who scratched out of last Thursday’s Firebreak Stakes (G3), as well as multiple G2 winner Quip, who finished mid-pack in a somewhat disappointing initial UAE effort in the same race.

“He just wasn’t quite right and we thought it would be better just to not risk it,” Watson said. “We have him back training and we’re pointing toward the (Group 3 $350,000) Burj Nahaar (on Super Saturday, March 7), so we will see how he goes the next couple weeks and hope to run there.

“Quip ran well and had been off for a while,” he concluded. “He finished well and came out great. We’ll probably stretch him out in (the Group 1 $600,000 Al Maktoum Challenge) Round 3 next on Super Saturday.”

IN BRIEF: Sunday was a busy day for Dubai World Cup preparations in Hong Kong and Japan, with the Kyoto Kinen (G2) in the latter featuring Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) hopeful and Japan Cup (G1) runner-up Curren Bouquetd’Or. The 4-year-old filly ran a strong race to be second behind Shuka Sho (G1) winner Chrono Genesis, finishing up the 2200m with enthusiasm. In Hong Kong at Sha Tin, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) featured a rematch of last year’s top, Beauty Generation and Beat the Clock, with the former possibly using the 1400m affair as a prep for the Dubai Turf (G1). Rating well in fourth, Beauty Generation closed well to land the race for a third time, further solidifying his claims for a Dubai adventure and returning to winning form after a series of disappointing losses. Earlier in the card, Sheema hopeful Exultant was unable to run down Time Warp in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1) over 2000m, but his closing kick was wow-worthy in what appeared an ideal prep run for Dubai… Satish Seemar-conditioned Bochart will likely head to Super Saturday’s Mahab Al Shimaal (G3) over 1200m following his big handicap victory last Thursday. Now rated 112, the markedly improved 7-year-old gelded son of Dubawi has the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) as his prime objective.