Dubai Carnival beads: Ageless Wizard defies time, de Kock’s back on Derby trail
“Reynaldo” did it again in his 11-year-old (!) debut last Thursday, when turning a three-peat in Meydan’s featured Dubawi S., a stepping stone to the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). He’d actually won this race in 2013 too, under its former guise as a conditions event, before its elevation to a listed stakes.
The two-time defending champion didn’t have it handed to him either. On the contrary, Reynaldo had to run right up to his best to overtake Muarrab – who’s only the reigning Golden Shaheen winner. Although Muarrab was pressed early by Desert Force, he appeared to be traveling well within himself, and flicked his rival off turning into the stretch. Once Muarrab opened up in full flight, you would have thought the race was over.
But here came Reynaldo with an irresistible late surge to deny Muarrab by a half-length. The final time for the about six-furlong dash (1:10.66) was just off Muarrab’s track record of 1:10.20 set in the Mahab al Shimaal (G3) on Super Saturday 2016.
The strung-out field was a further testimony to just how well the top two ran. Former Jerry Hollendorfer trainee Wild Dude checked in another 4 1/4 lengths astern in third. Desert Force paid the price for going with Muarrab early by backpedaling to a distant fourth, beaten a total of about 10 lengths.
Wild Dude, a multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire on the Southern California sprint scene, is eligible to improve for this outing. After his victory in last May’s Kona Gold (G2), he was sold as a prospect for the lucrative Korea Sprint and transferred to Irish-based Michael Halford. Wild Dude found the deep surface at Seoul too much for him and plodded home ninth. Unraced since that September 11 venture, he ran evenly in this reappearance, and only his second start for Halford.
Desert Force was much more disappointing, but his two prior romps had come at about seven furlongs, and the heat at this shorter trip was simply too much. He’d looked too progressive to throw him overboard now, so look for him to regroup going further for trainer Doug Watson.
Meanwhile, Reynaldo keeps adding to his legendary career, and advertising the masterful horsemanship of Satish Seemar. He would be no more than a feel-good story if he were dropping into softer spots to pad his win column – the gentle accommodation for a horse in the twilight of his career, easing his way into a well-earned retirement. But that’s not the case at all here. Seemar has kept him going at a high level for Carnival after Carnival, years on end, and the 2013 Golden Shaheen winner will remain a force for the 2017 edition.
“We will probably wait for Super Saturday now,” Seemar said, alluding to the Mahab al Shimaal as the final prep on March 4. “He is just a great horse to have in the yard. I feel that this could have been his best race. I know he’s a Group 1 winner, but he showed today that he still really wants to win.
“It does not happen very often, but I am speechless,” winning rider Richard Mullen said. "What can you say? I love this horse; he was my first Group 1 winner and he just keeps producing the goods.
“They went quick but I was able to stay within striking distance and, once we hit the straight, I always knew he would find plenty. He’s the horse of a lifetime.
“Satish and the whole team deserve so much credit; to keep a horse of his age in this shape and form is far from easy and he is a real star for everyone involved.”
Sorceror’s apprentice? Reynaldo’s younger stablemate, North America, stayed perfect since joining Seemar, and switching to dirt, with a front-running success over a metric mile. Part of a triple on the night for Seemar and Mullen (along with Town’s History in a non-Carnival race for lower-rated locals), North America was extending his streak to three in a row.
The Godolphin cast-off has climbed the ladder rapidly this Meydan season. After breaking his maiden at this track and trip by eight lengths on November 17, North America trounced them in his first dirt handicap attempt December 29, and proved ready to stare down a higher grade of opponent on Thursday. The veteran Heavy Metal forced him to find extra, but North America raised his game in response and pulled 1 1/4 lengths clear.
“This horse just keeps progressing,” Mullen said. “He is rising through the ranks in style at the moment but this was the first time he has really had to battle and, fair play to him, he has really responded well.
“I guess he will have a little break now but, hopefully, he can go on from here.”
By stopping the clock in 1:35.65, North America raced within shouting distance of One Man Band’s mark of 1:35.21 established in last year’s Godolphin Mile (G2). Stiffer class tests await, but the five-year-old has every reason to maintain his momentum. And it’s no surprise that he has taken to the dirt: North America is a son of Dubawi and the Yankee Victor mare Northern Mischief, the third-placer in the 2004 Hollywood Starlet (G1), who is herself a half-sister to champion older mare Gourmet Girl.
As a footnote, millionaire Wildcat Red can be forgiven for blowing up to 11th in his debut for Watson. The 2014 Fountain of Youth (G2) winner and Florida Derby (G1) near-misser was in a tough comeback spot. Tackling a mile off a nearly year-long absence, he was entitled to get tired after chasing the pace under 131 pounds. Whether he’ll ever get back to his sophomore level, however, is another question.
Faw-real? Mike de Kock is back on the UAE Derby (G2) trail, this time with American blueblood Fawree, a son of Candy Ride and 1998 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Keeper Hill. Debuting with a slow-starting, hard-charging second to Godolphin’s Capezzano, Fawree took a leap forward second time out in a resounding maiden score.
