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Homeracing

Dubai Carnival beads: Thunder-ous night for Godolphin

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

February 15th, 2017

Godolphin’s Thunder Snow didn’t take long to answer the dirt question in last Saturday’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). As soon as the Saeed bin Suroor colt broke alertly, showed his typical early foot to track the pace, and traveled smartly, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

Here was the Criterium International (G1) romper, representing the best formlines that the European juveniles had to offer in 2016, against a group with some potential but short on accomplishments. If the dirt didn’t beat him, no one else would. The dirt wasn’t beating him; rather, he was attacking it with enthusiasm.

Flicking aside Charlie Appleby’s promising Capezzano rounding the far turn, Thunder Snow had one more rival to dispose of, the Triple Crown-nominated maiden Bee Jersey, who rushed up to challenge swinging for home. But Thunder Snow had not yet begun to run. Once Christophe Soumillon set him down, he stretched clear in a few strides.

Now the only question left was, how far? The margin was 5 3/4 lengths, and could have been more if Soumillon desired. Thunder Snow was on cruise control the rest of the way, accounting for his final time of 1:38.38 for the metric mile. No reason to set records when this was his first start of the year, with bigger targets forthcoming.

 

“Saeed told me that Thunder Snow had galloped on the dirt here a few times and seemed to enjoy it,” Soumillon told godolphin.com, “so it was better to be a bit more confident. 

“The way he was running on heavy ground in France, it looked like he could get out of it quite easily, so I was not really worried about the dirt. When I cantered down to the start, he was showing a lovely action on it.
 
“I knew he was better than every other horse in the race and, if you can have some good gate speed and get out of the kickback, you already have a great chance.”

In the postrace interview on camera, Soumillon praised Thunder Snow as a potential champion in Europe this season. That was toned down to “very nice horse” in the published quotes, but the Belgian ace obviously likes him. 

Thunder Snow is quite an advertisement for his young sire, triple Australian Group 1 winner Helmet. He also became the second UAE classic winner produced by his dam, Eastern Joy. Thunder Snow's half-sister, the ill-fated Ihtimal, turned the UAE 1000 Guineas/Oaks (G3) double (on the old Tapeta) in 2014.

Since the rest were outclassed on paper, and few put up any sort of effort, Thunder Snow didn’t have to perform up to his best to turn this into a procession. The competition figures to be stronger in the ensuing jewels of the UAE Triple Crown, the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday March 4, and especially the UAE Derby (G2), with its trove of 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, on World Cup night March 25.

While none of the locals is as highly rated as Thunder Snow, there were a couple of notable absentees from the Guineas. Bee Jersey was previously beaten five lengths by Mike de Kock’s exciting Fawree, who’s awaiting the Al Bastakiya. To be fair, Bee Jersey added a tongue tie for the Guineas, and it’s quite possible that he ran a lot better with the equipment change for Doug Watson. Also missing from the Guineas was the trial winner Fly at Dawn, who had to scratch Saturday after bashing his head and knocking out some teeth.

As far as the international shippers go, Great Britain could have a useful contender in Marco Botti’s Zumurudee, a Triple Crown nominee who’s reportedly eyeing the Al Bastakiya. But the bigger dangers are likely to emerge from Japan. We’ll know more after Sunday’s Hyacinth S. at Tokyo, featuring such UAE Derby nominees as Epicharis, Foggy Night, and Levante Lion.

Blue chip stock: Bin Suroor completed a double on the card courtesy of Prize Money, a fine young stayer in the making.

Overcoming the top weight of 132 pounds, and a wide trip from post 14, the Authorized gelding prevailed in an about 1 1/2-mile turf handicap. Slow-starting Rembrandt Van Rijn finished fast to grab second (in receipt of seven pounds from Prize Money), continuing his string of Carnival placings. Italian celebrity Dylan Mouth was relegated to third after what shaped as an ideal stalk-and-pounce trip.

 

Judging by how Prize Money grinds on, I think his future is over longer trips, where he could develop into a Cups horse. Bin Suroor is already thinking along similar lines.

“Prize Money has run a huge race under top weight,” the trainer said. 

“We might keep him at a mile and a half for the Dubai City of Gold (G2) on Super Saturday (March 4), or he could step up to a mile and six furlongs for the Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) on February 23.”

“He stayed on and I think that he will get further,” winning rider Adrie de Vries (fresh off a Thursday triple) told Godolphin.com. “He is a class horse because he has only turned four and was carrying 60kg, so he must be good to be able to do that. There is a lot of potential in him.” 

Comic relief: Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby also registered a Saturday double, beginning with Comicas in the dirt sprint handicap.

Contested over the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) trip, the race marked the Meydan debuts of Hong Kong hopefuls Fabulous One and Dundonnell. Fabulous One threw in a clunker, but Dundonnell ran a screamer in an unlucky second, raising his Golden Shaheen profile.

Ironically, the same can’t be said of the winner. Not only was the Golden Shaheen not on Comicas’ radar, but even this handicap wasn’t his first choice. 

“His work on the turf has been particularly good,” Appleby revealed, “so I was hoping to get into the turf handicap on Thursday night. But he got balloted out and we went to Plan B. Thankfully, it has paid off, but I still think he will prove better on turf.”

Comicas, third in his first dirt try here December 29, had also never raced over this short a distance. Hitherto campaigned at around seven furlongs, he wasn’t expected to beat Fabulous One for early dash. But that’s exactly what Comicas did, speeding to the lead as though channeling his sire Distorted Humor. He held sway the rest of the way, despite ducking out badly late.

Dundonnell was the victim of Comicas’ rightward lurch. Although it’s not certain he would have gone past, the Juddmonte-bred son of First Defence was keeping on stoutly. Just as he drew up to Comicas’ flank, the Godolphin runner shifted out. Soumillon was forced to take up on Dundonnell, who dove to the inside to recover. That’s no easy feat when you’re abruptly stopping and trying to restart momentum, particularly under the top weight of 132 pounds – 11 more than Comicas.

 

The stewards took a look at the incident, but according to their report, they “did not believe that any interference suffered would have warranted a reversal of placings.”

Hence Comicas kept the win. The stewards did reprimand winning rider William Buick, however, for careless riding.

“I was pleasantly surprised with how much early speed he produced,” Buick said, “and that now gives the team a plethora of options as he is a good turf horse, who stays further, as well.” 

View from Hong Kong: Dundonnell’s trainer, Caspar Fownes, wasn’t getting too far ahead of himself. His experience last Carnival with Gun Pit, who finished second in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) only to bomb in the Dubai World Cup (G1), is tempering his expectations.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Fownes told the South China Morning Post’s Michael Cox, “but Gun Pit ran a bottler first-up last year as well, but then next start when he got in the kickback he didn’t handle it at all, so we aren’t counting our chickens yet. The track is like that, you have to stay out of harm’s way, if you can be up outside the firing line and out of the kickback you are fine.”

Dundonnell will advance to the Super Saturday prep for the Golden Shaheen, the Mahab al Shimaal (G3). He needs to get through the dress rehearsal in good order before Fownes will make the call for World Cup night.

Fabulous One was none the worse for wear after folding to ninth, and trainer Chris So (a protégé of Fownes) will try to regroup back on turf.

“I want to take him to the straight 1200 on turf (the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint) on Super Saturday,” So told the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s David Morgan. “(Jockey) Oisin (Murphy) reported that he can’t handle the turn, he was off-balance. I think he handles the dirt surface but it was his first time left-handed and he didn’t handle it.

“He was fine after the race. We scoped him and it was clean, everything looks good. In the straight, I thought maybe there was a problem so that’s why we scoped, but he’s fine. 

“If he can show his best and run a good race on the fourth (of March), then we’ll be hoping he can get a run in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1).”

Bravo premiere: Appleby/Buick’s second winner, Bravo Zolo, was making his Godolphin debut after being purchased for 170,000 guineas at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale. Last seen landing the October 12 Prix du Ranelagh at Chantilly for Jeremy Noseda, Bravo Zolo picked up right where he left off in this metric mile handicap on turf.

