Dubai Carnival beads: Chrome polished, but Marking offers more food for thought

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March 1st, 2016

California Chrome made short work of his overmatched handicap opponents last Thursday, but his polished performance isn’t a game-changer from a Dubai World Cup (G1) perspective.

“Chromies” can take encouragement from the fact that he’s coming up to the $10 million race in ideal shape, offering hope of going one better than last year. At the same time, if you’re not quite sold on California Chrome as the World Cup winner, his perfunctory dismissal of the Carnival’s lesser dirt runners doesn’t persuade.

Of course, Chrome deserves credit for packing 132 pounds and breezing home in second gear. But truth be told, he was entitled to flaunt his class just as he did, barring a crazy miscue. So we’re left at status quo ante.

My race recap has the details on how it all unfolded, consideration of his final time, and a reiteration of the challenge he faces in the World Cup.


In contrast, Marking’s workmanlike success is open to varying interpretations, depending upon whether you think he really belongs in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) or the Godolphin Mile (G2).  

Thursday’s handicap over the about six-furlong trip of the Golden Shaheen was very much a case of Plan B. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee totally blew his intended prep in the February 11 Al Shindagha Sprint (G3), where he stumbled so badly out of the gate that he ditched jockey James Doyle.

Marking has a history of gate problems, so his unceremonious introduction to Meydan is part of a pattern. Assistant trainer Neal McLaughlin said that he subsequently had more gate schooling. While it’s fair to say that Marking broke better this time, he still left awkwardly, jumped to his right, and bumped a rival.

Of even greater concern, the Godolphin blueblood was again sweaty beforehand, and didn’t travel with any degree of enthusiasm. Indeed, jockey William Buick had to drive him along to keep his stalking position for most of the way. After finally switching onto his correct lead and angling out in the stretch, Marking surged past Kifaah and crossed the wire firmly in command by two lengths.

The fact that he could win despite looking uncomfortable, as the 132-pound co-highweight, certainly speaks to his raw ability. Yet he beat a handicapper who was only sixth in the Al Shindagha. On this evidence, even if Marking broke fine in the Al Shindagha, he wouldn’t have laid a glove on Hong Kong’s Rich Tapestry.

The hot topic of debate is: can Marking’s effort be chalked up to inexperience, as a 4-year-old making just his fifth lifetime start (his fourth if you include only races where he kept his jockey)? Or is it rather because he’s not a pure sprinter and being forced into an ill-fitting role?

The McLaughlin camp appears open on the matter.

"Dropping down to six furlongs is a bit of a question mark, but he is so talented that we feel he could run successfully over any trip between six furlongs and a mile and a quarter,” Kiaran had said previously on

Immediately after the race, Neal mentioned the Godolphin Mile as a possibility.

The Godolphin brain trust, however, is sticking to the Golden Shaheen line and talking about inexperience.

"The first thing William said afterwards was that Marking was a big baby, but a very talented one,” John Ferguson said on the Godolphin website.

The money quote is that there’s no real interest in going the Godolphin Mile route, since Confrontation is earmarked for that.

"We are happy with our team over a mile,” Ferguson added, “and I think Marking has shown, with his run against Runhappy, that he is a top-class sprinter. He will improve a lot for today and will be a lot sharper next time."

But Marking’s second to Runhappy came in the seven-furlong Malibu (G1), and his most emphatic win came in an allowance around Aqueduct’s one-turn mile. Nor does his pedigree consign him to sprints: he’s by Bernardini out of multiple Grade 1-winning router Seventh Street, by Street Cry. Sure, Seventh Street is a half-sister to past Golden Shaheen winner (and current contender) Reynaldothewizard, but Marking’s immediate influences aren’t sprint-oriented like those of “Uncle Reynaldo.”

Nevertheless, there could be a method to the Golden Shaheen madness: how the track is playing on World Cup night. If it’s a tiring surface in the heat, sapping the speed merchants, maybe you’d need a horse who stays further.


Speaking of the Godolphin Mile, One Man Band took care of his prep in dominating fashion. The Doug Watson charge flashed high early speed under top weight of 132 pounds, bolted up by five lengths, and was just .01 off the track record for about seven furlongs. Moreover, according to Trakus, One Man Band’s about six-furlong split (1:10.70) was faster than Marking’s final time (1:10.86). He’s now won four of his last five, his only recent reverse a second in the Firebreak (G3) to the aforementioned Confrontation.


Watson made it a double with Basateen, a new recruit who blew away a fairly consistent Godolphin yardstick in Think Ahead. Basateen was a well-regarded juvenile for trainer Richard Hannon, creating a big impression in his maiden win and finishing third as the favorite in the 2014 Acomb (G3). Ruled out of the Royal Lodge (G2) by injury, he was unplaced in a trio of handicaps last season, but is back on track now.

Jockey Dane O’Neill mentioned that Basateen was taking time to come to himself, and his 4 1/2-length conquest of this handicap wasn’t exactly expected. Granted, he was receiving six pounds from the runner-up, but he just pummeled them in relentless style.


Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby also celebrated a double, beginning with defending champion Safety Check in the day’s nominal feature, the Zabeel Mile (G2). The Meydan specialist extended his record to a perfect 5-for-5 over this turf course, despite carrying an extra three pounds and having to catch Ghaamer and Zahee off a moderate pace. Indeed, no other closer made headway in a race controlled by the early leaders.

Harry’s Son, who was in a good spot early, was a flat-footed fourth. The former South African champion didn’t get as close to Safety Check as when the pair ran one-two in the January 21 Al Fahidi Fort (G2). Perhaps this was a manifestation of “second-up syndrome,” but I wonder if he might have preferred a stronger tempo. The Zabeel Mile pace was a second slower than the Al Fahidi Fort at the half and six-furlong marks. Prior to Thursday’s race, assistant trainer Roy Waugh said that he much preferred the Zabeel Mile rather than Saturday’s Jebel Hatta (G1) as a lead-in to the March 26 Dubai Turf (G1). But come Monday, Harry’s Son was given an early entry to the Jebel Hatta. Just taking a look? Or has his somewhat quiet Zabeel effort caused a change in plan?

Johann Strauss was a hampered eighth in his first start back since his third in the 2015 Jebel Hatta. The Mike de Kock horses often improve second time off the bench, and he’ll wheel back this week.

But we won’t be seeing Safety Check again this Meydan season. With no natural spot for him on World Cup night, Safety Check is bound for the May 1 Champions Mile (G1) at Sha Tin.


Like Watson, Appleby scored his second win of the night with a horse making his debut for the yard – Baccarat. Defying a 16-month layoff, he outfinished the 132-pound highweight Naadirr (whose resolve is not unimpeachable) in a nifty turf sprint.

Baccarat’s claim to fame is winning the 2014 Wokingham at Royal Ascot for previous trainer Richard Fahey. After missing all of 2015, he can make more hay on the English sprint scene. Baccarat will head back there now, since there’s nothing left at the Carnival for a six-furlong turf horse.


On tap: World Cup night clues will come in spades later this week. See the overview of the Thursday and Super Saturday cards here.

California Chrome photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins.