Super Saturday wrap, I: Dirt prep winners worth opposing on Dubai World Cup night
The four dirt-race winners are particularly opposable, for two reasons. First, the biggest World Cup night threats weren’t there, and second, whoever rode the speed bias was uncatchable on the day. Even if Meydan continues to play friendly to on-the-pace types come March 25, there will be better front runners in the line-up to take advantage.
Exhibit A for this argument is the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), held over the Dubai World Cup (G1) trip of about 1 1/4 miles. The seven-year-old Long River (pictured) had gone winless for three years (15 starts dating back to the 2014 Evening Attire on the Aqueduct inner track). Although he had an excuse when tailed off last time in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), and no matter how much trainer Salem bin Ghadayer raved about how well he was training, it still took a leap of faith to envision him actually pulling this off.
But the son of A.P. Indy and Round Pond grabbed the lead and never relinquished it, holding off ring-rusty defending champion Special Fighter (who hadn’t been seen since his fourth to California Chrome in last year’s World Cup) and the gallant Chilean mare Furia Cruzada.
“There was a small question mark about the 2000 meters,” bin Ghadayer said, “but how we saw him last week, we knew he was ready and he was asking us to take him for the race.”
In the World Cup, Long River won’t be able to dictate to the likes of Arrogate and Gun Runner, and he probably wouldn’t beat Neolithic to the fore early in any event. Special Fighter’s eligible to move forward off the comeback, but the waters are getting a lot deeper. The same goes for Godolphin’s Move Up, a useful fourth in his first dirt try. Horses can “move up” second time over this track, but if he goes, you’re still dealing with a 12-furlong performer facing world-class rivals at a distance on the sharp side for him. Lani was an even worse underlay than I thought, just never looking like getting involved from the rear.
Perhaps the most intriguing Round 3 alum is Round 2 queen Furia Cruzada. Unlike Round 2 runner-up Second Summer, who regressed (and possibly got discouraged) in Round 3, Furia Cruzada ran her race right back again. She also deserves plaudits for rallying determinedly, despite covering an extra 49 feet, according to Trakus. With her honesty, weight concession, and a strong pace courtesy of the Americans, Furia Cruzada may be able to hit the board in the World Cup.
While not as extreme a case, the Al Bastakiya likewise leaves room for quibbles going into the UAE Derby (G2).
The Doug Watson-trained Cosmo Charlie was coming off his only loss, a distant sixth in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), which was also the only time he didn’t go to the front. Sporting a visor this time, the Kentucky-bred son of Stay Thirsty was plenty sharp out of the gate, and that was it.
Cosmo Charlie also benefited from the misfortune of Mike de Kock’s heavy favorite Fawree, who apparently wasn’t as over his gate issues as first hoped. Anticipating the break when his blindfold was removed, he banged himself against the stalls and unshipped jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe. Otherwise, Fawree would have been forwardly placed himself.
Watson explained that the break is crucial for Cosmo Charlie: “He broke poorly in the Guineas, which messed up the whole race for him...We wanted him to focus and get to the lead, and people know now that is how he will race. We won’t take the headgear off for the Derby.”
Qatar Man, well adrift when fourth in the Guineas, was a much improved second out here. The Marco Botti pupil was helped by his prior experience over the track, and the stretch-out to about 1 3/16 miles. (Contrast that with stablemate Zumurudee, who flew in from Newmarket and unfortunately appeared out of his element the whole circuit.)
Still, anytime you have two Guineas also-rans run one-two in the Al Bastakiya, it’s flattering for the resounding Guineas winner, Godolphin’s Thunder Snow, who skipped Super Saturday to await the UAE Derby. Godolphin has two more Derby hopefuls -- the exacta in the grassy Meydan Classic, Top Score and Fly at Dawn (who previously had run Cosmo Charlie down in the Guineas trial). And then you’ve got the fearsome Japanese duo of unbeaten Epicharis and Adirato, all making for a tougher task for Cosmo Charlie.
Of the rest in the Al Bastakiya, Nobelium was a sneaky fourth (nearly taking third) after racing next to last early. The only runner to make up significant ground, he gets extra marks for doing so in his dirt debut, and only third career start. Judging by his two good losses to Top Score this Carnival on turf, Nobelium remains a very promising sort.
