Dubai Carnival beads: Polar River looks the real deal

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

January 18th, 2016

Last Thursday’s Dubai Carnival card unleashed a potential superstar in the shape of Polar River, who ran circles around them, iced them, froze out the competition – pick your favorite phrase to describe her exceptional performance in the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial.

Polar River wasn’t exactly a secret going into the about 7-furlong conditions race. Trainer Doug Watson unveiled the Kentucky-bred daughter of Congrats in a December 3 maiden at Meydan, where the 2-year-old filly trounced a field of older males by 13 1/2 lengths. Her rivals were admittedly weak, but the clock didn’t lie: she blitzed about six furlongs in 1:10.87, just a tick off the track record of 1:10.64 set by Secret Circle in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1).

Yet this trial represented a significant class hike. In her 3-year-old bow, Polar River was facing a couple of solid Godolphin fillies in Promising Run and Pure Diamond, as well as Mike de Kock’s South African Group 1-placed Almashooqa. And she treated them like rag dolls while bolting up by 4 3/4 lengths, again measuring up on the clock by finishing in 1:24.26 (nearly 1.3 seconds faster than the boys in the following trial).

Moreover, Polar River received an education second time out, and still came through with flying colors. In her debut, she showed high speed on the rail and simply ran away from them. In the 1000 Guineas Trial, she was forced to ease back into a pocket when Promising Run came in over her early (jockey James Doyle copped a 2-day suspension for careless riding as a result). Polar River was subjected to the kickback, bumped turning for home, and kept on hold waiting for room. Once she got the split, she overwhelmed Promising Run – a Newmarket Group 2 winner! – in short order.

Promising Run was conceding Polar River 5 pounds, but even at levels, she’d be hard pressed to contain her explosive rival. Nor can the surface be blamed. By Hard Spun, Promising Run acted beautifully on the dirt throughout, flashing good early foot, and lengthening stride to spurt clear cornering into the stretch. Indeed, Promising Run would have beaten the boys in their trial too, so she ran her race or pretty close to it. Stablemate Pure Diamond did well to get up for third after a slow start, and as a Street Cry filly out of White Rose, a German Oaks (G1) runner-up by Platini, Pure Diamond’s looking for much longer trips. Both of her wins have come over a mile on Kempton’s Polytrack, including a six-length drubbing of the colt Kasseopia, who subsequently romped himself and was snapped up by Team Valor and Gary Barber. Second in the Grey (G3) at Woodbine in his North American premiere, Kasseopia is now tuning up for Graham Motion at Palm Meadows. Almashooqa ran well below form in sixth. Jockey Paul Hanagan reported that she was upset in the gate, and de Kock said she was unhappy on the dirt.

Polar River appears to have the February 11 UAE 1000 Guineas (G3) at her mercy. And unless the about 1 3/16 miles of the UAE Oaks (G3) finds her out, she’s entitled to turn the classic double on March 3. Watson believes that trip is well within her compass – and with Empire Maker as her broodmare sire, I’m inclined to agree. Then the March 26 UAE Derby (G2) would become a viable plan. But the most tantalizing prospect would be a May 6 Kentucky Oaks (G1) showdown with Songbird.

Jockey Pat Dobbs’ comment on Polar River should send chills down the spine of friend and foe alike:

“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of her by a long way yet.”

And Dobbs quipped that he’s not even as excited about Polar River as her trainer is! Watson’s said he’s never had as talented a 3-year-old.


A Steady winner of the other trial: Although Godolphin ran one-two in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, it’s tempting to see this as their “B” Team. Steady Pace capitalized on an inside stalking trip to prevail over Rouleau, who covered more ground and spotted him two pounds. The margin would have been bigger than a nose if Steady Pace hadn’t lost focus in deep stretch (according to jockey Doyle, he shied from the camera).

I’m not going too far out on a limb to suggest that we didn’t see the UAE 2000 Guineas winner here. Aside from the uninspiring time, the top two are both pretty exposed. Steady Pace is a genuine sort who’s placed behind John Gosden’s brilliant Shalaa three times, most recently in the Middle Park (G1). But as a son of Dark Angel from a One Cool Cat mare, he’s unlikely to improve over added ground. Rouleau may be fine at a mile, but his overall form isn’t as good as Steady Pace’s (who finished ahead of him in the Middle Park).

Godolphin has arguably smarter prospects waiting in the wings. Trainer Charlie Appleby has Hawkbill penciled in for the Guineas – he’s the three-time Polytrack winner who shipped to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), only to scratch – and the exciting Blue Creek for the March 5 Al Bastakiya and UAE Derby.


Reynaldo’s still got the magic: Prior to Reynaldothewizard’s 10-year-old debut in the Dubawi S., jockey Richard Mullen said that “he still thinks he’s a 2-year-old” (as reported by Geoffrey Riddle in Old “Reynaldo” certainly ran as well as ever in his title defense, and on this evidence, the 2013 Dubai Golden Shaheen hero will have something to say on World Cup night.

Getting the hot pace he craves, Reynaldo rolled late to an emphatic decision in the about six-furlong dash. Just watching him blast home in 1:10.97, you’d never guess that he’d been off for 11 months, since taking the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) last February. And remarkably, he wasn’t the only senior citizen to win Thursday: his 11-year-old stablemate Tiz Now Tiz Then captured the opening handicap. Their trainer, Satish Seemar, has quite a touch with the geriatric set.

Cool, hot, and bothered: Dubawi runner-up Cool Cowboy improved in his second start back for Watson. Last Carnival, as a new recruit to the Dubai scene, he had to play catch-up after getting sick. That puts his sixth in the 2015 Golden Shaheen into perspective. With a more straightforward preparation, he promises to do better this time around. Scandinavian champion Let’sgoforit ran an incredible race to finish third in his Dubai debut. Rampaging and marauding like a Viking in the parade ring (watch this if you think I’m exaggerating), he had to pass two vet checks to be allowed to start. The game plan wasn’t to go to the front, but Let’sgoforit was too pumped up, and blazed an unsustainable pace before being overtaken late. The disappointment was fifth-placer Muarrab, but he was roughed up from the start. You can see his hindquarters getting shoved out from under him in an ongoing buffeting, and he sustained a laceration on his right hind. While the furious gallop may have taken him out of his game anyway (as suggested by James Willoughby), the early scrimmaging was a complicating factor.


More broodmare value for Aspen: Seemar and Mullen made it a treble with the lovely mare More Aspen, who picked up best of all to beat males in the Singspiel on turf. Although her only prior career win came in a Wolverhampton nursery, she brought good current form into her first try on the Meydan turf. She was coming off a second to Forjatt in Abu Dhabi’s National Day Cup, beating next-out Carnival winner Ghaamer. By More Than Ready and with Fall Aspen as her third dam, More Aspen just enhanced her catalog page by capturing her first stakes. And Group black-type is in the offing in the Carnival’s races for turf distaffers.

Big Baz was a commendable second at perhaps the upper end of his distance range, and spotting More Aspen five pounds. The winner of his past two listed events in England, he has Lingfield’s All-Weather Championships on Good Friday (March 25) as his major objective. De Kock’s Mujaarib had a less than ideal trip, but finished strongly when finally seeing daylight and just missed catching Big Baz for second. Winless since the 2014 Al Rashidiya (G2), Mujaarib might be on the verge of snapping that streak.


Waltz in time: The promising Forries Waltz shrugged off a nearly year-long layoff to land a turf handicap over a metric mile, and de Kock’s looking forward to further progress. By Grey’s Inn and from the immediate family of current de Kock celebrity Noah from Goa, Forries Waltz was a perfect three-for-three as a juvenile in South Africa. He made one start at the 2015 Carnival, winding up 11th after being hampered in the Meydan Classic. So Thursday marked just his second appearance since June 2014.


“Udo” get into the Carnival: Last Saturday’s card wasn’t part of the Carnival, but the progressive Udododontu ran himself onto the big stage with a slashing victory. Purchased by Godolphin after his near-miss to Aidan O’Brien’s War Envoy in the Britannia at Royal Ascot, Udododontu hadn’t been seen since. But the Lope de Vega gelding looked a class apart, and one to watch.


On tap: Thursday’s feature is the Al Fahidi Fort (G2), and among the early entries are defending champion Safety Check, South African champ Harry’s Son, Ghaamer, and a veritable De Kock squadron including Mastermind. Elsewhere on the card, classy stayer Certerach and speedster Stepper Point look to get their Carnival started in turf handicaps.

Polar River photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins.