Dubai: Cladocera ascending, Hunter's Light rekindled
But the parallel shouldn't be pushed too far for Cladocera. Sun Classique brought substantial laurels to Dubai as a South African champion. Although Sajjhaa wasn't as compelling a figure as Sun Classique, she did have some smart bits of form dotting her prior resume, and the addition of headgear made all the difference during her Dubai sweep.
In contrast, Cladocera turned up at the Carnival as a lightly raced sort on the upswing, and she has made good with her dynamic turn of foot. Although the daughter of Oasis Dream was dispatching mostly the same rivals, the Balanchine did pose a slightly different test: Cladocera was spotting them three pounds this time as the 129-pound highweight, and stepping up in distance from a metric mile to about nine furlongs. She nonetheless swooped late in similar fashion, under another confident ride by Christophe Soumillon.
Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre has made no secret of his high regard for Cladocera, so Group 1 challenges surely beckon. If she goes the Sajjhaa route toward the Dubai Turf (the rebranded Duty Free), however, Cladocera would be on a collision course with Mike de Kock's world-class Vercingetorix. Not only would he be a formidable foe as the defending Jebel Hatta champion and Duty Free runner-up, but he would also keep his regular partner Soumillon in the saddle.
Bagging a course record: Godolphin's Hunter's Light could also be on the Dubai Turf trail after his course record-setting score in the Dubai Millennium S. The established class of the field, the Saeed bin Suroor charge rebuffed de Kock's upstart Umgiyo in 2:00.67 for about 1 1/4 miles on the turf.
Umgiyo lost no luster in defeat. The South African import was trying this trip for the first time after blowing away handicap foes at about 1 1/8 miles. Hunter's Light had better early position in midpack, and accordingly got first run on Umgiyo, who was following in the winner's slipstream throughout. Giving valiant chase down the stretch, Umgiyo could not bridge the 1 3/4-length gap, but finished more than four lengths clear of third. The Australian-bred son of Danehill Dancer, who was making just his 10th lifetime start, has plenty more to offer.
Hunter's Light, at the other end of the career spectrum as a seven-year-old, was coming off a handicap score at this course and distance in his reappearance. He's clearly recapturing the spark that was missing in his abbreviated 2014 season. Because he wasn't at his best when eighth in last year's Duty Free, it might be worth another crack at the about nine-furlong prize on World Cup night. Still, that's short of his optimal trip, for his marquee wins have come in the vicinity of 1 1/4 miles. Connections might be tempted to try the World Cup itself again (Hunter's Light was seventh behind Animal Kingdom on the old Tapeta in 2013.) Although this would mark his dirt debut, Hunter's Light is a grandson of 2000 Dubai World Cup legend Dubai Millennium, namesake of Thursday's stakes.
Reversal of fortune: The about five-furlong turf handicap, which figures to produce contenders for the Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-G1) on World Cup night, witnessed a few turnabouts. Caspian Prince, third to Hototo in a similar dash on opening night, and last when trying dirt in the Dubawi last time, blasted right to the front and held on. Despite hanging markedly across the course, the six-year-old veteran sped in :56.77, not far off the record of :56.21 set by Amber Sky in last year's Al Quoz.
Yet his derring-do comes with a couple of asterisks. Hototo was conceding Caspian Prince five pounds in their rematch, and went down fighting by a scant length.
Third-placer Banaadeer warrants special mention. Tiring badly in his Dubai debut January 29, the de Kock pupil improved substantially here to miss second by a neck. The Australian-bred is just a three-year-old by Southern Hemisphere reckoning, and he did well to mix it up with such grizzled sprinters at his tender age. Banaadeer, a well-bred More Than Ready colt from a terrific family, is entitled to keep progressing.
Finally, Lancelot du Lac would have finished a lot closer than 10th with a better break. When breaking alertly in that same January 29 race as Banaadeer, he was in the hunt throughout, forged ahead, and was just denied by Ahtoug, runner-up in the Al Quoz in 2014. By failing to get into gear with the same dispatch, Lancelot du Lac took himself out of his own game.
Line of the day: "Elementary, Doug Watson" - Dubai guru Pat Cummings (@Dubairacenight) cleverly summed up the trainer's success back on the Meydan dirt. Watson sent out two handicap winners Thursday, and both set track records. Layl, more focused in his nifty new visor, lowered Tamarkuz's mark for the metric mile to 1:37.41. Note that he carried one of the lightest imposts with 125 pounds; third-placer Romansh (formerly with Tom Albertrani) lugged 132 as a co-highweight.
Watson's other record setter, Storm Belt, established the new standard for about 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.52. Unfortunately, two-time Carnival winner I'm Back, who had shaped up as a notable improver for bin Suroor, stumbled at the start and trailed home last. According to the stewards' report, he exited the race with an injury to his right foreleg.
Developments elsewhere: At Gulfstream Park, Main Sequence made a winning return in the Mac Diarmida (G2) on Saturday, delivering his trademark late "whoosh" while flashing his tail in exuberance. Still perfect from five U.S. starts, the newly crowned champion older male and champion turf male will take his game on the road for the Sheema Classic on World Cup night.
The hardy Parranda shipped from Florida to garner the lucrative Singapore Cup at Kranji Sunday. Now leaving the care of Christophe Clement, she is transferring to Michael Freedman's yard in Singapore. Although she holds an ambitious nomination for the Dubai Turf, as well as the Godolphin Mile, Parranda is reportedly pursuing targets at her new home.
In Japan on Sunday, Golden Barows ran himself into the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) picture with a 3 1/2-length tally in the Hyacinth S. over a metric mile at Tokyo. He stopped the clock in 1:37.1, compared to the 1:36.3 posted by Copano Rickey in his historic February S. (Jpn-G1) repeat two races later. A Kentucky-bred son of Tapit and multiple stakes victress Mother Russia, Golden Barows is now three-for-three on dirt.
On tap: Thursday's Zabeel Mile (UAE-G2) has attracted a competitive group of early entrants, including recent Al Fahidi Fort (UAE-G2) hero Safety Check; stablemate Outstrip from the Charlie Appleby yard; a de Kock battalion led by Darwin and Anaerobio; and the red-hot Dark Emerald, who is a neck away from being unbeaten in three starts at this Carnival and deserves the chance at a higher level. U.A.E. One Thousand Guineas heroine Local Time seeks a classic double in the U.A.E. Oaks (UAE-G3), while fellow Godolphin colorbearers Good Place and Yodelling hope to turn the tables over the longer trip. Mastermind, front-running winner of the trial, looks to follow up in the Meydan Classic, where he could meet a new shooter in Australian shipper Tashbeeh. Both are owned by Sheikh Hamdan. Final fields will be declared Tuesday.
Also on Thursday, Qatar sensation Dubday aims for a title defense in the H.H. The Emir's Trophy at about 1 1/2 miles on turf. The Al Shaqab Racing runner has been literally unbeatable in Doha, but was out of luck in last year's Sheema after being hampered early, and he was eased. Dubday could be in line for another try at the Sheema.
On Saturday, Meydan offers another Carnival program, highlighted by the Nad al Sheba Trophy (UAE-G3), an about 14-furlong prep for the Dubai Gold Cup (UAE-G2) on World Cup night. Defending champion Cavalryman tops the early entries, along with 2013 winner Ahzeemah and yet another from the bin Suroor yard, Excellent Result. Other notables are the Watson-trained Meandre; de Kock's Star Empire; Rio Tigre; and Havana Beat, who ships in for Andrew Balding.
Hong Kong Horse of the Year Designs on Rome is set for Sunday's Hong Kong Gold Cup, his stepping stone to the Sheema. Archrival and former Horse of the Year Military Attack is also expected to tune up for a Dubai venture in this spot.
Cladocera photo credit Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club.