So is Fawree, if he can get his head on straight by March 25. De Kock told his website that he’s bringing in Malan du Toit, South Africa’s equivalent of Monty Roberts, to try to help Fawree make the UAE Derby:
“We have to call on the horse whisperer now, we have a lot to do and only two weeks to do it…He’s a very talented horse, it’s a pity he’s such a complicated talent but we’ll do our best.”
With defending champion Muarrab failing to show his trademark dash in the Mahab al Shimaal (G3), the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) prep presented a golden opportunity for front-running Morawij.
Best known for his exploits at Jebel Ali, where he most recently scored a repeat in the eponymous Sprint, Morawij had yet to win from three Meydan dirt starts. But one of those was a third to Muarrab in last year’s Golden Shaheen. The Dhruba Selvaratnam veteran used his early speed and held on for dear life, arguably assisted by the bias, as Cool Cowboy’s bold rush fell a head short. In the circumstances, Cool Cowboy can be marked up, and I’d be tempted to label him the best local hope in the Shaheen.
“Any horse that can go up the hill at Jebel Ali is a fair horse,” stable rider Chris Hayes said of Morawij. “People knocked him after last run in the Jebel Ali Sprint but he’d had an interrupted preparation and it was a brilliant training performance to get him there. He wears his heart on the sleeve and is ferocious out of the gate.”
Hong Kong’s Dundonnell turned in a solid prep in third, but trainer Caspar Fownes needed a briefing from jockey Christophe Soumillon to see it that way.
“If I had jumped with them, I think I’m closer at the finish,” Soumillon told the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Andrew Hawkins. “It was a good effort for the Golden Shaheen.”
Dundonnell is “a little bit quirky,” Fownes told Hawkins. He’s on and off; last time, he was good. Something just happens to him…
“Christophe was happy with the run, though. He said he was a little bit on edge, he was on his back feet at the start and he was slightly slow to begin. That meant he had to use a bit of energy at the beginning that I was hoping he didn’t have to waste. But I wanted the horse to have more experience on that track, the kickback is quite something, and he got that so all being right, we continue on.”
But true to the unfolding pattern, many of the big guns didn’t engage on this battlefield, saving their fire for World Cup night. As ever on dirt, the American sprint brigade is serious, with Mind Your Biscuits, St Joe Bay, and Imperial Hint expected in the Shaheen. Hong Kong has another candidate arriving in Not Listenin’tome from the John Moore yard, and let’s not forget the eminence grise of the Dubai sprinters, 11-year-old Reynaldothewizard, who’s kept fresh for World Cup night.
As Dubai Racing Channel’s Laura King pointed out, the Mahab al Shimaal has been the most informative of all the Super Saturday preps. In three of the last five years, the winner has doubled up in the Shaheen. But the first two of those came on the old Tapeta, and I’m not sure about the stat verifying with Morawij this year. Muarrab, who accomplished the feat last year, looks up against it on his current form – unless his sudden trainer switch to Ali Rashid al Rayhi makes a difference.
The Burj Nahaar (G3), the lead-in to the Godolphin Mile (G2), produced Saturday’s largest margin of victory when Heavy Metal crushed them by 6 1/2 lengths.
This was a case of a hot handicapper meeting the ideal set-up. Few of his rivals lifted a hoof, and he waltzed home in a manner that may have exaggerated his actual ability. It was also a case of an in-form local yard striking a Super Saturday double: Heavy Metal is a stablemate of Round 3 upsetter Long River.
To sound like a broken record, Heavy Metal didn’t face the Godolphin Mile principals here. The leading Dubai-based contender, North America, has readily dispatched him twice already, both in faster times than Heavy Metal’s clocked in his three wins this Carnival. And then you come to brilliant U.S. shipper Sharp Azteca and Japan’s Kafuji Take, and Heavy Metal’s prep looks less compelling.
Before leaving the Burj Nahaar, note that Godolphin’s Alabaster missed the break, taking him out of his game, and went 36 feet wider than Heavy Metal, yet still got up for third. With a halfway decent start on World Cup night, the son of Medaglia d’Oro may sneak into the frame.
Continued in Vol. II on the Super Saturday turf races...
Long River photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins