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21 April 2024

Longines Dubai Sheema Classic More than a Match Race

By Andrew Hawkins

For many, the G1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (2400m) was the headline act of 2023 worldwide and, while it seems impossible to top Equinox’s star turn from 12 months ago, Classic winners Auguste Rodin and Liberty Island will attempt to raise the bar again on Saturday in a mouthwatering clash.
The battle of the superstar four-year-olds plays on many familiar tropes: colt v filly, West v East, Europe v Asia, established form v immense potential. Such is the hype for this battle, one could be forgiven for expecting a mere match race.
But to relegate the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic to a race of two does a disservice to the overall quality of the 2400-metre event, which features 10 Group 1 winners from all parts of the world.
Such is the strength of this field that the 2022 winner of this race, Shahryar, arguably enters Saturday’s meeting as the most forgotten horse on the card.
He joins a four-strong Japanese contingent led by Liberty Island, last season’s champion three-year-old filly whose sole defeat came at the hands of Equinox in the G1 Japan Cup (2400m).
“This is her first time travelling internationally and all has gone well so far,” said champion Japanese jockey Yuga Kawada, who rides Mitsumasa Nakauchida’s filly. “It is an honour to represent Japan with a filly like her and I hope she can show fans all over the world just how good she is.”
Stars On Earth, who preceded Liberty Island as a winner of the G1 Yushun Himba (2400m) – the Japanese Oaks – also steps out, with last year’s winning jockey Christophe Lemaire aboard.
Of the Japanese though, perhaps the most intriguing is Justin Palace, winner of the G1 Tenno Sho Spring (3200m) last May. The five-year-old, a favourite of those gathered trackside at Meydan this week, underlined his quality with two Group 1 placings behind Equinox, including in world record time in the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m).
“We believe that the flat track at Meydan will suit him,” said trainer Haruki Sugiyama. “Hopefully, this might be the first step on a journey around the world this year.”
Auguste Rodin edged himself towards champion status with a three-year-old season that included two Derby wins, a G1 Irish Champion Stakes (2000m) score and a year-ending G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf (2400m) success.
The real test comes now at four, beginning with this heavyweight bout to kick off his season – a challenge for which trainer Aidan O’Brien is confident he is ready.
“We feel he has matured well from three to four and it goes without saying that we are very excited to get him going again,” he said.
“The horse did all his own talking on the track last year, but we really do think that he is a very important horse for the Thoroughbred breed. It is a huge thrill to have him back and we can’t wait to see him race.”
In most years, horses like G1 Coronation Cup (2400m) winner Emily Upjohn or G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf (2400m) hero Rebel’s Romance would steal the spotlight but, in a hot affair, they are simply part of a star-studded ensemble cast that also includes fellow Group 1 winners Junko, Simca Mille and Sisfahan.
Last-start G2 Neom Turf Cup (2100m) victor Spirit Dancer and multiple Group 1 placegetter Point Lonsdale complete the line-up.
The G1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic is the penultimate event of the nine-race Dubai World Cup meeting and is scheduled to jump at 8pm local time.