Dubai Carnival beads: Unleashing the Safety
After Godolphin’s Safety Check stormed the Al Fahidi Fort (G2) for the second straight year, once again in course-record time, trainer Charlie Appleby summed it up best:
“He just loves it in Dubai.”
Safety Check whizzes around as if he were created specifically with about seven furlongs on the Meydan turf in mind. In other words, he’s tailor made for the Al Fahidi Fort (or it’s tailor made for him). And he even gets away with a little longer in the Zabeel Mile (G2), which he won in 2015 and has in his sights next on February 25.
But Safety Check’s distance requirements leave him without a natural home on Dubai World Cup night. Hence Appleby is mulling a possible switch to dirt.
"There is not too much for him on turf at the Carnival after that (the Zabeel) and I don't know whether we might drop him back in trip, try further or have a spin on the dirt,” Appleby told godolphin.com.
"He trains well on dirt at home and you can see the same turn of foot as he has on turf. We will get the Zabeel Mile out of the way first and then see where we are."
Being by Dubawi, Safety Check may be able to handle dirt, despite the fact that his maternal half is turf dominant. Perhaps the likeliest gamble on World Cup night would be the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). Given the frenetic pace in the dirt sprint, he would get the kind of set-up he needs. Still, there must be a scruple about what tactics he’ll adopt: if he drops farther back early, he could find it difficult to get involved on a Meydan main track that tends to privilege tactical speed.
His realistic turf options on World Cup night would either be the mad dash of the Al Quoz Sprint (G1), where he wouldn’t get a turn against five-furlong straight course beasts, or the Dubai Turf (formerly Duty Free) (G1) at about nine furlongs. The latter must stretch him a bit too far, especially against such ferocious invaders as defending champion Solow and possibly Japan’s Horse of the Year Maurice.
“I have always been confident that he is a force to be reckoned with on a turning track and good ground,” Appleby observed.
Maybe the Godolphin brain trust should circle the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita – about 6 1/2 down the hill strikes me as just right.
Wild about Harry: The placegetters in the Al Fahidi Fort also emerged with great credit. Runner-up Harry’s Son stayed on strongly in his first start since making the arduous trek from South Africa, while Mastermind was positively heroic to save third after chasing Ghaamer’s unsustainable pace. Taking the baton from the spent leader in the stretch, Mastermind was entitled to collapse as badly as Ghaamer did. Yet despite an 11-month absence, the Mike de Kock pupil held on gamely for third.
The Paul Lafferty-trained Harry’s Son was himself out of action for nearly 10 months, since his subpar fifth in the S A Classic. The lone unplaced effort of his career, it can be genuinely chalked up to rain-softened ground.
Aside from possible ring-rustiness here, Harry’s Son also needs further than the Al Fahidi Fort’s trip. Even at two, he required a metric mile to earn his first stakes victory, a divisional championship clincher in the 2014 Premiers Champion (G1). At three, he added the Gauteng Guineas (G2) and took second in the Cape Guineas (G1). Both on pedigree (as a son of Haradasun), and by the way he kept on stolidly Thursday – simply beaten for speed – the Australian-bred is eligible to prosper over the Dubai Turf distance. Unlike his S A Classic debacle, he’ll get his prerequisite good turf.
Wondering about his class for international competition? Note that assistant trainer Roy Waugh put Harry's Son in the same category as 1986 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Skywalker, whom he handled as an assistant to Michael Whittingham.
Fighter jets to track record: Every Carnival, there’s a progressive type who runs himself into the Dubai World Cup (G1) picture, and this year’s model is Special Fighter. Trained by Musabah al Muhairi, the son of Teofilo put up a career best when running away with the December 17 Entisar over the World Cup distance. A sharp cutback to a mile for the January 7 Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) was never going to suit him, so he wasn’t disgraced when a closing sixth. Back up to something nearer his wheelhouse in an about 1 3/16-mile handicap, Special Fighter crushed them by five lengths in track-record time. He’ll need to prove himself in a higher grade, but just look at how well he moves over this track. Special Fighter really gets his nose down, reaches out, and takes off on this surface, and that’s half the battle.
Conversely, Godolphin hotpot Let’s Go didn’t appear comfortable, winding up fifth of six in his first dirt attempt. To be fair, the Street Cry gelding was rank early, and he’d have been better served to stride on, and use his natural speed, rather than being wrangled back. Still, his action wasn’t the same as on the British all-weather. Maybe with a second chance, and more forward tactics, he’ll cope better. But the flop of Let’s Go raises an inevitable question about familiar rival Tryster, Godolphin’s all-weather star who will also switch to dirt this Carnival. Will Tryster – a deep closer with a sometimes quizzical head carriage – adapt?
