Super Saturday wrap, II: Turf prep winners on upswing but internationals tough on Dubai World Cup night
Continued from Part 1 on the Super Saturday dirt preps
The biggest upset of Super Saturday came in the first turf race, the Dubai City of Gold (G2), the stepping stone to the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). Postponed made history last year by becoming the first horse to sweep both, but the odds-on favorite was foiled here by Godolphin’s up-and-coming Prize Money.
A combination of factors contributed to his defeat. Postponed’s pacemaker could have helped him out by going a little faster. Although they’d gone slower last year, Postponed was able at that time to set up shop in striking distance in a smaller field. This time, he was drawn widest of all in post 10, and jockey Andrea Atzeni didn’t have the luxury of parking where he wanted. To avoid being hung out for the duration of 1 1/2 miles, he had to drop back. That wouldn’t have been a problem if there was a strong enough pace to string out the field, or at least create enough space to maneuver. But his pacemaker actually began slowing down by the mile mark, and by the time he’d gone about 1 1/4 miles, his split was slower than the 2016 City of Gold (2:04.72 versus 2:04.49).
To compound the problem, Postponed was stuck in a sea of Godolphin blue. When Emotionless went forward nearing the final turn, Adrie de Vries executed the perfect maneuver on Prize Money by smoothly moving up into his vacated spot, thereby keeping Postponed hemmed in.
But even with the post, the pace, and the traffic, I think the Postponed of early 2016 would probably have muscled through once he saw a glimmer of daylight. On Saturday, the now six-year-old took a fraction longer to unwind in his comeback, and the door was shut. Atzeni had to scramble to the inside, where Postponed quickened and nearly got up. But Prize Money was staying on too strongly, and the Saeed bin Suroor trainee kept his neck in front.
“I can't say I thought he had a serious chance,” de Vries freely admitted, “but I thought was going to improve again.
“He must be a serious horse, he’s just improving. I knew if Postponed wasn't 100 percent, there was a small chance for me. I was afraid I’d got there a little too soon but he lasted until the end.”
Atzeni took consolation in the fact this was just a tune-up for Postponed.
“It was his first run of the year and the race was a bit messy,” his rider said. “He finished the race off really well, today was a prep race.”
Despite all of the logic that excuses Postponed, this reverse may imply that he’s not quite the force he was this time last year. The internationals who weren’t seen at the Carnival – notably Godolphin’s Jack Hobbs from the John Gosden yard, Aidan O’Brien’s Highland Reel, and to a lesser extent Japan’s Sounds of Earth – can feel emboldened ahead of the Sheema.
Indeed, the Godolphin brain trust knows that however progressive Prize Money is, he’s yet to reach the level of Jack Hobbs. If their Carnival success story can beat Postponed, that ought to boost the stock of their 2015 Irish Derby (G1) hero, last seen finishing third to Almanzor and Found in the Champion (G1) at Ascot.
In any event, Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby doesn’t see the need to press on to World Cup night with Emotionless. He told godolphin.com that he’ll point to a summer campaign in Europe. I’d been mischievous enough to imagine that Emotionless would wheel back on dirt for the World Cup, but no.
The about six-furlong Nad al Sheba Sprint is an addition to Super Saturday, switching with the about five-furlong Meydan Sprint (G3) as a more fitting prep for the newly lengthened Al Quoz Sprint (G1).
As hoped, the best horse won in the form of Godolphin’s Jungle Cat, who comprehensively reversed form with Appleby stablemate Baccarat. French invader The Right Man was an encouraging third in his seasonal reappearance.
“This is definitely his preferred trip,” jockey William Buick said of Jungle Cat. “He’s been running consistently and is very game. He’s won by a couple of lengths, there wasn’t much to choose from them with Baccarat second.
“I’m sure it (the Al Quoz) will be more competitive but he couldn’t have done it better today and goes there with a shout.”
Since Jungle Cat was an honorable fourth in last year’s Al Quoz, over the furlong shorter trip that disadvantages him, he’s entitled to do better on March 25. Yet he’s got to hope that the added ground anchors local kingpin Ertijaal (Ire), who pummeled Jungle Cat into second in the Meydan Sprint in their prior meeting February 16. Ertijaal (Ire) owns the Meydan course records over both five and six, however, so a vulnerability over the new Al Quoz distance remains to be proven.
Even if you assume the worst about Ertijaal (Ire), Jungle Cat must brace for the attack of the world-class Limato from Great Britain and Hong Kong’s Amazing Kids. The American turf sprinters have found the straightaway a tough nut to crack, but Long on Value may be the type to handle it better than others.
The Jebel Hatta (G1), the lead-in to the Dubai Turf (G1), witnessed a devastating late kick from Decorated Knight.
If you can get out of the pocket the way he did, and rattle home in about :33.86 for about three furlongs at the end of an about nine-furlong race, you’re a proper horse. Atzeni, with the nightmare of Postponed fresh in his mind, must have been grateful that Decorated Knight had the engine to get him out of another jam.
(Viewer warning: in the early stages, you can see de Kock’s Ertijaal (Aus) stricken with his fatal sesamoid injury and pulling up. Skip to about :45 to spare yourself.)
“He's got a good turn of foot,” Atzeni said in understated fashion. “He showed that at Lingfield (in his comeback win in the February 4 Winter Derby Trial), and he picked up well at the end. He had a good draw, he jumped good, traveled well into the race with one clear run on the outside. He saw the trip out well, that was great.”
Scratched from last summer’s Arlington Million (G1), Decorated Knight is ready to make up for lost time. He’s also bred in the purple: being by Galileo and out of a full sister to Giant’s Causeway, he’s closely related to Gleneagles.
At the same time, Decorated Knight’s mouthwatering pedigree played a hand in his placement on Super Saturday. Charlton’s son-cum-assistant, Harry, explicitly said after his Lingfield score that the Jebel Hatta “can come up quite a weak Group 1 race,” making it an enticing spot for a stallion prospect.
The plan worked to perfection, in part because this Jebel Hatta came up as connections had forecast. Although Godolphin’s Folkswood, who nearly stole it, has upside, the rest are pretty much known quantities in a bunched finish. And Folkswood isn’t even going to the Dubai Turf.
“He has run his heart out,” Appleby told godolphin.com, “and it goes without saying that this was a career-best performance.
“I could not be happier with Folkswood. He will miss Dubai World Cup night and I have my eye on races in America and Australia, where he will be suited by flat tracks over a mile and quarter.”
Given that agenda, it would be fitting if Decorated Knight and Folkswood cross swords in the Arlington Million.
But in the meantime in the Dubai Turf, Decorated Knight will have to step up against a much more accomplished Godolphin representative in the Richard Fahey-trained Ribchester, set to swoop in from Great Britain. He’ll likely be joined by Sheikh Hamdan’s Mutakayyef from the William Haggas yard. Japan expects to dispatch defending champion Real Steel and classic-winning filly Vivlos, while leading Carnival player Championship and Zarkava’s boy Zarak come off wins over the Meydan course.
We'll have more in-depth study once the World Cup night fields are firmed up.
Decorated Knight photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins