Dubai Carnival beads: World Cup night landscape after Super Saturday, III
Postponed photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins.
Thankfully, the Meydan turf course was a comparative haven on Super Saturday, with the right horses winning nearly everything (with one glaring exception).
DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC
Postponed was easily the class of the field in the Dubai City of Gold (G2), but considering his six-month holiday, and the fact that this was merely a tightener for the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), I was forecasting a more workmanlike victory. In fact, he disposed of this group with apparent effortlessness in a stakes-record 2:27.90. By far the fastest City of Gold ever (even including the editions at Nad al Sheba, just for fun), that time isn’t too far off the course mark set by Gentildonna (2:27.25) in the 2014 Sheema.
I’m tempted to say that Postponed ran almost too well in his comeback, and his first start since switching to Varian. On the other hand, regular rider Andrea Atzeni engineered an ideal passage, treating him tenderly throughout and holding on to him as long as possible before letting him stride clear. Atzeni described it as being “like a piece of work,” and the son of Dubawi had a pipe-opener with a final 400 meters (about a quarter-mile) in :23.375. Postponed just needs to maintain this form for the next three weeks. Varian thinks he’s liable to improve, and if so, he’ll be formidable. Yet you’ve got to wonder if, despite the breeziness of his display on Super Saturday, he might have peaked a race too soon.
Runner-up Dariyan continues to rack up his high-profile placings. The Aga Khan homebred will break through in a major sooner or later, but I’m not sure if the Sheema is the place. Dismissed by a resounding three lengths here, he’d need to move forward, have Postponed regress substantially, and turn back a few highly accomplished new shooters. Dariyan seems poised for another minor award on World Cup night. The other 4-year-old in the field, Balios, was only fourth in his return. Trainer David Simcock will need to conjure more from him, but he does have scope to build on this. Godolphin’s handicapper, Haafaguinea, overachieved in third, likely his high water mark.
Internationals expected to join the Sheema Classic fray include Japanese champion Duramente, who’s already being discussed as a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) threat; his compatriot Last Impact; the Aidan O'Brien-trained Highland Reel (I'd originally had him in the uncertain category so this line is an edit); and French representatives Queen’s Jewel, Gailo Chop, and Cirrus des Aigles. The Grey Gatsby was quoted in the antepost market, but trainer Kevin Ryan reported that he's skipping Dubai (another Tuesday edit).
Godolphin’s Tryster again surged past the entire field in Super Saturday’s Jebel Hatta (G1), motoring his final 400 meters in :22.166. Jockey William Buick paid him a handsome compliment, averring that he’d never ridden a horse with such an electric turn of foot.
But before rushing to endorse him for the Dubai Turf (G1), there are some cautionary notes. Finishing second was the lowest-rated horse in the race, the 8-year-old Farrier, who was trying turf for the first time after being exposed on dirt. Not exactly form to bank on. Australian-bred Ertijaal didn’t find as much on the front end as I hoped, just salvaging third from Harry’s Son, who hasn’t progressed this Carnival.
Tryster will face a lot tougher in the Dubai Turf – defending champion Solow, now riding a 10-race winning streak; Japan’s Real Steel, who’s been placing to Duramente; the much improved filly Very Special, who just turned the Cape Verdi (G2)/Balanchine (G2) double when beating Euro Charline last Thursday; and de Kock’s Forries Waltz, who also outkicked stablemate Ertijaal in the Al Rashidiya (G2). The US fields a contender in Flamboyant, while Cougar Mountain has been nominated, but not confirmed, by O’Brien.
Tryster’s biggest nemesis could be fellow Godolphin colorbearer Very Special, mainly because her forward running style is likely to tee it up perfectly for Solow. In the Balanchine, the half-sister to Chriselliam set a faster pace than the boys did in the Jebel Hatta, blew it open on the far turn, and galloped relentlessly to the line. Imagining how the Dubai Turf might unfold, you can envision Solow covering her move, while Tryster is still up the course.
Very Special’s final time in the Balanchine (1:48.85) is just off Tryster’s 1:48.71 in the Jebel Hatta, but he cantered early, and she did it harder up front. In another feather to her cap, only two other Balanchine winners have clocked 1:48 and change at Meydan, and both went on to run big in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night. Sajjhaa won in 2013, and River Jetez was a close second in 2011.
AL QUOZ SPRINT
Super Saturday’s course-and-distance prep, the Meydan Sprint (G3), produced the only wild turf result of the card when the unheralded Fityaan denied Jungle Cat and Sole Power in a three-way photo. You’d have been hard pressed to find the 41-1 Fityaan, who hadn’t won since October 2014, and had placed just once from six starts so far at the Carnival. But he was trained by Muhairi, the master of the moment, and it would beggar belief to see him following up in the Al Quoz.
Godolphin’s Jungle Cat answered the question of whether he could be as effective at about five furlongs, vindicating Appleby’s belief by being in the vanguard throughout. Sole Power ran a screamer in his 9-year-old debut. So much for my thinking he needed one off the bench. Not only did he come awfully close, but he also fared best of those drawn toward the inside. Off this evidence, Eddie Lynam’s grand old campaigner will put up a ferocious title defense in the Al Quoz.
Sir Maximilian was a slow-starting fourth as the defending Meydan Sprint champion, and he continues to shape as an intriguing dark horse in the Al Quoz. The biggest disappointment was Goldream, who has historically fired fresh until now, but could show more on the big night. Trainer Robert Cowell took to Twitter to express his thoughts: “Naturally a little deflated if I’m honest…” As the reigning King’s Stand (G1) and Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) winner, Goldream warrants respect, not a premature toss.
The balance of Al Quoz Sprint power, however, wasn’t in action on Super Saturday. Aside from locally based Ertijaal (the Irish-bred one), Hong Kong’s ready to unload with last year’s runner-up Peniaphobia and Not Listenin’tome, Australia dispatches the lovable Buffering, Muthmir is coming from England, and of course, the top two from the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), Mongolian Saturday and Lady Shipman, are also on the way.
DUBAI GOLD CUP
Simcock has regarded Sheikhzayedroad as a stayer in embryo. Now at full maturity at the age of seven, the son of Dubawi is living up to that view by routing last Thursday’s Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3).
True, the steady early pace put a premium on finishing speed, privileging the winner of the 2014 Northern Dancer Turf (G1) and York S. (G2) who was last seen finishing third in the Canadian International (G1). Sheikhzayedroad must also step up from this about 1 3/4-mile trip to two metric miles for the Dubai Gold Cup (G2). But there’s unlikely to be a stiff pace there either. Although only ninth in the 2014 Dubai Gold Cup, he was a respectable sixth in his other try at the trip in last summer’s Goodwood Cup (G2), when held up off the pace in a tactical affair. At this stage of his career, on a flat, left-handed course, two miles should be within his compass.
Certerach, the 2014 Dubai Gold Cup winner, turned in his best effort for a long time when second here. The addition of blinkers, and a crafty front-running ride by new pilot Tadgh O’Shea, helped a lot. De Kock’s elder statesman Star Empire was a gallant third after a wide trip, and younger stablemate Tellina was a better-than-appears, somewhat unlucky sixth. Varian’s promising stayer Battersea closed for a dead-heat fourth, and may take another step forward on World Cup night.
The most exciting Dubai Gold Cup hopeful is the Aga Khan’s Vazirabad, who I hope really does ship in from France. Japan’s Neo Black Dia is definite. Godolphin’s Famous Kid, scratched from the Nad al Sheba Trophy, is another who could end up in the mix.
Stay tuned for more World Cup thoughts over the next couple of weeks, including a look at the historical trends about Super Saturday’s usefulness as a barometer.