Maktoum Round I form upheld again: Special Fighter wasn’t the only alumnus flattering Round 1. Top Clearance, eighth in that opening night feature in his Dubai debut, came right back to win a handicap over the same metric mile. Wearing down Godolphin’s American Hope in the final strides, Top Clearance edged a length clear for trainer Dhruba Selvaratnam.
American Hope just failed in his dirt debut off a seven-month layoff, his first outing for Saeed bin Suroor. Last seen finishing a creditable sixth in a Royal Ascot heritage handicap (the Royal Hunt Cup), he was sold for a session-topping 210,000 guineas ($339,372) at Tattersalls in July. American Hope was recalcitrant before loading in the gate here, so he could do better with this introduction out of the way.
Early harbinger of Pharoah form? Top Clearance had finished fifth to American Pharoah in the Haskell Invitational (G1), his finale for trainer Wayne Catalano. The retired Triple Crown champion might well loom large come World Cup night as well, with Frosted, Keen Ice, and maybe Effinex all representing his formline in the $10 million prize. [Edit: And thinking only of the U.S. horses, I didn't even mention locally based Mubtaahij, who's entitled to perform a lot better back at Meydan than he did in the American classics.]
“Saay” again: Selvaratnam also won the night’s turf sprint courtesy of Roicead, an inscrutable result that smacks of opportunism for the 9-year-old veteran. Roicead caught a race with even rustier comebackers and disappointments. Credit to him for capitalizing in a crisp :56.94, but he’s unlikely to get such a perfect storm again.
The horse to take out of the race is his runner-up stablemate, Saayerr. Off a beat slow in his first start in a year, the Acclamation gelding plugged on and caught trailblazing Caspian Prince (who hurt his own cause by drifting across the course) by a neck for second.
In contrast to Roicead, the 5-year-old Saayerr has both back class and upside. Successful in the Richmond (G2) at two, he had decent form from only two English outings at three, and he missed virtually all of 2015. And he’s not only trading on the distant past. Selvaratnam revealed that Saayerr “galloped all over Roicead” in their work in company prior to the race, so it was just ring-rustiness in race conditions that found him out here. Saayerr ought to take the rematch, and maybe more.
Stepper Point was the class of the field as the 132-pound highweight, but didn’t pick up in fifth. Although he too could improve for this comeback, he’s yet to look himself since health problems last summer, and I fear he may be at a crossroads. Banaadeer’s first-time blinkers did nothing for him, and it’s telling that de Kock is mulling the dirt now. Sad to say, the blueblood just isn’t progressing.
Pace tells the tale: The other two turf handicaps yielded exactas for de Kock and bin Suroor, respectively. Each winner lugged 132 pounds, while aided by a comfy pace up front. De Kock’s Carnival stalwart Sanshaawes couldn’t have diagrammed a better trip, drafting behind the pokey pacesetter on the rail before punching home to beat Whistle Stop at about 10 furlongs.
In the circumstances, the third and fourth – Elleval and Elhaame – did very well to rally furiously from the rear. Since Sanshaawes and Elleval were coming off placings to Star Empire, they gave that de Kock veteran an early Carnival form boost.
Haafaguinea successfully handled the step up in trip to about 1 1/2 miles in the nightcap, defeating fellow bin Suroor comebacker Al Saham. With the tepid early tempo, the forwardly placed runners prevailed in a frantic, blanket finish with a few hard-luck stories. It’s no surprise that a marathoner like Certerach wound up 12th – he simply wouldn’t have the finishing speed for this race shape.
Tannaaf may be another to watch from this race. The de Kock recruit didn’t get away alertly from post 14, endured the widest trip of anyone according to Trakus, and still made a bold move before flattening out in sixth. A beautifully bred colt by High Chaparral, Tannaaf overcame a similar trip to force a dead-heat in the Qatar Derby last out, his debut for the yard off a seven-month layoff.
On tap: Thursday’s feature, the Al Rashidiya (G2), could mark the Dubai debut of 2015 Cape Derby (G1) hero Ertijaal (not to be confused with the turf sprinter, Irish-bred Ertijaal). Saturday’s non-Carnival card has a real bright spot in Godolphin’s Blue Creek, a U.S. Triple Crown nominee who’s using a metric mile handicap as a stepping stone to the Al Bastakiya and UAE Derby (G2).
Safety Check photo courtesy of Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club.