Vital punting pointers to put you in the money at Meydan
It's the turn of Meydan to take centre stage again on the international racing scene as the Dubai World Cup Carnival returns – and more of the same would do nicely after a fantastic 2017.
Last year began with a French winner and concluded with the US-trained Arrogate producing a mind-blowing last-to-first victory in the main event.
Not forgetting the locals, there were also wins for Bahrain, Britain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and South Korea, although the last named are missing this time.
Numbers are down, with 132 horses having been accepted compared to 217 last term. But many potential local runners, including from Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor, are not listed, and there are still 15 countries set to be represented.
As usual there's action every Thursday over the next two months, as well as Saturday February 17, before Super Saturday on March 10 and Dubai World Cup day on March 31. That's 11 fixtures.
Three races have been upgraded – the Singspiel Stakes goes from Listed to Group 3, likewise the Dubawi Stakes, and the Meydan Sprint jumps from Group 3 to Group 2. The distance of the Listed Meydan Classic has increased from 7f to a mile.
The domestic season began in November and again there will be the odd local race on some carnival cards. There will also be the occasional Arabian contest, hence including one such horse to follow.
Adrie de Vries won more carnival turf races than any other jockey last term; seven winners including one at 33-1 and another at 25-1.
Mickael Barzalona was the most successful jockey on the dirt during the 2017 carnival; seven winners including the UAE 1,000 Guineas at 40-1 and a 25-1 Group 1 success.
Charlie Appleby trained 11 carnival winners in 2017; two dirt/nine turf.
Doug Watson current champion trainer, and master of the Meydan dirt. He's had 84 winners (from 451 runners, 19 per cent) on the surface overall, 40 more than next-best Satish Seemar, including six during last year's carnival.
Yet Watson remains profitable to follow on this surface. To a £1 level stake he's +£112.18, and so far this season he's 13-72 (18 per cent) for +£21.50.
Saeed Bin Suroor led the way with 13 winners at last year's carnival; four dirt/nine turf.
Salem bin Ghadayer trained five dirt winners at last year's event, second only to Watson, and his horses are flying.
Dirt is an attritional surface on which early speed is usually key (unless your name's Arrogate). The home team tends to dominate, with just four of 28 carnival races going to international challengers last year.
The Europeans have a terrible overall record, with just one winner – Beat Baby for Norway in 2015 – from 177 runners. But Charlie Appleby (6-67) and Saeed Bin Suroor (14-74), with 20 dirt winners, count as local trainers.
Turf usually offers good, quick ground, although it was on the soft side for last year's World Cup card. The internationals won 17 of the 41 carnival races in 2017.
Ten to follow from the experts
Darius Du Paon
Gary Capewell Commentator for the Arabian Racing Organisation
This improving Arabian has never been out of the first three in seven runs and beat RB Burn (last year's Kahayla Classic winner) on his last start. He's also unbeaten in two tries on dirt. They came at Al Ain but form at that track is not to be underestimated. Darius Du Paon runs on the opening card and, although he has a bit to find, he can only keep improving ahead of a tilt at the Kahayla Classic on World Cup night.
Ian Rozzier Ladbrokes odds compiler
Doug Watson has won the last two editions of the Godolphin Mile and may have another live contender in US import Kimbear. This four-year-old was Group-placed in his homeland and looks the type to flourish in the desert. A mark of 104 means he can start life in handicaps and it would be no surprise if he progressed through the grades and ended up running on the last Saturday in March.
Jason Ford Dubai-based reporter
A Group 1 winner in his pomp and rated 116 when fourth in the 2014 Coronation Cup, he has had two runs for Doug Watson. They both came at Abu Dhabi and he did remarkably well to win on the first occasion, before being unlucky next time. From a mark of 96, he must be a major player in a Meydan turf handicap, especially considering he was fourth in the 2014 Group 1 Sheema Classic.
Laura King Presenter/producer for Dubai Racing Channel
The early evidence suggests the UAE's crop of three-year-old fillies might be stronger than the colts, and Doug Watson's Rayya looks the best of the bunch so far. A winner by nine and three-quarter lengths on her only start, she didn't beat a great deal but displayed a professional attitude. The fillies' Classic division always lacks depth and may do again, so there is no reason why this filly won't progress through to the UAE 1,000 Guineas and Oaks, both races won in 2016 by Rayya's erstwhile stablemate Polar River, in whose box she lives.
Mike Kaye Dubai-based syndicate Touch Gold Racing
Although I strongly hope our own Raven’s Corner can prove a horse to follow – he's being aimed at the Dubawi Stakes on January 18 – I think his stablemate North America is a class act. His impressive seven-length win in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes was just his fourth run on dirt and he was then over the top when disappointing in the Godolphin Mile, going off too fast on a wet track. He should go well on his reappearance this week and we could even end up seeing him in the World Cup this year.
Nicholas Godfrey Racing Post International editor
Always highly regarded, he was under consideration for the 2,000 Guineas until a setback in the spring. He returned to win at Ascot on ground softer than ideal before finishing third in a Listed race at Chantilly. He's open to bags of improvement and looks the type to thrive in faster conditions at Meydan, where the Singspiel Stakes on opening night is his starting point, with the Dubai Turf a long-term aim.
Ron Wood Racing Post analysis and Spotlight writer
My idea of the Dubai World Cup winner, so a long-term project. He's untested at the trip and set for the Pegasus first, but Neolithic was no stayer and ran third at Gulfstream before filling the same spot at Meydan last year. This guy is twice the horse of Neolithic. Sharp Azteca was only third in the 2017 Godolphin Mile but went too hard – his opening 6f was faster than the Golden Shaheen – and he's got a new jockey. He was immense in the Cigar Mile and, in a weak-looking year, I think he'll have the field cooked turning in.
Called To The Bar
Scott Burton Racing Post France correspondent
He had future Group 1 winners Ice Breeze and Shakeel behind when landing the Group 3 Prix du Lys, before running a gallant second to Oscar Performance in the Belmont Derby. He is due to make his reappearance on Super Saturday, which his trainer Pia Brandt – who has a good record with her runners at Meydan – hopes to use as a springboard to the Sheema Classic.
Sean O'Sullivan Paddy Power Betfair odds compiler
He has looked transformed since being switched to Satish Seemar and sent sprinting on dirt, gaining two comfortable wins to go from a mark of 84 to 100. Strong in the market for his scheduled reappearance, he was withdrawn at the start after having trouble in the gates, but he's said to have shown no ill effects since. His trainer excels at improving these types and my hope is that come March this fella will have earned a crack at the Golden Shaheen, for which we have him at 25-1.
Stephen Molyneux Presenter/producer for Dubai Racing Channel
This mare should do well for Saeed bin Suroor in the 1m4f+ division. Unlucky in the Ebor and conveniently back down to that same mark of 105, she is unexposed over as far as 2m and her turn of foot will be an asset given how these races pan out. She would be of less interest if dropped in trip for the Cape Verdi and Balanchine, but that seems unlikely.
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com