Dubai Carnival beads: Polar vortex

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

February 15th, 2016

If you haven’t seen unbeaten Polar River’s annihilation of last Thursday’s UAE 1000 Guineas, words won’t do it justice – you owe it to yourself to watch this thing of beauty. And if you have seen it, chances are you’ll want to enjoy the 3-year-old filly’s take-no-prisoners conquest all over again.


Ripping a penultimate furlong in :11.69, and a final one in :12.045 (according to Trakus), Polar River finished the metric mile in 1:37.09 – virtually a full second faster than the colt Market Rally (1:38.08) in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) later on the card.

Thanks to that dazzling kick, Polar River ran up the scoreboard to a gaudy 13-length margin. That’s almost three times the margin of her victory in the January 14 trial over the same runner-up, Godolphin’s Promising Run (a Newmarket Group 2 winner with European classic entries). The combination of the extra furlong, and the experience she gained from an educational trip in the trial, helped Polar River extend her dominance. Funnily enough, the stewards’ report for her Guineas trip reads more like one for a loss: “Shifted in on jumping bumping another runner. Brushed passing the 1400 metres. Raced wide without cover throughout.”

And we’re not done yet. Polar River was in hand for regular rider Pat Dobbs, who described her afterward as still a bit lazy and green (!). If she can win her first three career starts by a combined margin of 31 1/4 lengths when she doesn’t have a firm grasp of the game….

Polar River has just about engraved her name on the March 3 UAE Oaks (G3) trophy already. None of her contempraries on this circuit can live with her, and the step up to about 1 3/16 miles doesn’t look like a serious obstacle. Next on her marching orders is the March 26 UAE Derby (G2), where her substantive challenges should come from abroad.

The real fun comes with Polar River’s expected repatriation to the United States. Trainer Doug Watson is a Kiaran McLaughlin protégé who rightly says that Polar River deserves to pursue a U.S. dirt campaign.

Dare we hope for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) against the world’s leading 3-year-old dirt filly, Songbird? Speaking to’s Geoffrey Riddle before the Guineas, Watson expressed some wariness about going head to head with Songbird at Churchill Downs. That’s understandable, considering her American debut would be a trial by fire off an entire Dubai campaign. How about starting Polar River off in, say, the Acorn (G1), which would give her a little more time, and the chance to get in a one-turn mile before stretching out again? Could the Mother Goose (G1) serve up the Songbird showdown we crave?

Interestingly, both Songbird and Polar River are bred along similar lines to exceptional distaffers of recent years. Songbird’s pedigree has a resounding echo of Rachel Alexandra. Polar River is bred on the A.P. Indy/Empire Maker cross, the mirror image of Royal Delta’s Empire Maker over A.P. Indy.

Bear market: Since the trial for the UAE 2000 Guineas was so lackluster, I’d pinned my hopes on an intriguing new shooter to rescue the Guineas itself from mediocrity. Alas, that didn’t pan out at all. Godolphin’s Hawkbill went AWOL, stablemate Comicas missed a golden opportunity when opting to run on turf instead, and well-bred French shipper Qurbaan was miserable after a poor start.

As it turned out, the trial one-two, Steady Pace and Rouleau, did in fact disappoint in fourth and sixth (each making respiratory noises, per the stewards’ report). But trial fourth Market Rally improved beyond all recognition to overturn the form comprehensively.

A debut maiden romper at Monmouth for Wayne Catalano, Market Rally was acquired by the Maktoum family and turned over to Dhruba Selvaratnam. Jockey Chris Hayes credits Selvaratnam for making the equipment change that led to the rebound – the removal of the hood he wore in his Dubai debut. Market Rally responded with a pillar-to-post success in a strung-out field. British all-weather performers Lazzam and Hombre Rojo took the minor awards, for whatever it’s worth.

Market Rally carved out a marginally faster pace than the one Polar River stalked in her race, but not demanding enough to rationalize away his pedestrian final furlong in :12.781. And unlike Polar River, he was under urging, suggesting that he was all out at the end of the metric mile in 1:38.08. As a nicely bred son of Unbridled’s Song who’s now 2-for-3 lifetime, Market Rally has scope to keep progressing from here. But can he possibly bridge the gap with Polar River by the end of March? In the meantime, he’ll face better in the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday, March 5 – the game plan for Godolphin’s talented but green Blue Creek.