The improvement wasn’t just a matter of benefiting from racing experience, or the added ground of the metric mile. In fact, it was the result of painstaking efforts on the part of de Kock, jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe, and the Meydan starting crew to overcome the colt’s antipathy toward the gate.
“Fawree is nuts, especially at the pens,” de Kock told his website. “He goes in with the hood on, but once they pull it off he goes mad, so they have to jump immediately. He was loaded last and he jumped quite well (Thursday), again, so our thanks go to starter Shane Ryan and his team of assistants who have put a lot of effort into Fawree. One can have a good horse like this but if he doesn’t start, it all comes to nothing.
“Bernard has been working with Fawree for weeks, riding him in work and persisting at the pens where he has been a real handful. He’s a jock with balls.”
Fawree repaid the investment by breaking alertly and taking command. Although the Watson-trained Bee Jersey matched strides with him on the rail, Fawree exuded control of the situation throughout, and drew off by five imperious lengths.
Fawree has a completely different profile from de Kock’s past UAE Derby stars, who were either Southern Hemisphere natives or Irish-bred like Mubtaahij. Not only is he a Kentucky-bred, but the handsome bay also received his early education in the U.S. as a two-year-old in training sale graduate. He represents a pinhooking success for Jaime Mejia’s Thoroughbred Champions Training Center, which purchased him for a bargain $17,000 as a Keeneland September yearling and sold him for $240,000 at OBS April.
Trouble with a capital T: De Kock might have had a double on the card, if his new Argentinean recruit Tahanee hadn’t had a brutal passage in a turf mile handicap won by clear-sailing Fanciful Angel. Unbeaten at home on the grass, Tahanee shouldered the co-top weight of 132 pounds versus a cast of grizzled males here. The multiple Group 3-winning daughter of Stormy Atlantic traveled as well as anyone, and just needed the seam that never came. Worse still, she was knocked around like an equine pinball, so much so that she was in danger of going down, or at the very least of unseating Christophe Soumillon.
“It was frustrating to watch,” de Kock said of the seventh-place finish. “Tahanee was very well, in the right place and ready to strike when she was cleaned up. We fully expect her to win shortly, but this shouldn’t have happened.”
Tahanee was prepping for a return to Group company in her own division. Judging by de Kock’s confidence, she’ll be a threat in the January 26 Cape Verdi (G2) and February 16 Balanchine (G2).
Godolphin on the double: Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor is striking form already, his yard coming within an eyelash of a treble on Thursday. Both of his winners, Red Galileo and Elhaame, fired off lengthy layoffs in longer-distance turf handicaps.
Red Galileo, formerly trained by Ed Dunlop, resurfaced from a 15-month absence and fought his way home in an about 1 3/4-mile marathon. Too fresh after his holiday, and on account of the early crawl, Red Galileo was on the muscle behind the pace. Soumillon didn’t try to argue the point, instead giving him his head, and he took over on the backstretch. That clever ride was the key. Now the controlling speed in a paceless race, under a relatively light weight, and brandishing his own fine courage, Red Galileo refused to yield. He first fended off Rembrandt Van Rijn before holding on grimly from Carbon Dating.
“He was very keen early on when the pace was not quick enough for him,” Soumillon said. “It was pretty windy out there which seemed to set him alight so I was happy to let him stride on.
“He was having a good look around but changed legs when I needed him to and ran on very well. I think he is a galloper rather than a speed horse and he stayed on really well.
“He clearly has a good attitude though and would probably stay further.”
Bin Suroor was thinking along the same lines for Red Galileo, who’d finished fifth to Australia in the 2014 Derby (G1) at Epsom. According to godolphin.com, he’ll stretch out to two miles for a February 2 handicap, and aim for the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) on World Cup night.
Elhaame, out of action for the past year, parlayed a perfect ground-saving trip to victory in an about 1 1/4-mile handicap. With jockey Adrie De Vries sticking to the rail, he got the jump on Good Trip, as well as outkicked de Kock’s veteran Sanshaawes and Watson’s Basateen (who may have preferred a stronger pace set-up). Perennial campaigner Elleval did well to thread his way from last for fifth.
Ironically, Elhaame’s last win had come in a photo over Red Galileo at Doncaster in September 2015. Now they’re stablemates.
All that stood in the way of a Godolphin triple was Final Venture’s whisker that barely edged bin Suroor’s Steady Pace in the turf sprint handicap. Showing his usual speed, Final Venture was headed by Steady Pace, but came again to prevail in an awfully tight photo. The addition of a hood must have done the trick for the progressive type, who’d endured a couple of tough beats for Alan Swinbank last summer. Sold for $334,125 at Tattersalls in October and transferred to Paul Midgley, Final Venture was making his second start for new connections here.
Finishing unplaced were two of Europe’s grand old warriors, Sole Power (seventh) and Gordon Lord Byron (ninth). They couldn’t continue the senior-power theme set by Reynaldo.
Reynaldothewizard photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins