An international field of 16 will line up on Saturday night in the United Arab Emirates to battle in the Group 1 $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race.
With five Group 1 races on card, Meydan Racecourse in Dubai will be the scene for the richest night in racing, bringing together the top horses, jockeys and trainers from throughout the world at one of the most beautiful racing venues. Over $27 million in purses are up for grabs.
Call it the March Madness of racing without the brackets, although there will be plenty of money exchanging hands. While wagering on horse racing is prohibited in Dubai, horseplayers throughout the rest of the world will bet millions on the exciting night of action.
For the first time in the 19-year history of the Dubai World Cup, there will not be any U.S. based runners in the field, but there will be several familiar faces for American players.
Last year's running was one of the most exciting, with 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom rallying for the victory.
While U.S. based horses fared well at Nad Al Sheba, since switching to Meydan and the synthetic Tapeta surface, the American-based runners have not performed as well with the exception of Animal Kingdom.
In 2012, the highly regarded Royal Delta and Game On Dude could only muster ninth and 12th place finishes, respectively.
Meydan got hit with rain early in the week, but the Tapeta main track should be fine for Saturday, as should the turf course.
Let's take a look at several of the contenders:
Ron the Greek
While under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Ron the Greek racked up over $2.7 million in earnings, including victories in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, Stephen Foster Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The seven-year-old was privately purchased by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz last fall after his win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. U.S.-based jockey Jose Lezcano is over for the ride, but the duo has their work cut out for them as they drew the far outside 16 post and are 5-1 on the morning line.
Ruler of the World
The four-year-old colt is trained by one of the rulers of the training world, Aiden O'Brien, who has won just about every big race throughout the world except for the Dubai World Cup.
Ruler of the World has the credentials to win and is the 9-2 morning line favorite, but the colt will be making his first start since last October when he was third in the Group 1 QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot.
The colt has lost four in a row after starting off his career winning his first three starts, including taking the Group 1 Epsom Derby last June. O'Brien will give a leg up to his son Joseph, who last rode the colt in his fifth-place finish in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby last year.
No Hong Kong-based runner has won the Dubai World Cup. However, that could change this year with Military Attack. The John Moore trainee is coming off an impressive victory in the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup at Sha Tin in his last outing.
The six-year-old Irish-bred gelding has won four Group 1 races in Hong Kong and is listed at 8-1 on the morning line.
He will be joined by Akeed Mofeed, who was fifth in the Hong Kong Cup, beaten 5 1/4 lengths. The five-year-old does have a pair of Group 1 wins, taking the Longines Hong Kong Cup last December at Sha Tin. The Richard Gibson trainee is 10-1 on the morning line.
UAE Derby Could Produce Starter for Run for the Roses
Although the race is far from Louisville, site of the Kentucky Derby, the $2 million UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard will offer the winner a starting spot in the gate for the Run for the Roses.
The race is a Derby points race with 100-40-20-10 points up for grabs. The top two finishers likely would earn enough points to stamp a ticket to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May.
One colt that could make the trip is the Aiden O'Brien-trained Giovanni Boldini, who is making his three-year-old debut. The colt was last seen running a solid second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 1 where he got run down in the late stages by Outstrip.
O'Brien has won the last two runnings of the race, winning with Daddy Long Legs in 2012 and Lines of Battle last year.
Lines of Battle ran seventh in the Kentucky Derby while Daddy Long Legs fared even worse, getting eased and finishing last of 20.
Giovanni Boldini's main foe will be Long John, the winner of the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas on the Meydan main track on Feb. 13.
Morning line odds courtesy of Equibase.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport