It used to be that the UAE Derby was not much more than a passing interest - one of several very rich races on the undercard of the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup. Since 2013, though, the race has taken on added significance for North American race fans. That is when they started offering Kentucky Derby points for the race. The first- and second-place finishers now earn 100 and 40 points, respectively. That is the same as the major prep races like the Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial and the others of that caliber.
It's also enough points to get the top two finishers into the Kentucky Derby field if they choose to make the trip. That opportunity has previously been seized - Lines of Battle in 2013 and Mubtaahij last year have both won this race and then headed to Kentucky. Neither did well in the Derby, but perhaps this is the year that things go better. Sooner or later, given the ridiculous amount of wealth and breeding excellence in Dubai, a horse is going to claim North America's grandest prize.
This year there are seven horses in the field, and it couldn't be more varied - three American breds, two Japanese-bred horses, one bred in Argentina, and one from Great Britain. There are also two fillies in the field - and they happen to be the two likely favorites. And then there is a truly odd storyline to follow.
Here's a look at the most interesting three parts of the field. It's important to note that it's an odd situation for betting - betting is illegal in Dubai, so there is no morning line set. Right now we are relying on British bookmakers for the listed odds because they are the most reliable before the betting markets open in the U.S.:
Polar River, Patrick Dobbs, 4/7: This filly is the clear class of the field - at least based on accomplishments to this point. We had some disappointment earlier in the month when the connections of the horse let it be known that the filly would not be coming to the Kentucky Oaks. She is unbeaten in four starts. The first three were wildly impressive - she won by an average of more than 10 lengths per race. The last time out, though, she narrowly beat Vale Dori, who she will face again here. There was an excuse that was used heavily after that race, and it gets points for creativity - she had had a tooth removed not long before that race and it created issues. Her dental health is improved now by all reports, and she should be ready to run her best. All four starts have been on this same track, so she obviously likes the surface. I'm naturally skeptical of any price this low from a betting perspective, but the horse is legitimate and is the one to beat here.
Vale Dori, Christophe Soumillon, 5/1: The first thing we need to note about this filly is that she was born in South America. That has two important meanings, and they both come from the same situation. Because the seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphere - summer here is winter there and so on - horses born in the southern hemisphere are officially six months older than northern hemisphere horses. All horses up here have their birthday on Jan. 1, which is six months later than down there. This horse, then, is officially six months older than the rest of the field. That means two things - that she carries extra weight compared to the field as a penalty and that she is unable to compete in the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks whether she wins this race or not because of her age. She won a Gr. 1 race at home before coming to Dubai and finishing just behind Polar River last time out. If that horse is better, though, and she is facing colts here, then it's hard to imagine that she is good enough.
Frank Conversation, Mario Gutierrez, 8/1: This is just an odd story. This horse has the exact same connections - owner, trainer and jockey - as Nyquist, last year's two year old champion and one of the current Derby favorites. The horse won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate back in February. Instead of picking one of the normal next prep races - and there are several big ones he could have gone to to avoid Nyquist - he decided to travel halfway around the world for this spot. The plan is to get the points he needs here and then head back to prepare for the Derby. Two very long trips like this in a short time is tough on any horse - never mind a young one like this. Just plain bizarre. It's not like the horse has had a long period of adjustment, either - he had his last recorded work at Santa Anita on March 10. Is he good enough? Who knows? The collection of colts in this race isn't that inspiring - Market Rally was the only one that looked impressive, and he was scratched on Monday. He's probably not better than Polar River at her best, but we can never know how a filly will handle facing boys for the first time. He has a good chance against the added weight of Vale Dori, too. He only needs to finish second here, and it seems reasonable that he could do that. They certainly are betting heavily that he will. As the only American horse in the field, though, he will likely be bet down more in North American betting pools than is ideal.
The pick: I like the Dubai World Cup much more than this one as a betting race. If I had to pick one bet, though, I would take a shot on a straight exacta - Polar River over Frank Conversation.
This Saturday is another magnificent day for the ponies, and Doc's Sports expert Raphael Esparza has picks in New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby - click here for free picks for these races - the same ones that paying members get - and the sign up is hassle free and no credit card is needed. Not only do we get one stakes race but we actually get to see two stakes races this weekend. The first one is the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Park and Saturday early evening is the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita
We all know that the Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race of them all, but the BEST value is in all the Kentucky Derby prep races before the big event. Raphael Esparza; Former Race and Sports Book director from the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, has all the inside connections and the years of experience. Build your Kentucky Derby bankroll with the pony expert. Last year Esparza cashed with both stakes races as he hit the Tampa Bay Derby with Carpe Diem and the San Felipe Stakes with Dortmund. Esparza is coming off a nice winning day at Oaklawn Park last weekend, and he is looking for three out of gour Winning Saturdays at the track.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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