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Thrills, surprises in Dubai World Cup card highlight international racing – UPI.com

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1 of 2 | Laurel River spring a big surprise with a runaway victory in the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Photo by Liesl King, courtesy of Dubai Racing Club

DUBAI, April 1 (UPI) — Stunning upsets and improbable losses marked this year’s Dubai World Cup program Saturday night at Meydan Racecourse, the center of the weekend’s international horse racing scene.

There also was top-level action in Japan and Australia.

And, of course, in the United States, things really started to shake out in the Kentucky Derby prep season — which we have in our separate North American story, which please see.

Here’s the global view:

Dubai

Shock waves started rolling over the Meydan Racecourse grandstand Saturday night as the field turned into the stretch run of the $12 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup.

The field was chockablock with talented runners, including the 1-2 finishers from the previous month’s $20 million Saudi Cup, Senor Buscador and Ushba Tesoro.

But it was the unheralded California transplant, Laurel River, leading them a merry chase and increasing his margin with every stride.

By the 300-meter mark, there was little doubt the unexpected was unfolding. Indeed, Laurel River and jockey Tadhg O’Shea not only achieved the unexpected, but did so in record fashion, winning by 8 1/2 lengths, obliterating the record set in 2000 by Dubai Millenium, who is to Dubai roughly what Secretariat is to U.S. racing.

Ushba Tesoro and Senor Buscador did, in fact, battle it out again, but for second and third, with the Japanese runner barely in front this time.

It was quite the performance from Laurel River, who was good but nothing special when trained in 2021-22 in California by Bob Baffert, missed all of 2023 and was 1-for-2 in his Dubai return this year.

Trainer Bhupat Seemar, once a Baffert assistant, quickly squelched hopes Laurel River might make a return to the United States for big summer and fall dirt races.

Dubai racing, he said, is built around short seasons and lots of rest in between, so it’s likely the Juddmonte Farms homebred now will spend at least eight months at leisure.

The major disappointment was Kabirkhan, the pride of Kasakhstan, who had been the talk of the World Cup Carnival with two big wins, but finished eighth when the chips were down.

Rebel’s Romance saved the night for the Godolphin team of Dubai’s ruler, Sheik Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, rallying to a stretch-running victory in the $6 million Grade I Dubai Sheema Classic.

The race is the highlight of the program for the large portion of the racing world that competes on grass.

Rebel’s Romance, a 6-year-old Dubawi gelding, seems to be rounding into top form and trainer Charlie Appleby said he plans to return him this summer to the United States, where he has had success.

In the Sheema Classic, Rebel’s Romance stuck close behind the early leader, caught that one easily when asked by jockey William Buick and won by 2 lengths. Japanese contenders Shahryar and Liberty Island finished second and third.

The big bust in this race was dual Derby and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Auguste Rodin, who didn’t run a lick and finished last.

The $5 million Group 1 Dubai Turf figured to be one of the featured events of the night with Lord North shooting for his fourth straight win in the event while facing the likes of Japan’s Do Deuce and 2023 runner-up Danon Beluga, Ireland’s Luxembourg, Hong Kong’s Straight Arron and others.

But it was Facteur Cheval hoisting the flag for France in a close, multi-horse finish. Danon Beluga finished third and Do Deuce fifth. Straight Arron finished sixth and Luxembourg was fourth in an overall disappointing night for Coolmore and trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Tower of London got rolling outside rivals in the stretch, passed most of the field and won the night’s longest race, the $1 million Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup, by 2 lengths.

Long shot Al Nayyar, who looked like a winner before Tower of London flew past, held second with pacesetting Trawlerman third.

Tower of London, a 4-year-old by Galileo, finished the 3,200 meters or about 2 miles in 3:17.29 with Ryan Moore up for trainer Aidan O’Brien. The victory backed up his triumph a month earlier in the $2.5 million Group 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap in Saudi Arabia.

California Spangle carried the Hong Kong banner to victory in the night’s shortest turf race, the $1.5 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint.

With Brenton Avdulla up, the 6-year-old Starspangledbanner gelding emerged from a tightly packed bunch with 300 meters to go and ran on to win by 3/4 length over Godolphin’s 3-year-old Star of Mystery.

The time of 1:07.50 established a course record for 1,200 meters.

California Spangle, after some recent struggles back home, has it a purple patch, winning the Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse before heading for Dubai.

On the dirt, other than the World Cup and the UAE Derby:

Last year’s Golden Shaheen winner, Sibelius, was favored for a repeat in a relatively wide-open 6-furlong dash but it was the overlooked Tuz who gave a preview of the World Cup as the Oxbow gelding, trained by Seemar and ridden by O’Shea, who jetted off in the final furlongs to win by 6 1/2 lengths. Sibelius finished 11th.

American invader Two Rivers Over, with Edwin Maldonado up for trainer Doug O’Neill, tracked the warm early pace in the $1 million Group 2 Godolphin Mile, moved into challenging position early in the stretch run and ground down the dueling leaders to win by 3/4 length.

Walk of Stars was third, a nose in front of last year’s winner, Isolate.

Two Rivers Over won the Zia Park Derby in New Mexico two starts back.

There was more than just Dubai on the racing’s global schedule.

Japan

With many of Japan’s top horses visiting Dubai, Sunday’s Grade 1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin Racecourse looked like a good spot for some bench players to shine.

That didn’t make things any less exciting when all was said and done, though, as Bellagio Opera, after pressing the pace through the whole 2,000 meters, hung on to win by a neck over Rousham Park, with Rouge Eveil another nose back in third and just 1/2 length in front of fifth placegetter Stella Veloce.

Reigning Japanese Derby winner Tasteiera chased the pace and faded to finish 11th. He has not won since the Derby

Bellagio Opera reported fourth in the Derby but now has five wins from eight starts.

Australia

Cascadian got through between horses inside the 200-meter mark in Saturday’s Group 1 Australian Cup at Flemington and ran on to win by a neck over Pride of Jenni. The favorite, Mr Brightside, could do no better than fifth.

Orchestral, the odds-on favorite, got the job done in the Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Rosehill, winning by 3/4 length from Tutta La Vita. She’s won three in a row now.

Kalapour notched a 30-1 upset win in the Group 1 Tancred Stakes at Rosehill, defeating More Felons by a head with Post Impressionist making no impression at all.

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