 

“He travels very well and, in these tactical affairs, he is a joy to ride because he is such a versatile horse,” Buick raved. “You can go wherever you want whenever you want – he is going to travel well and see it out well.”

Bravo Zolo posted a solid time of 1:36.47, a second off the course mark of 1:35.53 established by Safety Check in the 2015 Zabeel Mile (G2). There were a few hard-luck stories behind him though. Dragon Mall, who was far back on the outside, had to zig-zag to the fence, and deserves special commendation for rattling home fifth in a blanket finish for the minors.

Continental conquest: Thunder Snow wasn’t the only show-stopper on the night. The rapidly improving Godolphin cast-off North America trounced the Firebreak (G3) by seven lengths, thereby giving trainer Satish Seemar an enviable World Cup dilemma.

By ripping the metric mile on dirt in 1:36.51, two seconds faster than Thunder Snow while easing down, North America stamped himself as the leading local player for the Godolphin Mile (G2). After all, he is now a perfect 4-0 on the dirt, all at this trip, so the logical – and conservative – plan would be to stick with what works. For a horse who started the current UAE season as a maiden through six starts on turf, making the $1 million Godolphin Mile is a pretty nice accomplishment. Getting there as a prime contender is nothing short of remarkable.

Still, look at the way North America brushes off the pace mob and keeps pounding remorselessly, reeling off a series of 12-second furlongs as though he could go around again. Being by Dubawi – already the sire of two World Cup winners – he’s likely to stay 1 1/4 miles. North America actually ran over that trip during his British days, but his lack of turf success doesn’t translate to this strip.

 

Why can’t North America employ this same galloping style in the World Cup? It’s obviously stiffer competition than the Firebreak, where he beat several exposed types like Ennobled Friend, Lindo Amor, and Heavy Metal; veteran stablemate Surfer, who ran as though in need of the race off a 13-month layoff; and defending champion Confrontation, who was a tailed-off last. But if you’ve got a hot local horse, in career form, it’s tempting to see how far that can take you – especially in a World Cup that isn’t coming up overly deep.

Seemar doesn’t seem willing to take the bait at this point, saying he won’t be “greedy” this term. We’ll see if he sticks to that line after Super Saturday.

Jockey Richard Mullen, a particularly thoughtful member of the local colony, sounded more ambitious.

On camera post-race, Mullen rightly said, “it’s an open World Cup at the moment.”

Venturing to the Al Quoz? British-based Final Venture was the only international to break through on the card, earning his second Carnival win in an about six-furlong turf handicap.

Victorious in a photo over Steady Pace in his January 12 debut at Meydan, the Paul Midgley-trained speedster was third to Godolphin’s Baccarat in the interim. When regaining the winning thread here in 1:09.62, Final Venture left old foe Steady Pace further astern in fourth, while giving him the same weight (three pounds). This upwardly mobile son of Equiano may get a shot at the Al Quoz on World Cup night.

 

This handicap shaped up as a stronger race than the corresponding one on Thursday, won by Krypton Factor. Thursday’s course-and-distance handicap was for horses with an official rating of 95-105, and carried a purse of $125,000. Saturday’s race was open to horses rated at least 100, and accordingly was worth more ($175,000). Naadirr, who ran in both, provides corroboration. He was beaten three lengths as the 132-pound co-highweight on Thursday. Two days later, he was beaten further, 3 3/4 lengths, while carrying 127 (receiving three pounds from Final Venture).

Yet it should be noted that the two highest-rated horses in Saturday’s turf sprint ran well below form. The Happy Prince faded to last, but apparently exited in good shape and wheels back for Thursday’s Meydan Sprint (G3). Godolphin’s Log Out Island appeared more interested in sightseeing, his head cocked to get a good look at the Meydan grandstand, and he wilted to sixth. Considering this was his first start since July, Log Out Island is eligible to be more focused second time out for Appleby.

Thunder Snow photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

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