Dubai: Super Saturday Forecast, Part I
When handicapping the card, keep in mind that these are preps, so the best horse on paper might not be at peak fitness. Hence Super Saturday can offer upwardly mobile Carnival horses an opportunistic shot at a career-best score. For those types, this is their “World Cup night,” so to speak, because they’ll probably find it a lot tougher sledding come March 28.
Here’s a forecast of sorts for the first four Thoroughbred stakes, outlining the most logical, the most important question to be answered, and the speculative.
The Al Bastakiya (post time 7:35 a.m. EST) is the middle leg of the U.A.E. Triple Crown, positioned between the U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas (UAE-G3) and the U.A.E Derby (UAE-G2) on World Cup night.
The burning question is, can Uruguayan sensation Sir Fever justify 3-5 morning-line favoritism in his Dubai debut for Godolphin? Unbeaten in 10 starts, including his homeland’s Triple Crown, Sir Fever has obviously been compared to Uruguay’s last stand-out, Invasor. But even the mighty Invasor suffered his one and only blemish in a similar situation – the 2006 U.A.E. Derby. Admittedly, this short-field Al Bastakiya doesn’t present the same strength in depth, but I honestly don’t know what to expect in his first start for Charlie Appleby. Sir Fever was initially cross-entered to the Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (UAE-G1), the prep for the World Cup (UAE-G1), before taking the less competitive spot. Connections could pitch him into the World Cup if he performs well here.
Although the Al Bastakiya field is small, it does boast one other potentially high-class colt in Mubtaahij, who is nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown. The Mike de Kock trainee has two big advantages over Sir Fever, a series of three top-flight efforts over the Meydan dirt, and a 10-pound weight concession from the Southern Hemisphere-bred. Although he’s yet to be tested beyond a mile, the Dubawi colt was actually coming again when just missing in the Guineas (to Maftool, who’s skipping this one), suggesting that he’ll cope with about 1 3/16 miles. That makes him a logical winner at a more palatable 5-2.
Stablemate Ajwad appears a solid exotics play after placing in both the trial and the Guineas. The pace factor got off to a poor start in the latter, and a better break will suit his style a lot better. On the speculative front, Tashbeeh and Quarterback are both late additions to the field after losses in last week’s Meydan Classic on turf. Both figure to enjoy the added ground and will be staying on late.
The Mahab al Shimaal (UAE-G3) (post time 8:10 a.m. EST) is the stepping stone to the Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1) at about six furlongs.
Krypton Factor, the 2012 Golden Shaheen winner on the old Tapeta, was a battling second in his first dirt try in the Al Shindagha Sprint (UAE-G3) last out. With Al Shindagha winner (and 2013 Golden Shaheen star) Reynaldothewizard waiting for World Cup night, Krypton Factor is the logical one to beat.
Yet if American import Cool Cowboy is ready to roll in his premiere for Doug Watson, he could run them all off their feet. A perfect four-for-four at six furlongs, the son of Kodiak Kowboy has that blistering early speed tailor-made for dirt. The caution is that Cool Cowboy had been ill, and Watson has been forthright about this being a prep.
A bigger question mark is French shipper Farmah, who has yet to race on dirt. Her sire Speightstown gives cause for optimism, and she certainly proved herself versus males throughout her sophomore campaign in 2014. The daughter of 2004 French One Thousand Guineas (Fr-G1) heroine Torrestrella is a fascinating new shooter, but I’m taking a conservative approach at the moment.
As a longshot, the 10-1 United Color has some appeal. Third in last year’s Golden Shaheen, the Kentucky-bred son of Ghostzapper cuts back in trip after a failed attempt at a metric mile and adds blinkers.
The Meydan Sprint (UAE-G3) (post time 8:45 a.m. EST) is a mad scramble over the same about five-furlong trip on turf as the Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-G1).
The leading players in this ultra-competitive dash, Sole Power and Via Africa, are both returning to action off layoffs. Sole Power has the relatively easier task, having competed in the December 14 Hong Kong Sprint (HK-G1). Although winless from seven Meydan tries, he has finished second three times, including twice in this race.
Via Africa, on the other hand, has been through the ordeal of trekking the roundabout way from South Africa. De Kock has emphasized what a stiff task it is to be confronted by such a hot field first up. The multiple Group 1 star brings plenty of class from back home, but we might not see the best of her until World Cup night.
De Kock could spring the upset with his other chance, the 15-1 Banaadeer. Another arriving from South Africa, this blueblood son of More Than Ready made a quantum leap from his first to his second start in Dubai, and this marks his third time out. Although still just three by Southern Hemisphere reckoning, he has a good reputation, and could be on the cusp of proving it in the international stage.
The 12-1 Ahtoug already has the credentials as the near-miss second in both the Meydan Sprint and Al Quoz Sprint in 2014. Last seen landing a January 29 handicap here, the Appleby trainee is also gearing up for the big night, but he might catch the comebackers a tad short. All told, he’s arguably the most logical in these circumstances, if not the most naturally talented.
The Burj Nahaar (UAE-G3) (post time 9:20 a.m. EST) is the prep for the Godolphin Mile (UAE-G2).
Tamarkuz looks difficult to beat on the heels of back-to-back track records, both achieved with a lethal spurt turning for home. The son of Speightstown, out of a half-sister to Stay Thirsty, figures to gun it early from the rail. His most dangerous opponent could be himself, if he reverts to his bad gate habits, but those appear to be a thing of the past.
Romansh warrants respect as a multiple U.S. Grade 3 winner who could be sitting on his best effort yet for Salem bin Ghadayer. He drops six pounds off his recent handicap loss to the progressive Layl (who just lowered Tamarkuz’s track record), and level weights could make the difference.
But bin Ghadayer sends out an intriguing 15-1 chance in Heavy Metal, who may have exceeded expectations to win first time out for the yard last week. The son of Exceed and Excel has back class a Group 2-winning juvenile for Mark Johnston, all the way back in 2012. His dam, Rock Opera, was a South African champion who finished third in the 2006 U.A.E. One Thousand Guineas on the old Nad al Sheba dirt. If Heavy Metal moves forward in his second start off the bench, he’ll outperform his odds. With Mickael Barzalona sticking with Romansh, he gets a great switch to James Doyle.
The biggest question is posed by South African dirt maestro Pylon. Over and above the usual caveats about a first start off the long trek (see Via Africa in the Meydan Sprint), de Kock revealed that his training had been interrupted, stating that he “really needs this run.” One also has to wonder how his dirt form back home stacks up here. It all adds up to a watching brief on Saturday.
Still to come: notes on the final three Thoroughbred stakes, the Dubai City of Gold (UAE-G2), Maktoum Round 3 and the Jebel Hatta (UAE-G1).
Photo credit for Tamarkuz: Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club