Digging into Super Saturday: the countdown to Dubai World Cup night

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 4th, 2017

Meydan’s Super Saturday program (starting at 7 a.m. EST) is a bit like the Roman god Janus. Facing in two directions simultaneously, it serves as the official conclusion of the Dubai Carnival season, and offers pointers to the Dubai World Cup (G1) three weeks hence.

So Saturday’s seven prep races can top off a productive Carnival for a horse unlikely to win on World Cup night, or launch a prime contender into the spotlight, or possibly achieve both goals in the same race. For handicapping purposes, you’ve got to decide who’s peaking on Super Saturday, and who’ll need the race to bring him on for the March 25 extravaganza.

Although all of the leading locals aren’t engaged, let alone the internationals, Super Saturday will furnish clues to clarify the picture. All seven races are held over the same trip as the corresponding prizes on World Cup night (in parentheses).

7 a.m. EST – 1ST Race, Al Bastakiya (stepping stone to the UAE Derby [G2])

Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum may have this race cornered with his two runners.

I’m looking forward to how Triple Crown nominee #7 Zumurudee (15-1) gets on, since trainer Marco Botti has long targeted this as a scouting expedition ahead of the UAE Derby. As a 10-length Wolverhampton maiden winner, the Kentucky-bred son of Stormy Atlantic has a similar background to 2014 UAE Derby hero Toast of New York. It’s doubtful he’ll be as high as his morning line, especially with Christophe Soumillon at the helm.

At any rate, Zumurudee will probably be better value than fellow colorbearer #12 Fawree (even-money). The beautifully bred son of Candy Ride and Keeper Hill has talent in spades but is still putting it together mentally, and that’s why trainer Mike de Kock skipped the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) with him. On the Dubai Racing Channel’s “Winning Line” program, de Kock said he hoped for a smaller, weaker field. Weaker, yes, but not smaller, and Fawree’s drawn widest of all in post 12. His past gate issues are the principal reason why Bernard Fayd’Herbe has retained the mount, after working him through it. If Fawree is ready for this step, he may well win as the most naturally talented in the race – and bring de Kock closer to the 3,000-win milestone.

Aside from Zumurudee, the other potential value play is #4 Nobelium (12-1), who intriguingly lures Olivier Peslier out for his only ride on the program. By Sky Mesa, and with Empire Maker and Sightseek as his maternal grandparents, he’s eligible to enjoy the turf-to-dirt switch for Rashed Boursely. And he’s certainly glimpsed ability in his two turf starts.

The obvious chances – Godolphin’s #11 Capezzano (5-2) and Doug Watson’s #5 Cosmo Charlie (5-1) (adding a visor) – are bound to run well too.

7:35 a.m. EST – 2ND Race, Mahab al Shimaal (G3) (Dubai Golden Shaheen [G1])

#3 Cool Cowboy (7-2) is coming up to this in superb form, after edging #9 Muarrab (6-5) in the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) last time out. Trained by Watson, Cool Cowboy is already a Super Saturday winner, having romped in the mile prep on this day last year, and he’s an eminently logical play here. But Muarrab wasn’t allowed to roll early as he likes in the Al Shindagha, and the word on “Winning Line” is that they won’t make that mistake again. If Muarrab is winging it out there in his comfort zone, the defending champion – and reigning Golden Shaheen winner – may not be caught.

Hong Kong’s #2 Dundonnell (12-1), a slightly unlucky second in his Meydan debut, is a well-priced alternative. Likely to gain revenge on Godolphin’s Comicas (who meets him on 11 pounds worse terms this time), Dundonnell’s biggest concern is regressing second time out in Dubai. If he maintains his form, he’s a massive win chance. For a real longshot, try #7 Morawij (15-1). Sure, he’s a Jebel Ali specialist, but the Exceed and Excel gelding was third in last year’s Golden Shaheen, and he enters in fine form.

I haven’t mentioned 11-year-old #5 Reynaldothewizard (7-2), only because trainer Satish Seemar was saying he might not run (according to Dubai Racing Channel’s Laura King). If he does run, I’m not sure whether to take it as a positive or not. In any event, he’d be tough to leave out of the vertical wagers.

8:10 a.m. EST – 3RD Race, Dubai City of Gold (G2) (Dubai Sheema Classic [G1])

Defending champion #10 Postponed (1-5) is a short price for a very legitimate reason, being among the world’s elite performers last year for Roger Varian. Barring a crazy turn of events, he should win this with a minimum of fuss, and advance to another title defense in the Sheema.

The value may come underneath, and #1 Rembrandt Van Rijn (50-1) has had too consistent a Carnival to ignore. Going down by just a neck to Godolphin’s #4 Prize Money (5-1) over course and distance, he meets him much worse off at the weights here, but at a staggeringly bigger price. While Prize Money is the likeliest to round out the exacta with Postponed, I wouldn’t leave “Rembrandt” out of the exotics. Ditto for #6 Dylan Mouth (10-1), a near-miss third in that same handicap, who gets a rider switch to Frankie Dettori.

I honestly don’t know what to expect from Godolphin’s #7 Emotionless (10-1), who ran well enough on dirt to stay on the World Cup path. Instead, trainer Charlie Appleby is reverting to turf while experimenting with a dramatic step up in trip. He said this will help them decide his appropriate targets in Europe. My sneaking suspicion is that it’s pulling double-duty: watch Emotionless go back to dirt for the World Cup, which will be a cut back in trip too. Instead of another hard race on dirt in preparation, just take a tour behind Postponed, and see what you’ve got. With his back class on turf, Emotionless could factor in the placings, but the stretch-out is a big question.

8:45 a.m. EST – 4TH Race, Burj Nahaar (G3) (Godolphin Mile [G2])

This race was one of the more inscrutable on the card, with a couple of classy performers uncertain to run up to their best, and the sharp handicappers circling to seize the opportunity.

The addition of blinkers might do the trick for #6 Lindo Amor (10-1), a de Kock trainee who’s finished third in his starts at this track and trip, both in Group company. Considering his back class as an Argentinian Group 1 performer, I think he’s got more up his sleeve than he’s shown at the Carnival. Hopefully that changes here.

But the horse of the moment is #5 Heavy Metal (4-1), twice a handicap winner over the metric mile during the Carnival, and under the weather when fourth in between. Progressive handicapper #1 Stormardal (8-1) hasn’t been seen since December 1, and takes a class hike off the layoff, but has won three straight over course and distance.

The established class under the microscope here are #10 Le Bernardin (2-1) and #9 Polar River (5-1).  Le Bernardin would have been much more appealing if he’d come here straight after winning the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) for the second straight year. But connections just had to run him again in Round 2, where he was fourth. Returning to the metric mile will help, but he needs to be raced sparingly, and he’s not well drawn in post 10. Polar River has been disappointing both of her starts this Dubai season, and unless she turns things around, she may be looking for her ticket to the US soon.

9:20 a.m. EST – 5TH Race, Nad al Sheba Sprint (Al Quoz Sprint [G1])

Although this turf dash is bursting at the seams, it may turn out to be pretty formful.

Godolphin’s #7 Jungle Cat (9-5), fourth in last year’s Al Quoz and second to the brilliant Ertijaal (Ire) last time over a furlong shorter, brings the strongest form to bear. And he’s likely primed now in his third start off the bench. The improving #4 Final Venture (7-1) is two-for-three this Carnival, his only loss coming to Godolphin’s #1 Baccarat (5-2) and Jungle Cat, and he may be better now than he was then.

If he’s gotten over his dirt debacle, Hong Kong’s #3 Fabulous One (20-1) could be the best value. Admittedly, this is very much a case of “Plan B” for trainer Chris So, who really came as a Golden Shaheen hope and now tries to rescue the whole venture. But the speed merchant does fit with these on the turf. The old stager #2 Caspian Prince (20-1) used to be a five-furlong type, but after his near-miss third in Qatar last Saturday, maybe he appreciates a sixth furlong these days.

Between my hesitancy about European sprinters testing the international stage, and his lack of recency, I have a watching brief on France’s #13 The Right Man (5-1). As admirable as de Kock’s #16 Tahanee (15-1) has been all Carnival, this smacks of a last-chance saloon.

