Dubai Carnival beads: Championship, Really Special perform up to their names

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

January 23rd, 2017

Do names correspond to an abstract reality? Or are they just handy labels?

Last Thursday’s Dubai Carnival action won’t solve the age-old philosophical argument between realists and nominalists, but it did showcase two horses who ran up to their lofty names.

Championship, in the form of his life right now for Ahmad bin Harmash, bolted up by 3 1/2 lengths in the featured Al Fahidi Fort (G2). Mugged by South African Light the Lights in the Singspiel at about nine furlongs last time, Championship wasn’t about to get caught on the cutback to about seven furlongs here.

The Exceed and Excel gelding took command early, and under an astute ride by Colm O’Donoghue, put the race away with a devastating fifth furlong in :11.14. That put his pursuers, Godolphin’s Flash Fire and South African comebacker Noah from Goa, in an awfully tough spot. They needed Championship to weaken to have any chance of catching him. Instead, he continued with great gusto and crossed the wire in 1:22.82 – just .05 off the course mark set by two-time Al Fahidi Fort champion Safety Check in the 2016 edition.


“Championship had a tough race two weeks ago,” O’Donoghue recounted, “but they have freshened him up and he was in great form tonight.

“I was always happy out in front and he was striding along nicely so I asked him to quicken just after halfway and he found plenty. He just kept responding throughout the straight and that was a good performance in a quality race.”

Flash Fire, who was himself wheeling back two weeks after a course-and-distance handicap win, used that recency edge to beat Noah from Goa for the runner-up spot. The South African star, who had been off for a year, promises to strip much fitter next time.

“He ran through needing it,” trainer Mike de Kock said on his website. “He will improve by the distance he was beaten.”

In fact, I was surprised to see Noah from Goa pop up already at the Carnival. De Kock had initially said we wouldn’t see him until later, thanks to a splint injury he picked up at Newmarket. It’s a very positive sign that de Kock felt he was ready to get started. Hopefully we’ll see “Noah” bring his top-class ability onto the world stage.

Sadly, the international hopes of Turkish celebrity Graystorm didn’t go as well. Dropping back abruptly turning for home, he sustained a spiral fracture in his left front, according to the Emirates Racing Authority stewards’ report. The Turkish Jockey Club revealed that Graystorm underwent surgery, and plans call for him to convalesce in Dubai until the end of March.

A Really Special filly: Although Godolphin’s Really Special wore the so-called second colors in the U.A.E. 1000 Guineas Trial, she was a more compelling prospect than ostensible first-stringer Calare. Bettors accordingly hammered Really Special into favoritism, and she rewarded her backers with a 3 1/4-length triumph in her dirt debut.

Now unbeaten from three starts, on three different surfaces, the Saeed bin Suroor trainee has handled contrasting circumstances with ease. She overcame an almost comical degree of trouble to rally and win going away on debut over Chelmsford’s Polytrack. Really Special had a more straightforward experience when dominating the Montrose Fillies’ Stakes in front-running fashion at Newmarket.

At Meydan, the daughter of Shamardal didn’t appear to be in love with the dirt early. Really Special didn’t break fast, but moved up to stalk on the inside, where she raced a bit keen. Entering the far turn, it wasn’t clear whether she’d march forward or backward, but by the time they cornered into the stretch, Really Special showed that she was determined to get the job done. Deftly splitting pacesetter Rajar and Doug Watson’s Complimenti, she strode away with authority. Calare weakened to fifth.


Really Special thus boosted her claims on the U.A.E. fillies’ classics, but it’s worth noting an uninspiring final time of 1:25.89 for about seven furlongs. (To be fair, though, the dirt may have been playing slower that night.) More telling is jockey Christophe Soumillon’s commentary:

She is a nice filly but still learning as she was very green going to post and then at the stalls. I wanted to keep her out of any kickback which I was able to do and then, when I asked her, she changed legs and quickened nicely.

She handles the dirt but will certainly be as good back on turf and will stay further.

Really Special’s action didn’t scream natural dirtballer, and it’s quite likely that her true home is on turf. After all, she comes from a thoroughly turf-oriented family. Her dam, the stakes-winning Monsun mare Rumh, is a three-quarter sister to 2007 Beverly D. (G1) winner Royal Highness. Bin Suroor, who also trained Rumh, was already discussing the European classics for Really Special. Indeed, she’s engaged in the July 15 Irish Oaks (G1). It could be a measure of her talent that she was able to win on dirt without being particularly fond of it.

Medicean Renaissance: One week after 11-year-old Reynaldothewizard turned a three-peat in the Dubawi S., 11-year-old Medicean Man looked half his age when rolling in a turf sprint handicap. After half-leaping at the break, the Jeremy Gask campaigner unleashed his trademark kick to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths in a brisk :57.50 for about five furlongs.

Eight-year-old Sir Maximilian and Harry Hurricane, a relative spring chicken at five, are worth following after their dead-heat for second. Sir Maximilian, under the co-top weight of 131 pounds, maneuvered through traffic late to force the tie. The 2015 Meydan Sprint (G3) upsetter is rounding into form. Harry Hurricane, a notable sprint handicapper last season, made a pleasing Dubai debut. This was his first start since finishing 13th in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day.


Medicean Man, competing in his fifth straight Carnival, is now a four-time winner at Meydan.

“He is a grand old horse who loves it here in Dubai,” said apprentice rider David Parkes, whose weight allowance reduced Medicean Man’s burden from 132 to 127 pounds. “He is an absolute pleasure to ride as he just travels so strongly and has a great turn of foot as he showed there.

“In fact, he quickened so well we actually hit the front sooner than planned but he kept on going.

“He is 11 now but retains his speed and enthusiasm so it would be nice to think he could win another while he is here.”

Hunter bags his quarry: Hunting Ground, a slow-starting second behind track record-setter Mizbah  on opening night of the Carnival, got off to a much better start and led throughout in an about 1 1/4-mile handicap on dirt.

“He ran very well last time but somewhat missed the break,” jockey Mickael Barzalona said. “Therefore I was conscious we needed a good break and he was very quickly away. He enjoyed himself out in front and, knowing he stays further, I was happy to commit for home early and he has galloped on well.”

The Salem bin Ghadayer trainee was shortening stride late, but the only closer to burst from the pack was Korean Horse of the Year Triple Nine. Rapidly reducing the deficit, he came up just a half-length shy of earning his homeland’s first U.A.E. victory. Triple Nine deserves extra credit as the 132-pound co-highweight who was spotting Hunting Ground five pounds.


Korea’s Main man: Two races later, that historic breakthrough for South Korean racing came courtesy of Main Stay, who capitalized on his light weight of 121 pounds and a crafty ride by Pat Cosgrave. Mixing it up early in the about six-furlong dirt handicap, the Korean-bred son of Tale of the Cat stayed on strongly as a 2 3/4-length winner.

“To be honest I really thought he was a 1400-meter horse and might find this a bit sharp,” Cosgrave said. “However, he was soon into his stride and able to get to the front so, knowing he was going to stay the trip well, I was keen to be positive.

“He has dirt form in Korea and an American pedigree (his dam was imported in foal) so we had to be hopeful the surface would suit and it is obviously great to get a winner after hitting the post earlier on (aboard Triple Nine).”


Trainer Young-Kwan Kim has sent out four Carnival runners so far. Seoul Bullet, a troubled fourth behind Main Stay, is the only one not in the top three. Power Blade was third to North America last week, presaging the fine efforts by Triple Nine and Main Stay. Going further back to the 2016 Carnival, Korean flagbearer Success Story held his head high with a pair of thirds, including to California Chrome in his prep.

Seungho Ryu, senior manager of international racing for the Korea Racing Authority, explained the importance of this milestone to his country’s industry. Ryu was very realistic about the current status of Korean racing in the global pecking order, but this Carnival win is a sign of progress. The ultimate aim is to have major Korean contenders for Super Saturday and World Cup night.

In a tragic postscript, two horses suffered fatal injuries in the sprint, according to the stewards’ report. Runner-up Mashaaref was euthanized after being diagnosed with a condylar fracture in his right hind. Scandinavia’s Giftorm, who was never traveling in the rear, was pulled up with a left front injury that he too did not survive.

Long time between drinks: Godolphin’s Artigiano stole the nightcap, an about 10-furlong turf handicap, beneath an enterprising William Buick. Drawn in post 12, Buick neatly angled him over to take up the pacesetting job, and the Charlie Appleby veteran kept on to repel younger stablemate Folkswood. De Kock’s Tannaaf was never involved in 12th, but the horseman said he “needed it badly,” and should improve for it.


Artigiano was one of the unfortunates caught up in the Mahmood al Zarooni steroid scandal, which forced him to miss his entire sophomore season in 2013. The son of Distorted Humor had been a fine juvenile, placing in the Vintage (G2) and Royal Lodge (G2) prior to a sixth behind George Vancouver in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Santa Anita.

But Artigiano has had a tougher time since resuming his career for Appleby in 2014. He was scoring only his second career win on Thursday – and his first since his maiden all the way back in May 2012. To put that in perspective, the last time Artigiano won, American Pharoah was still a baby at his dam’s side.

Championship photo courtesy of Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club