Dubai Carnival beads: Frosted’s the icing on Godolphin cake
Strictly speaking, Frosted was the substantive cake on Godolphin’s four-win night at Meydan Thursday. But you could trot out the old icing-on-the-cake reference, aside from the pun on his name, to underscore just how flashy he was in his prep for the Dubai World Cup (G1).
As detailed in my recap of Frosted’s track record-setting romp in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), the Kiaran McLaughlin shipper was much the best on paper, and ran right up to his billing. We didn’t learn a great deal here, other than the reassurance that the Tapit colt can translate his high-class American form to a distant clime. And he doesn’t absolutely require Joel Rosario in the saddle either; Godolphin rider William Buick was just fine, Frosted said.
The most encouraging aspect for his World Cup bid is how he finished: Frosted surged into a different set of gears at the top of the stretch and extended his margin to five lengths. The farther they went, the stronger he looked, while Buick had him in hand. This was reminiscent of the Frosted we saw in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2).
His pummeled foes had no compelling excuses; they were simply outclassed. My first reaction to Special Fighter’s poor sixth was to blame his tough trip posted out wide, and it’s true that he might have been closer to a placing with a more favorable passage through the race. But an important part of that involved the pace, which was faster at every stage than in his track record over this same trip January 21. And it promises to be faster in the World Cup. Special Fighter could still be one of those sneaky Carnival horses who can crash the bottom rungs of the World Cup exotics, but he’ll need to show more in Maktoum Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday.
Mooting Mubtaahij: After finishing only fifth in his comeback in the Firebreak (G3), Mubtaahij left his fans with a letdown and his detractors with an occasion for schadenfreude.
Trainer Mike de Kock leaped to his pupil’s defense on his website:
All I can say is, please relax! Mubtaahij is being prepared for the Dubai World Cup, a race I believe he can win. What happens between now and 26 March is irrelevant!
I said before the Firebreak Stakes this week that Mubtaahij was around 80-85% fit and that this would be a stepping stone to bigger things. We are very happy with the way he ran. Even if he was 100% wound up tonight, he wouldn’t have beaten the winner (the McLaughlin-trained Confrontation), who is a well-performed Graded miler from the US. This was a field of quality runners, mostly sprinter-milers. The fourth horse (Le Bernardin) won a Gr2 mile here two weeks ago.
While Mubtaahij surely needed this one to bring him on, I found a couple of slightly concerning things: he came under pressure to maintain his position earlier than expected, and he shortened stride noticeably late. Both could be natural indicators of rustiness, but as I pointed out in Thursday’s recap, a couple of other de Kock runners didn’t run up to their best. I was curious whether something might come to light over the ensuing days. No news is apparently good news, however, so Mubtaahij will get the chance to move forward next time in Maktoum Round 3.
A Watershed moment? While Firebreak winner Confrontation enjoyed the ideal trip – parked on the inside tracking a contested pace before swinging out to run them down – stablemate Watershed started slowly and covered extra ground (almost 23 feet, according to Trakus). Yet Watershed finished fast to miss second in a photo, nearly giving McLaughlin the exacta. The lightly raced son of Bernardini will notch a graded/group stakes if he can take his lessons to heart (and mind).
Confrontation certainly deserved this breakthrough, having placed second to Tonalist and Liam’s Map when last seen over the summer for Barclay Tagg. But will he have more scope for improvement second time out for Godolphin? I’m not sure if a repeat of this effort would land the Godolphin Mile (G2).
Fourth-placer Le Bernardin had shaped as this year’s version of Tamarkuz, who swept the 2015 Carnival’s Godolphin Mile preps en route to victory on World Cup night. Although Le Bernardin failed, remember that he wasn’t originally supposed to be in the Firebreak at all. The plan was to skip this one and wait for Super Saturday. Perhaps we should imagine that he stayed in Ali Rashid al Raihe’s yard Thursday and not hold this against him.
A Very Special heist: Godolphin’s other two wins on the card came on turf, and for Saeed bin Suroor. Very Special kicked off the royal blue’s domination of the Thoroughbred stakes with pure larceny in the Cape Verdi (G2). Or in track announcer Terry Spargo’s phrase, “they handed her the race on a silver platter.”
At the same time, Very Special shouldn’t be cavalierly dismissed. A half-sister to the brilliant Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) winner Chriselliam, Very Special was making only her sixth career start here. The Lope de Vega filly brought some useful form from British Polytrack stakes last fall, when second to older distaffer Lamar and to older male Big Baz.
Moreover, Very Special wasn’t exactly a tractable partner for James Doyle early. Craning her head, ducking out a little on the backstretch, and adapting to her unfamiliar role on the front end, she quickened up well to hold sway by three lengths. Excilly flashed home from well back for a commendable second, with More Aspen a one-paced third in her cutback to a metric mile. German shipper Si Luna wasn’t going to prosper in a sit-and-sprint at this trip, so her fourth is decent in the circumstances. She and More Aspen are eligible to do better over the added furlong of the March 3 Balanchine (G2), the next spot for the turf distaffers.
Whether she’s up to a higher grade in Europe or not, Very Special could be the type to prosper in the U.S. filly and mare turf division. Might the Godolphin brain trust think along the same lines?
As a footnote, trainer Hugo Palmer wasted no time in tweeting that he has Very Special’s 3-year-old brother, Mengli Khan:
“Very impressed by Mengli Khan's full sister, Very Special's win at Meydan tonight. Very excited about the season ahead for him.”
Mengli Khan has entries in both the Derby (G1) at Epsom and the Irish Derby (G1). He was a too-bad-to-be-true last in the Racing Post Trophy (G1), which he exited with an iffy scope.
Rounding out the Godolphin four-timer was Think Ahead in the nightcap. A 5-year-old with just nine starts under his belt, he stalked and pounced, holding off the honest Elleval and exposed Zamaam. De Kock’s Sanshaawes tried to wire them under top weight of 132 pounds, and boxed on valiantly for fourth. The flop of the race was Tannaaf, whose non-effort was “baffling” to de Kock.
Ertijaal a force to reckon with in Al Quoz: Sheikh Hamdan’s Irish-bred turf sprinter Ertijaal doubled up in another dash down the straight, reiterating his intent to be a major player in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night. Unlike his front-running tour de force on January 7, the Oasis Dream gelding showed that he has another tactical card to play by stalking here. The result was the same, as he hammered them.
But what about the internationals due for the Al Quoz? Ertijaal’s jockey, Paul Hanagan, is unconcerned: “taking on better horses in better races should help him as they will go quicker in the early stages.”
Note that jockey Christophe Soumillon was hauled before the stewards for his ride aboard fourth-placer Naadirr. Tacking clear across from the far side to the stands’ side when preparing to deliver his rally, Soumillon hand rode him as he finished fast.
Assistant trainer Lucie Botti (trainer Marco’s wife) backed Soumillon up before the stewards, explaining that Naadirr is a 6-furlong type on whom “the whip is used sparingly.” Off since October, Naadirr was entitled to use this as a tune-up for a lucrative Carnival handicap. If he shortens up again to five for the Al Quoz, he’s likely to find it too hot. Spot his big white face from post 5:
“Batter” up: As if we didn’t have enough World Cup night clues on Thursday, add a possible Dubai Gold Cup (G2) candidate in Battersea. The Galileo half-brother to Grade/Group 1 hero Gitano Hernando had not raced in nearly four months, and trainer Roger Varian thought he’d need this about 1 3/4-mile tighener. Despite being overeager cantering down to the start, and pulling Andrea Atzeni in the early stages, Battersea summoned a nifty turn of foot from well off the slow pace to get up in time.
To be sure, Battersea was helped by his feathery 117-pound impost. And there were other notebook-worthy efforts in this race, like Star Empire’s wide-trip fifth as the 132-pound highweight. He’ll meet the winner on far better terms in a rematch.
Still, Battersea has a progressive profile. An unlucky second in the Mallard at Doncaster’s St Leger Festival, the 5-year-old is slated for a black-type debut in the March 3 Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3). If he passes that test, another step up in class and trip for the 2-mile Dubai Gold Cup beckons.
On tap: Unbeaten Polar River struts the stage in the UAE 1000 Guineas Thursday, while Godolphin’s Comicas could be a fascinating new shooter if he opts for the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) rather than the Meydan Classic Trial. Topping the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) is 10-year-old defending champion Reynaldothewizard, whose rivals include Hong Kong’s Rich Tapestry, McLaughlin’s Marking (Reynaldo's "nephew" out of his half-sister Seventh Street), Scandinavia’s Letsgoforit and talented local Muarrab.
Frosted photo courtesy Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club.