Varian happy to chase more success with star Postponed
Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (Group 1) | 1m4f | 3yo+ | ATR/RUK
Will the gamble pay off for Postponed? After a stellar five-year-old season in Europe following last year’s stunning victory in this race, the percentage call might have been to plan for a lucrative career at stud, but owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid is nothing if not decisive and has stuck to his guns to ensure the highest-rated horse in Britain is back for the Sheema Classic aged six.
Although favourite to retain his crown, he perhaps does not bring the same air of invincibility to this year’s race compared with 12 months ago, having been beaten on his last two starts.
The 2015 King George winner had won his prep race in the Dubai City Of Gold last year but was beaten in the same race this time around, albeit suffering more traffic problems than the Sheikh Zayed Road at home time on a Friday.
That was, however, his first race since he was the beaten favourite in the Arc in October and trainer Roger Varian has been delighted with Postponed since arriving in Dubai midweek.
"I’d say it’s a considerable improvement to the horse I bought out here for Super Saturday,” said Varian. “With him being a six-year-old, he just took longer to get ready for Super Saturday. I knew he was rusty but what was encouraging was that with a clear run he still would have won.
"Looking at him in the last 48 hours, I could not be more pleased with him. The owner needs to be commended for racing him at six and the intention after Saturday is for a European campaign.”
Conditions look perfect for Jack Hobbs
Things have not gone according to plan for Jack Hobbs since a fruitful three-year-old campaign that saw him finish runner-up in the Derby at Epsom and a clear-cut winner of the Irish equivalent.
Having appeared to be a major candidate for the top mile and a half races in Europe last year, he sustained a stress fracture to his pelvis back in May that blew his season to smithereens. He did, however, put in a fine performance when third on his comeback in the Champion Stakes and with so few miles on the clock, may still have more to offer.
“He’s in good form and it’s great to be here,” said trainer John Gosden, who will put blinkers on Jack Hobbs for the first time. “I think it’s a small but fabulous field. He’s rated 120, yet is the fourth-highest rated in the field. But this is his game; he won an Irish Derby on a galloping track over 1m4f.
“He needs to improve but I hope he can. He ran a blinder to run third to the best three-year-old in Europe in Almanzor, and the Arc winner Found in the Champion Stakes and he seems in good order right now.”
O'Brien fully loaded
Aidan O’Brien loads both barrels as he bids for a second win in the race following St Nicholas Abbey’s success four years ago.
Highland Reel may have come up short behind Postponed last year but took his form to a new level after, with wins in the King George at Ascot and Breeders’ Cup Turf last season and will no doubt look to make all under Ryan Moore.
O'Brien said: "Highland Reel had a very good campaign last year. We've been happy with him over the past couple of months. The trip, the track and the ground will suit."
O’Brien’s second bullet is dual Group 1 winner Seventh Heaven, who was not beaten far in the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita in November and gets a handy 5lb weight allowance, 2lb more than she would in Europe, as the only filly in the race.
The trainer added: "Seventh Heaven, who won the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks, will love the trip, the track and the ground, so we're hoping she gives a good account."
Eyes on the prize for Bin Suroor
Prize Money took the notable scalp of Postponed in the City of Gold on Super Saturday and Saeed bin Suroor, twice the winning trainer of this race, is hoping he can cause another upset in the hands of Adrie de Vries.
Successful in the November Handicap at Doncaster last year, he has thrived in Dubai and chases a hat-trick of wins at Meydan.
“He always showed me he was going to be good from early on,” said Suroor. “He was on the weak side and has improved with time. His win last time has given him confidence and we’re looking for a good run. This is his hardest task but he could be anything.”
Lemaire eyes upset
Locally-trained Earnshaw, winless from 11 visits to Meydan, and Japan’s Sounds Of Earth complete the field. Although so far coming up short at Group-level in his home country, Sounds Of Earth’s rider Christophe Lemaire is not ruling out an upset.
He said: "He has staying power and always runs his best. He has not won any big titles yet in Japan, only silver and bronze medals but if he runs his race, he has a big chance. He is easy to ride.
"The field is very strong and competitive, but I have lots of confidence.”