Expert Betting Picks for UAE Derby and Burradon Stakes 2018
The road to the Kentucky Derby goes international this weekend, with key stops in both England and Dubai that are each likely to produce Derby starters. The Burradon Stakes on Friday is the last step on the European Road to the Derby that has been confusing and hasn't really proven anything yet. And the UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard on Saturday has produced several Derby entrants for several years, but it has yet to produce a real contender. Potentially the UAE Derby could produce two Derby entrants - it is a full points race like the major domestic preps, with 100 points to the winner and 40 for second, and both of those amounts are typically good enough to qualify a horse. Here's a look at both races:
We'll only briefly look at this race because there is only one horse that matters. Gronkowski is tied with 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn atop the European points standings, but the latter is heading to the UAE Derby to get experience on dirt and a shot at a bigger purse. That leaves Gronkowski as the only entrant in this race that seems to have Derby ambitions. If he finishes first or second in this race then he will have enough points to head to Churchill. If he finishes third or worse then the winner will top the standings and will have the option to go. Gronkowski was actually being pointed to go to the U.S. for his final prep - perhaps the Wood Memorial - but his European points wouldn't transfer to the U.S., so he would be starting from scratch. It would have been much better if he had that dirt experience, but he's Kentucky bred, so he should have some ability. He won his first points race on March 7 at Kempton Park, and he is clearly the best horse here. If he can't win this race handily then he doesn't belong in the Derby. He'll be the heavy favorite.
This race this year is just plain weird. Like really strange. Typically, the UAE Derby is made up of top horses from Dubai, with maybe a top runner from Japan or Europe thrown in for good measure. But this is a gathering of strange stories and circumstances. It should be a very interesting race - at least to handicap and hopefully to watch as well.
We've already alluded to one entrant - Mendelssohn. He has chosen this spot for the two practical reasons we mentioned - he needs to see if he can run on dirt, and running for big purses is never a bad thing. He's talented and very well bred - his dam was also the dam of the great Beholder. But he's making his dirt debut and running on his third continent since November. He's the 5/2 second choice. And while he is very good, there is little value there. But if I had to pick one horse here he would be it.
The rest of the field:
Gold Town (6/5): This is the local hope. A Godolphin homebred, this colt has won three in a row in Dubai, including the UAE 2,000 Guineas, which is a key prep for this race. He knows the track and likes it, and he's well bred. He's the deserving favorite, but at this price I'll look elsewhere. The positive thing, though, is that being the local horse won't hurt his odds like it does at other major races - there is no betting in Dubai, so the locals won't get their say on this one.
Threeandfourpence (8/1): Remember when I said it gets weird? Well, this colt, a full brother to 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hit It a Bomb, finished second behind Mendelssohn last time out, but also decided on coming all the way to Dubai instead of staying home to face Gronkowski. And even odder, this is a stablemate of Mendelssohn. So, trainer Aidan O'Brien had the likely second favorite, and he brought along the likely fourth choice to challenge him. Strange. Oh, and O'Brien is also bringing a third horse - Seahenge (16/1) - who was third behind Mendelssohn and Threeandfourpence last time out.
Rayya (10/1): Another odd story. This is a filly facing the boys for the first time. And the Dubai-based runner is relocating after the race. She is heading to California to join Bob Baffert's stable. She won the UAE Oaks last time out, so he has enough points to make the Kentucky Oaks starting gate, and that is her reported target. So why she is running here is a total mystery is a race already full of them.
Reride (11/1): And it gets even weirder. Steve Asmussen has two wins in the U.S. with this colt this year already, but they came in lesser prep races - the Mine That Bird at Sunland Park most recently. He would barely seem like a contender in major prep races back at home, so the decision to send him all the way to Dubai in hopes of getting him to Louisville is just bizarre. The connections campaigned Gun Runner, though, and they seemed to enjoy Dubai so much that they wanted to go back. His Mine That Bird win is worth a little more now as runner-up Runaway Ghost came back to win the Sunland Derby last week to punch his Kentucky Derby ticket. But that's not enough to convince me that this is the right spot for this horse - though in this field absolutely anything is possible.
Yulong Warrior (12/1): This colt tried and failed to break his maiden four times in Europe last fall. Then he headed over to Dubai, where he obviously took to the dirt, winning both a maiden race and a small stakes race. Now he's taking a big jump up in class, but he is proven on the surface, and he's well bred - a son of Street Cry, who is best known as the sire of Derby winner Street Sense, the legendary Zenyatta, and Australian super mare Winx, who is currently in the midst of a 24-race win streak.
Ruggero (40/1) and Taiki Ferveur (40/1): The oddness never ends with this race. These two horses wound up second and third in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby standings. There is one spot in the starting gate available for a Japanese horse. Sumahama earned that spot, but his connections are not saying if they will take it yet. If they don't then it would first be offered to Ruggero, and then to Taiki Ferveur. So, win or lose this could be a Derby prep race for one of these two runners. And yet there is a strong chance that neither will be at all competitive here. This new international Derby qualifying process is a really bad idea.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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