Super Saturday: Price horses worth a look on dress rehearsal for Dubai World Cup night
Godolphin holds a strong hand across most of the seven prep races at Meydan on Super Saturday, and the two exceptions to the general rule have lopsided favorites themselves. But on a card as deep as this final day of tune-ups ahead of the March 31 Dubai World Cup (G1), there is still value afoot if we’re clever enough to find it.
Here we go, with post times (all EST) and corresponding World Cup night races listed:
1ST Race, the Al Bastakiya (7 a.m.), prep for UAE Derby (G2)
At the risk of looking preposterously foolish right off the bat, Godolphin’s MASAR has to be opposed at a prohibitive 3-2 morning line, his smart turf form notwithstanding. All things being equal, any horse coming out of that loaded Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) would command attention, but this strikes me as a case of things not being equal at all.
Not only is the dirt an unknown quantity for the son of New Approach, but a Carnival start hadn’t even been on the radar for the European classic prospect. Trainer Charlie Appleby explained the change of plan during Wednesday night’s “Winning Line” program on the Dubai Racing Channel: Masar was doing so well in his training here that he’s pretty much got to let him get out and have a race. If that doesn’t basically mean “We’ve no idea how he’ll handle a dirt race and we really didn’t see ourselves here,” then how about the fact that he’s still pointing for the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket – on Kentucky Derby Day? In other words, even if Masar wins the Al Bastakiya, he’s in no rush to take on streaking stablemate Gold Town in the UAE Derby (G2), never mind Churchill Downs. Is the Al Bastakiya weak enough a contest for none of that to matter, Masar to win on class alone, and go back on his merry way to the European turf?
Possibly, but #1 YULONG WARRIOR (10-1) boasts some eye-catching formlines from Europe himself, granted in maiden races when placing to Sioux Nation, Seahenge, Riyazan, and Nelson, and he just proved himself on the Meydan dirt with a useful maiden win. Now trainer Satish Seemar adds cheekpieces to his equipment, and I think this beautifully bred son of Street Cry, from the family of Lewis Bay and Wild Rush, has a strong chance from the rail in this spot.
2ND Race, the Mahab al Shimaal (G3) (7:35 a.m.), prep for Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1)
Appleby’s COMICAS is easier to back as the 2-1 co-favorite on the morning line, since the closer stands to get a beneficial pace set-up with the speedy YALTA, MY CATCH (also 2-1), and JORDAN SPORT presumably duking it out early. Yet it’s also conceivable that one of those gets free early, and becomes double-tough as speed-of-the-speed on this circuit.
Although he’s poorly drawn on the far outside, #11 RAVEN’S CORNER (8-1) may end up making the proverbial lemonade from his lemon of a post. He’s got the tactical speed to get over into an outside stalking spot, and therefore quite likely to get the jump on Comicas (who may find himself trying to pick his way around from post 3). Since Raven’s Corner comes off a romp going an extra furlong, you know he’ll stay a strongly-run 1200 meters here, and Seemar has rated him very highly as a possible successor to Reynaldothewizard. He could complete a quick double for the yard.
3RD Race, the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (8:10 a.m.), prep for Al Quoz Sprint (G1)
I thought the Meydan machine #4 ERTIJAAL (even-money) might get a little break ahead of the Al Quoz, considering the effort he had to expend in both of his victories this Carnival. Instead he comes back just a couple of weeks after repelling Godolphin’s Blue Point in the Meydan Sprint (G2). That could be read as a positive in this case, that trainer Ali Rashid al Rayhi knows he’s ready to breathe his usual fire. I’m tempted to say that it’s a hint about striking while the iron’s hot here, if he’s vulnerable in the Al Quoz, but that’s an argument for another day. The about five-furlong dazzler is plenty capable over this extra furlong, as he holds the course record at both trips, and he brings easily the highest official rating in the field. Ertijaal is apt to get them all off the bridle, even if he’s looking for the wire late.
But value can be added underneath, primarily from the Godolphin battalion. Perhaps the sneakiest among them is #12 STEADY PACE (12-1). The Saeed bin Suroor trainee has turned in some fine performances at this trip, from chasing Shalaa in his juvenile days, to finishing a close second in last summer’s Wokingham at Royal Ascot and in Newmarket’s Hopeful to Gifted Master. Two starts back over this course and distance, Steady Pace nearly beat Jordan Sport (see the 3RD Race) despite conceding 10 pounds to him. And his latest on March 1 is a total toss, since he was hampered on the inside in the stretch. Last-out course-and-distance winner BACCARAT is perhaps the most logical alternative, with JUNGLE CAT preferring seven furlongs these days.
4TH Race, the Burj Nahaar (G3) (8:45 a.m.), prep for Godolphin Mile (G2)
Top local miler HEAVY METAL could blast away as he’s done at this distance all season, and that makes him a must-use – but now it’s more as a saver, just in case, than the ringing vote of confidence it might have been. That’s because trainer Salem bin Ghadayer has been handed a year-long suspension for a positive test (on a different horse), and he’s running on borrowed time at the moment pending his appeal. Will that have an effect on his Super Saturday runners? Or is it a red herring in Heavy Metal’s case? The other slight quibble is that jockey Mickael Barzalona told “The Winning Line” that they’re not going to give him an unduly hard time ahead of the Godolphin Mile. Maybe he can air from post 13 and not have a hard race at all, but circumstances are not as straightforward as they were a week ago.
The others to use are #1 KIMBEAR (5-1) and #7 CLASSIC EMPEROR (10-1). Kimbear has lost some luster since his victorious debut for UAE champion trainer Doug Watson, but his seconds to the aforementioned Raven’s Corner (see 2ND Race) and Boynton (see 6TH Race) are better than they appear since he was giving them lumps of weight. Now at levels, in a race that’s wide-open if Heavy Metal doesn’t fire his best shot, the ex-Californian could fulfill the promise upon his arrival. Classic Emperor is more of an unknown on this track, as the Hong Kong dirtballer took a nosedive out of the gate and unseated his rider in his Dubai premiere. Now he gets a rider change to Oisin Murphy, and the Kentucky-bred by Medaglia d’Oro still has upside on the surface with a 3-2-1-0 mark on the Sha Tin dirt.
5TH Race, the Jebel Hatta (G1) (9:20 a.m.), prep for the Dubai Turf (G1)
Although Godolphin’s #10 BENBATL (3-2) is a short price for a horse facing his stiffest test of the Carnival, the bin Suroor charge has looked a class apart when demolishing the Singspiel (G3) and Al Rashidiya (G2) over this course and distance. And his success follows naturally upon his European campaign in 2017, when winning Royal Ascot’s Hampton Court (G3) and posting honorable fifths in both the Derby (G1) and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). If he meets his Waterloo in Dubai, chances are it won’t happen until World Cup night. Godolphin confrere FOLKSWOOD is the obvious danger.
Not to be overlooked, however, is #9 WHISKY BARON (10-1). South Africans historically do very well on this stage, and the Brett Crawford trainee brings first-rate form as the 2017 Sun Met (G1) winner over Legal Eagle. His warm-up fourth in the Zabeel Mile (G2) was a virtual flashing light for a horse with international ambitions going longer.
6TH Race, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) (9:55 a.m.), prep for Dubai World Cup (G1)
Godolphin’s THUNDER SNOW rates as the 8-5 morning-line favorite after outdueling NORTH AMERICA in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round (G2), and it would be no surprise if Round 3 follows a similar script. But Thunder Snow isn’t the most straightforward, to put it charitably, and there are two potential wrinkles for him. Regular rider Christophe Soumillon is unavailable (suspended for careless riding), and given Thunder Snow's idiosyncrasies, new pilot Murphy may be at a disadvantage. That’s no criticism of Murphy, who’s a very smart up-and-comer, but rather more of a take on Thunder Snow’s mentality. And if Murphy has instant, horse-whisperer style rapport, there’s still the matter of post 2. Thunder Snow appeared to like the breathing space of his outside draw last time, and if not away alertly (as happened in his first start back when upset by Heavy Metal), he could get shuffled back from there.
Arguably the most intriguing contestant is Appleby’s #11 BOYNTON (6-1). A powerful, front-running winner over Kimbear (see 4TH Race) in his Meydan debut, and first start as a gelding, the More Than Ready half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Constitution looked the best he’s been since his two-year-old days. Boynton was most promising back then, capturing the Superlative (G2), and just maybe he’s ready to make a major impact as an older horse. Also worth a look is the one next to him on the far outside, #12 SPECIAL FIGHTER (15-1). Going turf-to-dirt in his second start off a long layoff, the son of Teofilo is twice proven in this race as the 2016 Round 3 winner and 2017 runner-up.
7TH Race, the Dubai City of Gold (G2) (10:30 a.m.), prep for Dubai Sheema Classic (G1)
The Super Saturday finale brings us full circle to where we began, with a quandary posed by an Appleby favorite: do you trust HAWKBILL to justify his 2-1 morning-line price in his reappearance? What about his blueblood but hit-or-miss stablemate FRONTIERSMAN, the son of Dubawi and Ouija Board?
The Godolphin runner coming up to this race in ideal fashion, if not an ideal draw, is bin Suroor’s #14 BEST SOLUTION (3-1). An also-ran at Epsom last season but runner-up versus his elders in the Grosser Dallmayr-Preis (G1), Best Solution just trounced them in a course-and-distance handicap. He’s logical if not overly compelling.
I’ve been waiting for #3 CALLED TO THE BAR (7-1) to resurface since his second to Oscar Performance in the Belmont Derby (G1). Runner-up to future Group 1 winner and French Derby (G1) near-misser Waldgeist on debut, he defeated a pair of eventual Group 1 heroes (Ice Breeze and Shakeel) in his signature score in last May’s Prix du Lys (G3). Trainer Pia Brandt’s Meydan runners must be respected, and jockey Maxime Guyon flies in for this lone mount on the card. He’s worth a flyer in case he brings his best off the bench in this open-looking renewal.
Good luck on Super Saturday!