Aidan O’Brien gets 2017 campaign under way in Dubai
Highland Reel is second favourite to Postponed for Sheema Classic
Highland Reel ridden by Seamus Heffernan wins the Longines Turf race at the 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships last year. Photograph: Sean M Haffey/Getty Images
Ireland’s flat season on turf will start at Naas on Sunday, although Aidan O’Brien is set to get his 2017 campaign under way the day before with a powerful raid on the Dubai World Cup card.
The American superstar Arrogate is a dominant headline act in the Dubai World Cup on dirt but O’Brien’s principal focus will be the most valuable event on Meydan’s grass track, the Sheema Classic, over a mile and a half.
Both the Breeders Cup hero Highland Reel and last year’s Irish Oaks winner Seventh Heaven feature among a small but select field of seven that were declared on Monday for the hugely valuable contest.
Highland Reel finished fourth to Postponed in last year’s race and is rated a general 5/1 chance behind the Roger Varian-trained star who is a 2/1 favourite. Seventh Heaven is rated at 7/1.
O’Brien won the Sheema Classic in 2013 with St Nicholas Abbey and has also struck on the World Cup card with back-to-back victories in the UAE Derby for Daddy Long Legs and Lines Of Battle in 2012-13.
This time Lancaster Bomber is in contention to fly the Ballydoyle flag in the three-year-old contest. A 66/1 runner-up to his stable companion Churchill in last season’s Dewhurst, Lancaster Bomber subsequently finished runner-up again at the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf.
Other O’Brien contenders for Saturday are Washington DC in the Al Quoz Sprint, while at the other end of the distance spectrum Kingfisher is a 16/1 shot for the Dubai Gold Cup.
The Ballydoyle trio of Long Island Sound, Deauville and Cougar Mountain are entered for the nine-furlong Dubai Turf but are outsiders behind the French star Zarak and Godolphin’s Ribchester.
Cougar Mountain was O’Brien’s final runner of 2016 when finishing out of the money at the Hong Kong carnival in December.