Owen Burrows is under no illusions about the task facing Hukum as he bids to deliver a poignant success in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan.
The five-year-old carries the Shadwell Stable colours of the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, for whom Burrows trained exclusively up until his death almost exactly a year ago.
The prominent owner’s family later confirmed that the Shadwell operation would be scaled back, meaning the majority of horses trained by Burrows were sold and he is now able to train for other clients.
Hukum has been a real flagbearer for the Burrows-Shadwell axis – winning at Royal Ascot and four times at Group Three level before making a successful Dubai debut three weeks ago.
Hukum tackles the same course and distance on Saturday, but Burrows acknowledges he has far more on his plate as he returns to Group One company for the first time since finishing fifth in the 2020 St Leger.
“We’re very pleased with how he’s come forward from the City Of Gold, but it’s obviously a very tough race and he’s going to have to find 6lb or 7lb,” said the Lambourn-based trainer.
“It’s very exciting and great to be involved in a race like this. These horses are the best in the world, so if we can be competitive I’ll be very pleased.
“To see him win three weeks ago was a big thing for me and big for everyone in the Shadwell operation, but this would take it to another level.
“It’s a year ago (on Thursday) since Sheikh Hamdan passed away, so I don’t think I’d be able to find the words if it did come off.
“I’m not trying to think about it too much. It’s just an honour to be here.”
The top two in the market are Japanese raider Shahryar and the Charlie Appleby-trained Yibir, who has been off the track since winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar in November.
Appleby is confident there is more to come from his charge this year.
“Yibir shipped over here late. His preparation has gone very well, he’s adapted well since his arrival,” Appleby told the Godolphin website.
“This is very much a starting point for his 2022 campaign. It’s a very competitive race, a great race to be involved with on World Cup night, as indeed they all are. Hopefully this will springboard him into his new season, and hopefully there will be further travel with him.
“He has drawn 12. But that doesn’t bother me. He’s a hold-up horse, anyway.”
William Haggas is looking forward to saddling both Alenquer and Dubai Honour. Alenquer is fit from winning the Winter Derby at Lingfield last month, while Dubai Honour was last seen finishing fourth in the Hong Kong Cup.
“I thought the track would be too quick and the surface probably quick enough for Alenquer, but he’s clearly in good shape,” said the Newmarket handler.
“The Sheema Classic is a strong race, but he’s a nice horse. He surprised me in the Classic Trial at Sandown when defeating a very strong field, but he’s gone on to win easily at Royal Ascot and finish second in the Juddmonte International at York.
“Dubai Honour has gone from strength to strength, winning two Group Two races in France and finishing second in the Champion Stakes last season.
“Saturday will be his first time over a mile and a half and I’m not sure about the ground for him. He needs cut in the ground, but he did run a very solid race in December at Sha Tin. He was fourth and finished good in a strong race, so we’ll see.”
Frankie Dettori replaces the injured Martin Dwyer aboard William Muir and Chris Grassick’s stable star Pyledriver, who needs to bounce back from a no-show in Saudi Arabia four weeks ago.
Muir said: “We got drawn 14 in Saudi and had no chance. We can’t be disappointed with this draw. He’s a horse that’s very versatile. He can jump and go forward, so I think if someone said to me ‘you can be one or 15’ I’d have taken one every day of the week.
“Frankie’s taken over because Martin got injured. Frankie is the boy on the big stage and you can’t get any bigger than this.”
Simon and Ed Crisford’s Without A Fight, who was a head second to Hukum last time, and Saeed bin Suroor’s Dubai Future are the other British hopes.