The list of Dubai World Cup champions since the race’s 1997 debut include inaugural winner Cigar, Silver Charm, Captain Steve, Curlin, Animal Kingdom, California Chrome and Arrogate. True Thoroughbred stars who commanded attention the moment their names entered a race.

Mystic Guide-Dubai World Cup
Mystic Guide put on blinkers in time to win last summer’s Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. He’s carried that form into favorite status in the $12 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup. (Image: Janet Garaguso/NYRA)

This is apt. Saturday’s Group 1 Dubai World Cup comes with a $12 million purse along with its typical international cast of competitors from Japan, England, Ireland, the Middle East – and the US.

But it’s that US contingent that raises eyebrows — for a different reason. Mystic Guide, Jesus’ Team, Sleepy Eyes Todd and Title Ready hardly bring the same gaudy, eyebrow-raising status as the aforementioned winners of this 25-year-old race.

The approximately 10-furlong Dubai World Cup returns after taking last year off due to the pandemic. It is the marquee event on Meydan Racecourse’s eight-race card. That includes another Kentucky Derby prep, the 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby.

Buy American in the Dubai World Cup

That Derby prep isn’t teeming with star power either. No UAE Derby winner finished better than fifth in the Kentucky Derby.

The Dubai World Cup, meanwhile, turns loose an eclectic field of 14 for the winner’s share of that $12 million. Not surprisingly, an American horse opens as your favorite.

That would be Mystic Guide (5/2), who could win this star-crossed race. The Ghostzapper colt gets A-list jockey Luis Saez in the irons and strong form in the gate. He’s captured two of his last three races – all graded stakes – in convincing fashion. Last time out, that was the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn by six lengths.

Mystic Guide follows his map to Dubai

Before that, Mystic Guide took second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. That came on the heels of his Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes victory last summer. The lightly raced 4-year-old is 3-2-2 in his seven starts, but already owns more than $553,000 in earnings in those seven starts.

“He just has flourished here,” trainer Mike Stidham told the Dubai World Cup notes team. “Every day, I’ve been watching his weight and seeing if his cat was changing, but he’s been perfect. I’m amazed how well he’s taking all of this.”

If there’s amazement at anyone in the field, it’s the concept of Jesus’ Team winning this race. The one-time $35,000 claimer joined the millionaire’s club with his runner-up finish to Knicks Go in the Pegasus World Cup. That 5/1 Jesus’ Team can hit the board is almost a given, considering his last four finishes are third in the Preakness, second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, first in the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes, and second in the Pegasus.

Can Jesus’ Team outrun his odds yet again?

That Jesus’ Team can win a Group 1 remains open for debate. He’s scored three times, but that Jewel Stakes is the only stakes race on the list. Jesus’ Team hit the board in his last six races – including a third to Mystic Guide in the Jim Dandy — but a Grade/Group 1 or 2 heretofore remains out of reach.

That brings us to another familiar face: Sleepy Eyes Todd (10/1). Even in this B-level field, 1 ¼ miles is probably a bridge or two too far for this closer. Yet here he is again, coming in off his fifth in the Saudi Cup last month and fourth in the Pegasus two months ago. Like Jesus’ Team, Sleepy Eyes Todd is a threat to find the final spot in trifectas and superfectas.

He’s been in the Middle East since mid February.

“It’s been a great learning experience and I love it,” trainer Miguel Angel Silva said. “I would change nothing about the trip we’ve had. He’s been running every month. This is the perfect timing to be back running at 100%.”

Title Ready may be ready to spring upset

The last American is Title Ready (20/1). He comes in off his win at the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes, where he beat the likes of Wells Bayou, Blackberry Wine, Sonneman and Silver Prospector. If he repeats his closing form here and forgets his 10th in the Grade 1 Clark Stakes or seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Title Ready could blow up the toteboard.

“We ran him in the Breeders’ Cup and he ran pretty good, but then I ran him back too fast in the Clark,” trainer Dallas Stewart said. “He got some time and then won and looked really good at the Fair Grounds. He’s bred to be a good horse by More Than Ready from the family of Personal Ensign. He deserves a shot in this race.”

There’s a martial theme to the foreign contenders

Two foreign candidates are threats to find the board: Salute the Soldier (9/2) and Military Law (5/1). Salute the Soldier is a likelier candidate, based on his form and familiarity with Meydan. Salute the Soldier won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 and the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 – a Group 1.

Military Law won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1. That came after he finished sixth in the Saudi Cup, chasing the fast pace of Knicks’ Go and Charlatan. If you use him, use him deep underneath in your vertical exotics.

The pick: Mystic Guide. Americans usually do well in this race and he’s the best American in the field. If his odds drop lower than this, you’re better served putting him on top of exactas and trifectas as others in this field (see Jesus’ Team, Title Ready, Salute the Soldier and even Magny Cours) bring value to your tickets.