No joke: The aforementioned Comicas would have been in the Guineas if he hadn’t missed his prep, according to trainer Charlie Appleby. So the son of Distorted Humor and the Touch Gold mare Abby’s Angel (herself a Grade 3-placed stakes winner on dirt) stuck to the turf for his sophomore debut in the Meydan Classic Trial.

Under a masterful ride by William Buick, Comicas used his tactical speed to slot in from gate 9 and took up an ideal tracking spot on the fence. He got the gift seam in the stretch and burst through on cue.

Between his pedigree and his UAE Derby (G2) entry, you’d have thought that dirt was in Comicas’ future. Buick cast doubt on that prognostication, however, commenting that Comicas is set for the turf in Europe. According to Appleby, the March 3 Meydan Classic is next, and “a mile is going to be his trip.” The Godolphin brain trust has plenty of time to reconsider.

As sharp as Comicas was, the eyecatcher was runner-up and fellow Godolphin colorbearer Pure Diamond. A staying-on third to Polar River in the 1000 Guineas Trial, the Saeed bin Suroor trainee showed a completely different gear back on turf. Pure Diamond was anchored near the rear, and had to keep maneuvering in traffic in upper stretch, before motoring her final furlong in :11.75. Gaining ground hand over fist late, she came within three-quarters of a length of Comicas, who wasn’t stopping. Pure Diamond has a lovely pedigree: by Street Cry and out of German co-highweight and dual classic-placed White Rose, a Platini mare from the productive “W” family of Wild Coco. She obviously wants much further than this, so her acceleration at about seven furlongs is most encouraging.

Fun fact for the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail: in their juvenile maiden wins, both Comicas and Pure Diamond had easily beaten Kasseopia, who just finished a commendable third in the El Camino Real Derby (G3).


Rich and poor: The complexion of the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) was marred right at the start when odds-on Marking took a pratfall and left James Doyle in the dirt. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s dirtballer Rich Tapestry put on a front-running clinic to win well in a snappy 1:10.88 – just a tick off the track record set by Secret Circle in last year’s Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1).

Rich Tapestry is a serious Golden Shaheen threat himself, having finished second on the old Tapeta in 2014 and third a year ago. And as if more evidence of his dirt class were required, remember that he caught Goldencents in the 2014 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1). I’d feel a little better if trainer Michael Chang would already announce that he’s skipping Super Saturday and just heading straight to World Cup night. For a horse with a history of bleeding, and running well fresh, Rich Tapestry may prefer a two-race rather than a three-race plan.

Of the rest, runner-up Muarrab avoided the troubles he had in his disappointing Dubawi and accordingly did himself justice, turning the tables on Reynaldothewizard. The 10-year-old “Reynaldo” didn’t get the pace meltdown he needs, but finished a creditable third as the defending champion.


Mercury takes wing: Liquid Mercury looked one to follow after a promising Dubai debut, and the Mike de Kock pupil didn’t take long to score. Stepping up about a half-mile in trip, the South African-bred rolled to a lucrative handicap success.

The gray son of Trippi must get his stamina from broodmare sire Skip Away. De Kock mentioned that he has a couple of Group race options now, either the Dubai City of Gold (G2) at a similar about 12-furlong distance on Super Saturday, or the March 3 Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) at about 1 3/4 miles.

Aside from enhancing his own status going forward, Liquid Mercury was also underscoring how smart his Australian-bred stablemate Ertijaal is. Last year, when trained by Joey Ramsden, he was third to Ertijaal in the Cape Derby (G1).


Remember Golden Soul? The 2013 Kentucky Derby runner-up is beginning a new phase of his career with de Kock. His debut for the new yard resulted in a one-paced third in a handicap at about 1 1/8 grassy miles – a reasonable enough effort for a plodder coming off a six-month layoff. The Charles Fipke homebred is now under consideration for the Nad al Sheba Trophy.

De Kock had two reasons to be satisfied with this result. The bin Suroor-trained winner, Musaddas, was exiting a third to de Kock’s Forries Waltz. Carnival form boosts are always welcome.


On tap: Speaking of Ertijaal, de Kock has him cross-entered to Thursday’s Dubai Millenium (G3) on turf and to a dirt handicap. Also in the Dubai Millennium is Godolphin’s all-weather specialist Tryster.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club.