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Richard Linihan: Four major horse races on tap this weekend ahead of Kentucky Derby
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Richard Linihan: Four major horse races on tap this weekend ahead of Kentucky Derby

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It's a major weekend for some of the best racehorses around the globe.

Not only is the richest race in the world - the $10 million Dubai World Cup - being run Saturday, but two of the final major races leading up to the Kentucky Derby are on the menu, the $1 million Florida Derby and the $1 million Louisiana Derby. The $2 million UAE Derby — also from Dubai — is on tap, too.

A year ago, 2012 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom traveled to Dubai as a 4-year-old and kicked horse rears and took names Only one horse with an American background has been entered in the field of 16 this year, Ron the Greek, and he might not have been entered had he not already set up base this year in Saudi Arabia.

Ron the Greek is the 5-1 second favorite in the Dubai World Cup, but he drew the unfortunate 16-post on the far outside.

The 9-2 morning line favorite in the race, Ruler of the World didn't fare much better and will race from the 12-hole.

Some are pointing to the synthetic racing surface that Dubai has installed for its major races as the cause of lack of interest on the Americans' part this year. Many of the horses that race on the major circuit in Southern California who normally are taken to Dubai have nothing to prove on a synthetic surface because the California tracks have returned or are returning to real dirt now.

Others believe this trip and its thousands of miles puts a burden on most of the horses that have done it. Despite the legendary Cigar winning the Dubai Cup, his jockey, Jerry Bailey, said the horse could barely walk off the plane when he returned to American soil.

Ron the Greek was supposed to race in America's richest race in November, the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, but he had a quarter crack in a hoof and had to pass. He was sold privately to Saudi Arabian owners in December and won his only start in that country.

So if you want to be technical, there are no American horses in the world's richest race, only horses from Dubai, England, Hong Kong, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

That's a sad state of affairs when this race has been won in the past by a who's who of American horses - Cigar, Silver Charm, Invasor, Curlin, Animal Kingdom, Pleasantly Perfect, Roses in May, Well Armed and Captain Steve.

In America, there are two Kentucky Derby preps Saturday that produced the 1-2 finish of last year's Derby - Florida Derby winner Orb and Louisiana Derby fourth-place finisher Golden Soul, which produced a $981 exacta payoff on a $2 wager.

So keep a close eye on horses coming from these two races Saturday. It could provide another boxcar payout bonanza in this year's Kentucky Derby on May 3.

Each of these races will have 170 points available total toward a horse making its way into the Derby starting gate on May 3.

In the Florida Derby, Cairo Prince will try to prove his worth as the favorite. Questions arise concerning his nine-week layoff since he won the Holy Bull Stakes on this same track.

Cairo Prince has been made the 9-5 favorite despite the fact he will be facing horses of strong quality with more recent success — Wildcat Red, the winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and the runner-up who was just nosed out, General A Rod.

One horse that has to be considered is lightly raced Constitution, a winner of both of his races lifetime, but neither against this class of horse. Still, his 98 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start is as good as any in this field if he improves off that.

Tulsan John Oxley sends out the second-longest shot in the field in the Florida Derby — Matador, who ran a disappointing fifth in his last try in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Oxley's trainer, Mark Casse, has decided to shake it up a bit by adding blinkers to Matador on Saturday.

It's possible we will see noses-apart finishes in both of these prep races, as Intense Holiday and Albano go at each other's throats again. They hit the line together in their last start, finishing 1-2, respectively, in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, the same track they will try on Saturday

You can watch and wager on the Dubai World Cup (starting time about 1 p.m.), the Florida Derby (5:48 p.m.) and Louisiana Derby (6:10 p.m.) at Fair Meadows.


Richard Linihan is marketing director at Fair Meadows of Tulsa.

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