Dubai: A New Chapter for True Story?
The star of last Thursday's Dubai Carnival opener was Godolphin's True Story, who manhandled his opposition in the Singspiel at about nine furlongs on turf:
With the Singspiel being his first start as a gelding, it would be easy to view his performance as a reformed character turning over a new leaf. But that interpretation could be a bit hasty.
After all, True Story began his 2014 campaign in a similarly dominating vein, trouncing fellow sophomores by seven lengths in the Feilden at Newmarket -- interestingly, also at nine furlongs. The Saeed bin Suroor trainee looked like The Next Big Thing. Accordingly sent off as the odds-on favorite next time in the Dante Stakes, he wound up a mildly inconvenienced third to The Grey Gatsby. True Story went on to finish seventh in the Derby at Epsom. The son of Manduro then tried his elders in the Eclipse (fifth sporting a first-time visor), Rose of Lancaster (third) and Winter Hill (fine second to Al Kazeem).
As that resume implies, True Story brought a high level of European form into this Dubai debut. He won as handsomely as he was entitled to, and that leaves open the question of his possible improvement as a gelding. We'll know more as he faces sterner tests of class.
Crest of a wave: Surfer has reveled in Meydan's switch to dirt. A bridesmaid in a trio of major events on the Tapeta in past Carnivals, the Satish Seemar charge is now two-for-two on the new track, capturing the December 18 Dubai Creek Mile and last Thursday's Maktoum Challenge Round 1.
Admittedly, Surfer has capitalized on perfect, ground-saving trips in the slipstream of the leaders before punching home. And in Round 1, he didn't appear to be traveling as sweetly as Frankyfourfingers, who accosted him in the stretch and threatened an upset. But Surfer responded generously to pull 2 1/4 lengths clear.
French import Frankyfourfingers deserves great credit for his effort while hung out wide throughout from post 13, especially considering that it was his first outing since being sold for $125,130 at Arqana's Arc Sale. He was making his debut for Salem bin Ghadayer, a newcomer to the training ranks.
Still, the way Surfer was cocking his ears implies that he won comfortably in the end -- as Charlsie Cantey used to say, "The ears never lie." The waters will get deeper from here, but it's tempting to think that Surfer is an improved customer on the dirt. That makes sense from a pedigree perspective too: the Distorted Humor gelding is a half-brother to Forego hero Emcee, a three-quarter brother to Spinaway winner Awesome Humor, and a full brother to the dam of Florida Derby victor Constitution and Tempted winner Jacaranda.
One to follow: Ajeeb was a rallying fourth in a turf sprint handicap, in a textbook comeback from a 16-month layoff for Mike de Kock. Campaigned from six furlongs to a metric mile in Australia, the well-bred gelding was returning over an inadequate five panels here. Jockey Christophe Soumillon gave him a patient ride, allowing the 132-pound co-highweight to stride comfortably at the rear before finishing strongly. Ajeeb actually had to alter course in the final strides as he was about to run up into the back of the tiring early leader, and he was beaten by a diminishing two lengths. The other co-highweight, Ahtoug, was a similarly useful sixth in his reappearance.
When trained by Mick Price in Australia, Ajeeb just missed to Puissance de Lune in the 2013 P.B. Lawrence and finished unplaced in the Australian Guineas (as the tepid 5-1 favorite) and Memsie. By the Danehill stallion Al Maher, he is out of a full sister to the dam of Hong Kong legend Silent Witness and Australian Group 2 heroine Sister Madly (whose yearling colt by Sepoy just topped the Magic Millions leaderboard at A$1.2 million). It promises to be onwards and upwards from here for Ajeeb.
Draw a line through it: Meandre, a 1 1/2-mile performer, deserves a mulligan for finishing eighth in the Singspiel. Not only was it about three furlongs too short for him, but the gray was also trying a visor while resuming from a nine-month holiday. Now seven years old, Meandre likely isn't the same force he was when winning four Group 1s in his heyday, but he's eligible to show more next time, when trainer Doug Watson will presumably step him up in distance.
It goes without saying that Outstrip's failed dirt experiment in the Maktoum Round 1 is a total toss-out. The Godolphin colt was driven along at the back after getting bumped at the start. For a few strides on the backstretch he signaled that he might be getting the hang of things, but that was a mirage. Coming under a ride again entering the far turn, Outstrip was just spinning his wheels and ended up 11th of 15. According to the stewards' report, jockey Adam Kirby said that Outstrip couldn't deal with the kickback. Look for him to turn the page on turf.
On tap: This Thursday's program will offer classic clues in the form of two Guineas trials, featuring the usual clash of Godolphin versus de Kock. Sprint veterans will be in action in the Dubawi, with 2013 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Reynaldothewizard and the top two from last year's Dubawi, United Color and Russian Soul, among the preliminary acceptors. The final declarations will be made Tuesday.
The horse I'm most curious about, though, could be seen on the undercard -- two-time South African Group 1 star Slumdogmillionaire appears in the entries for a turf handicap over a metric mile. Last seen landing the Horse Chestnut Stakes at Turffontein on March 30, 2013, he joined Watson ahead of the 2014 Carnival but didn't make it to the races. "Slumdog" will surely benefit from his first local run, but I'm looking forward to his getting started. If he can bring something resembling his South African form, he'd be a real factor at the Carnival.
True Story photo credit: Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club.