9:55 a.m. EST – 6TH Race, Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) (Dubai World Cup)

Former Chilean champion #4 Furia Cruzada (6-1) was thought to be too short on fitness for the Al Maktoum Challenge Round (G2) in her Dubai debut, but the mare surprised us all with a gallant score over #6 Second Summer (5-2). It’s logical to project that Second Summer will move forward in leaps and bounds in his second start for Doug Watson. So might Furia Cruzada for Erwan Charpy, although you can always wonder if she didn’t run too well first up.

Still, it’s too neat and tidy to see this as all about a rematch of Round 2. Godolphin’s #3 Move Up (4-1) has potential. He would be more attractive, however, at a price; for a dual Group winner over 1 1/2 miles on turf making his dirt debut, he’s a trifle short. I’d love to see him book a World Cup ticket, but I almost fear a boilover coming on.

How about #1 Triple Nine (30-1), the Korean Horse of the Year who’s run two solid races at this track and trip during the Carnival? He’s got to step up, of course, but he was just fourth in a hot handicap (in which the third, Etijaah, came back to beat Mubtaahij). Or #7 Mizbah (60-1)? He can get bold on the front end, as his track record three starts back demonstrates, and Watson can never be discounted.

Reigning UAE Derby hero #8 Lani (4-1) may be an underlay, in light of his gigantic fan base. The Tapit colt was probably feeling the effects of his Triple Crown campaign when failing to perform in Japan last fall, so I don’t judge him harshly for that. The rider change to Ryan Moore, and losing the blinkers, could galvanize him here. That said, Lani isn’t the most straightforward, and he’s never won off the bench. Whatever he does Saturday, he’s eligible to build upon for World Cup night. Likely to need the race even more is defending champion #5 Special Fighter (3-1), sidelined since his fourth in last year’s World Cup.

And just to confuse everything even more, Salem bin Ghadayer has said how well blueblood #2 Long River (20-1) is coming up to the race. Toss his last, when he returned with his left hind nicked up. As the third-placer from the 2014 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), the son of A.P. Indy and Round Pond was useful once upon a time. Could he somehow find himself again at the age of seven?

10:30 a.m. EST – 7TH Race, Jebel Hatta (G1) (Dubai Turf [G1])

A dark horse in last year’s Arlington Million (G1) before being withdrawn on the morning of the race, #1 Decorated Knight (5-2) has had to wait six months for his Grade/Group 1 debut. But the royally-bred son of Galileo (and close relation of Gleneagles) may make this opportunity count. Indeed, connections explicitly pointed for this race as a weak Group 1 that could enhance his stallion portfolio. Decorated Knight still has to go out and perform, against some smart types battle-hardened in the Carnival. Yet if he were Arlington Million-worthy, surely he’s up to this. Case in point: last year’s Jebel Hatta winner, Tryster, was eighth in the Million. A facile point, admittedly, yet worth bearing in mind.

Perhaps the best value play is #5 Light the Lights (7-1). The last horse to beat red-hot Championship, the South African-bred did so at this trip in the opening night Singspiel. Light the Lights has had excuses in his last two. He was too fresh when unfortunately playing front runner in the Al Rashidiya (G2) and got caught by Godolphin mare #8 Promising Run (6-1). De Kock then ran him in the Zabeel Mile (G2), knowing it was too short, merely as a means to getting him here – his target.

Godolphin is double-handed with the unknown quantity #12 Folkswood (7-1). The four-year-old deserves his chance after a sharp handicap win over Elleval, but this is his biggest class test so far.

I’ve been a fan of de Kock’s #10 Ertijaal (Aus) (4-1) (not the Irish-bred sprinter referenced above) for a long time, since his 2015 Cape Derby (G1) romp. Third in this race last year, and fourth in the Dubai Turf, the son of Hard Spun underwent ankle surgery after disappointing in Hong Kong. He needed his comeback in the Singspiel, where he was fifth, but he’s been shelved since. Sheikh Hamdan’s handsome chestnut must need this one too to set him up for the Dubai Turf.

Happy Super Saturday!

Postponed and Furia Cruzada/Second Summer photos courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins