Dubai: Local Time keeps ticking, Almoonqith finds his calling
Godolphin's Local Time clocked her foes once again in last Thursday's U.A.E. Oaks (UAE-G3), but the striking visual impression could be no more than a desert mirage. The evidence of the clock, and the form book, raise questions about her otherwise admirable accomplishment of turning the U.A.E. One Thousand Guineas/Oaks double.
Ironically, in light of her name, the clock has been Local Time's nemesis. She has repeatedly turned in slow times throughout her Meydan dirt conquests. This trend was glaring on Thursday, which witnessed track records in the three other dirt races, all just handicaps -- Price Is Truth covered about six furlongs in 1:10.86, Mashaaref went about seven in 1:23.54, and Pit Stop turned the metric mile in 1:36.59.
Local Time took 2:00.90 to negotiate about 1 3/16 miles. That's more than two full seconds slower than Frankyfourfingers' track record of 1:58.24 established in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (UAE-G2) back on February 5. Even allowing for the fact that she's a three-year-old filly, and not an older horse, one would have hoped for a better time on a night when track marks were falling right and left.
To be fair, Local Time deserves respect for compiling a six-race winning streak on three different surfaces, and for becoming the fifth filly to sweep the local Guineas and Oaks. But she is streets ahead of a disappointing, and small, cast of characters in her division this Carnival. Her Godolphin rivals didn't progress as expected, and de Kock's best filly, Ad Idem, sustained setbacks.
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who has now won 10 runnings of the U.A.E. Oaks, left the door open to a possible tilt in the March 28 U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2). Bin Suroor sent out the only filly to defeat males in the history of the U.A.E. Derby, Khawlah in 2011. But the fillies were superior to the locally based males that year, and after Khawlah won an epic duel with Aidan O'Brien's invading Master of Hounds, she was sidelined for a year and never the same again.
I'm tempted to think that's partly why bin Suroor skipped last year's U.A.E. Derby when he was in a similar position with Ihtimal, who had doubled up in the 2014 U.A.E. Guineas and Oaks. She instead set her sights on an English classic campaign, finishing a close third in Newmarket's One Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1) and fifth in the Oaks (Eng-G1) at Epsom.
The potential U.A.E. Derby crew looks rock-solid this year, with some above-average males, and I'd rather see Local Time declare Carnival victory and set sail for England.
Safe getaway: That's exactly what trainer Charlie Appleby's doing with Godolphin's Safety Check, who capped a perfect three-for-three Carnival in last Thursday's Zabeel Mile (UAE-G2). His course record of 1:35.53, under top weight of 129 pounds, provided the exclamation point for his productive winter. The four-year-old arrived in Dubai as a handicapper on the fringes of listed stakes class in England, but he's returning with a spruced-up resume. The primary question is whether he can back up his newfound status as a multiple Group 2 hero outside of Dubai. We'll find out in his summer objective, the July 29 Lennox S. (Eng-G2) at Glorious Goodwood.
Zabeel Mile runner-up Dark Emerald initially planned to return home laden with his Carnival spoils, resulting from two slashing wins, a near-miss, and his first career stakes placing. But connections have opted to strike while the iron is hot and try him on dirt in the March 28 Godolphin Mile (UAE-G2), the only race that could fit for him on World Cup night.
One to note coming out of the Zabeel Mile is Earnshaw, who ran a terrific third in his return from a six-month layoff. Stalking the early pace, the well-bred son of Medaglia d'Oro struck the front in the stretch, only to be nabbed late by the razor-sharp Safety Check and Dark Emerald. Earnshaw's performance was vaguely reminiscent of Frankyfourfingers' debut for the same trainer -- Salem bin Ghadayer -- in the Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (UAE-G2). "Franky" then moved forward to set the track record in Round 2, and Earnshaw has considerable upside. Formerly trained by Andre Fabre, the May 19 foal captured the 2013 Prix Thomas Bryon (Fr-G3) and finished second to Ectot in the Criterium International (Fr-G1). He was highly tried last year as well, and could put it together as an older horse.
Smart vs. Volatile: Mastermind couldn't duplicate his front-running trial win in the Meydan Classic, but the de Kock trainee lost no luster in defeat. Even going in, de Kock noted that it would be a tougher task from post 10, compared to the cozy rail draw he had in the trial. Mastermind also lost jockey Paul Hanagan to Sheikh Hamdan's other runner, Australian shipper Tashbeeh from the David Hayes yard. Hanagan might have regretted that decision as Tashbeeh, a handicapper back home, wound up a one-paced, wide-trip fifth here. Meanwhile, Mastermind successfully cut across to the rail in the hands of Dane O'Neill, and ran a similar race as in the trial, again conceding nine pounds as a Southern Hemisphere-bred sophomore.
But trial runner-up Volatile got off to a much better start this time, and turned the tables in a sprightly 1:23.16 -- just off the course mark of 1:22.78 for about seven furlongs on turf. Perhaps the Swedish-bred Volatile responded more generously to Norwegian native William Buick, who rode him for the first time. Volatile's only poor effort was a fifth behind U.S. Triple Crown nominee Mubtaahij on the Meydan dirt January 15. A runaway winner on the dirt at Jagersro and third in a Group 3 raid on Newmarket last year, Volatile has his quirks (hence his name) but has talent to match.
Finding his calling: Almoonqith had shaped up as no more than a useful handicapper until trying about 1 3/4 miles in Saturday's Nad al Sheba Trophy (UAE-G3), where the $725,000 son of Dynaformer turned in a career-best effort. Reserved well off the pace, the de Kock charge advanced menacingly on the far turn, kicked on strongly to repel Rio Tigre, and smashed the course record by finishing in 2:54.47.
But before rushing to endorse him for the Dubai Gold Cup (UAE-G2) over two metric miles on World Cup night, it's worth noting that the Nad al Sheba Trophy was an atypically run race with a tearaway early leader. Normal service -- i.e., a leisurely tempo -- may well resume in the Gold Cup, which will also present a stiffer test of class.
Most of all, however, the Nad al Sheba Trophy lost its headline act to tragedy. Defending champion and course record-holder Cavalryman was pulled up on the backstretch with what turned out to be a fatal injury. That was a bitter end for a nine-year-old hero (pictured on right) who had compiled such a distinguished career, and fans around the world. His Godolphin stablemates weren't able to fill the void. Ahzeemah was disappointing, and Excellent Result was compromised by his proximity to the pace.
In these circumstances, the Andrew Balding-trained Havana Beat warrants special mention for hanging tough for fourth, especially since this was his first start for six months. Last seen finishing third in the American St Leger on Arlington Million Day, the son of Teofilo figures to be fitter for the Gold Cup.
Grand slam: Almoonqith was the most notable of four winners on the night for Sheikh Hamdan and his retained rider Paul Hanagan. Two others could be in play for World Cup night. Nolohay, who showed a touch of class in France last year when placing in the Prix Greffulhe (Fr-G2) and Prix Turenne, loved the switch to dirt to wire a metric mile handicap. Ertijaal, not to be confused with Sheikh Hamdan's brilliant Cape Derby (SAf-G1) winner of the same name, also turned on the early speed in a turf sprint. Highly regarded enough to attempt last season's Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1), where he ended up 13th, this Ertijaal appears better suited to six and seven furlongs. Both Nolohay and Ertijaal hold early entries for Super Saturday.
Developments elsewhere: Not even post 16 could thwart Dubday, who remained perfect from six starts in Qatar when scoring a repeat win in last Thursday's H. H. The Emir's Trophy. Under Frankie Dettori, the Al Shaqab colorbearer got up in time at the end of the about 1 1/2-mile test.
Connections threw something of a curveball by revealing that Dubday would step up in trip for the Dubai Gold Cup, instead of the anticipated tilt at the Sheema Classic (UAE-G1). But that could prove a clever move. Aside from looking like the sort who could handle the added ground, he would swerve a hot renewal of the Sheema, which is expected to draw Main Sequence and his Breeders' Cup rival Flintshire, Japan's Harp Star and One and Only, and Hong Kong's Horse of the Year Designs on Rome. In the Gold Cup, Dubday would likely meet high-class English stayer Brown Panther, who will be making his seasonal reappearance, and the Nad al Sheba Trophy alumni. Brown Panther ventured to Wolverhampton Monday for a tune-up in company.
Speaking of Designs on Rome, the Sha Tin supremo looked better than ever when rallying in Sunday's Hong Kong Gold Cup (HK-G1). The John Moore charge extended his winning streak to three, while delivering a more emphatic victory than his usual nail-biters, and will head to the Sheema in superb form.
On the Hong Kong Gold Cup undercard, highly-rated sprinters got a chance to contest a Class 1 handicap on the dirt. The about six-furlong dash was crafted as a local prep for Rich Tapestry, last year's Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1) runner-up, but he missed it after a cough. The Michael Chang trainee instead warmed up with a trial win Tuesday, pronouncing himself good to go.
According to the South China Morning Post (scmp.com), Rich Tapestry's absence from the prep race prompted trainer Tony Millard to pitch Super Jockey into a dirt debut. The New Zealand-bred seized the opportunity by holding on from the fast-finishing Tour de Force, in a sparkling 1:07.81. The top two thus ran themselves into Golden Shaheen calculations.
On tap: Flintshire returns to action Tuesday in an about 1 3/16-mile event over Chantilly's all-weather track. The Fabre trainee isn't the only one using this as a stepping stone to the Sheema, for the Aga Khan's homebred Dolniya is taking the same approach.
The picture for World Cup night will come into sharper focus after the upcoming "Super Saturday" card at Meydan, featuring course-and-distance preps. Later in the week, I'll give my thoughts on all seven Thoroughbred races.
Photo credits for Local Time (top) and Cavalryman: Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club.