As the heat starts to turn up for the world’s richest ($35 million) race meeting in the Dubai World Cup night three weeks from now, Super Saturday at Meydan Racecourse is set to stage a top-quality dress rehearsal, including a pair of Group 1 affairs and a total of seven stakes worth $2.65 million. Each of the seven is a course and distance copy of a Dubai World Cup card feature and is sponsored by pillar partner Emirates. The first race is scheduled for 4:00 p.m., while the featured Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3, which stars reigning Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline champion Thunder Snow, is scheduled for 6:55 p.m. (Race 6).
AL MAKTOUM CHALLENGE ROUND 3 (Group 1 | $600,000 | 2000m)
As the recognised 2000m prep for the world’s richest horse race, the $12 million Dubai World Cup, the Al Maktoum Challenge R3 sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) has attracted a quality field of 10, including Godolphin’s Thunder Snow, who finished second in this race before winning the Dubai World Cup. The 2017 UAE Derby (G3) winner made history when victorious in the 2018 Dubai World Cup by becoming the first horse to complete that particular double and is seeking a second niche in UAE racing folklore by becoming the first horse to win the Dubai World Cup twice. On his most recent outing, the Saeed bin Suroor stable star finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs in November. In total, he has three G1 wins and earnings of more than $9 million from 21 starts (7 wins).
“He had a busy 2018, so we have given him a nice break,” Bin Suroor said. “He did a very nice final serious piece of work last Saturday and we also took him over to Meydan for a gallop, which went very well. Obviously the Dubai World Cup is the main target, with this the obvious stepping stone. We expect him to run well, but he will definitely improve for the outing.”
Bin Suroor has won the race on no less than 11 occasions, whereas fellow Godolphin handler Charlie Appleby is seeking a maiden success in the contest and will be relying on dirt debutant Nordic Lights. The 4-year-old Intello gelding won a turf handicap over 1800m at the Dubai World Cup Carnival on his latest start and broke his maiden at first asking on the Lingfield all-weather just shy of a year ago.
Appleby said: “He works on dirt at home where the surface is quite deep and I think the one at Meydan will suit him better. The Jebel Hatta was the alternative, but we are well represented in that and we think, given his style of racing, good gate speed and natural speed, he may take to the dirt. Thunder Snow is obviously going to be hard to beat, but the rest are pretty evenly matched, so it looked worth a go.”
Three horses, all trained by Bin Suroor for Godolphin, have won the Al Maktoum Challenge R3 en route to victory in the big race itself, most notably Dubai Millennium in 2000. Electrocutionist in 2006 was the most recent.
South Korea’s Dolkong was a winner just nine days prior, dismantling his Curlin Handicap (Listed) foes over the same trip. Hoping to earn their way into the proverbial big dance, trainer Simon Foster and Owner Lee Tae In will give it another go.
Lightly raced New Trails will make just his eighth lifetime start and has been progressive for Ahmad bin Harmash. Worse than second only once, he exits a good second to North America in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) and was a winner over this trip in November.
Fourteen-length Mina Rashid Handicap winner Capezzano will line up for Salem bin Ghadayer and owner Sultan Ali, but must prove himself as more than a miler. He should provide some pace for the race, but will likely be joined up front early by Doug Watson trainee Cosmo Charlie, who carries the colours of Ramzan Kadyrov, whose North America won this last year for Satish Seemar. Also a winner over this trip, he was third in Round 2 and must improve.
Bin Ghadayer, who won this race two years ago with Long River, also starts U.S. classic-placed Gronkowski, who chased home Triple Crown winner Justify in the last leg of said triad. The Phoenix Thoroughbreds colt was last seen when a lacklustre third in Grade 3 company in New York. The yard completes a trio of starters with recent Listed winner Montsarrat, who has proven a consistent and talented performer, but is ambitiously placed in this spot.
South American Grade 1 winners Furia Cruzada, a two-time Dubai World Cup alumnus and third in this race last year, and Logrado provide intrigue from the Green Stables of Erwan Charpy. The latter makes his local bow and is a Grade 1 winner over this trip in Argentina. A big, long-striding type, he has impressed onlookers while training, but his trainer has warned that he will definitely need the run.
JEBEL HATTA (Group 1 | $400,000 | 3YO+ | 1800mT)
The seventh and final race on the card, the Jebel Hatta sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), over the same 1800m on grass as the $6 million Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1), arguably looks the most competitive race on the card with Godolphin responsible for half of the ten declarations.
Charlie Appleby saddles four, including last year’s winner Blair House, but jockey bookings would suggest he is not particularly expected by connections to become the first dual winner of the race and Brett Doyle takes the ride. Stable jockey William Buick has opted to partner Wootton, considered a genuine Classic contender in France last year for Henri-Alex Pantall, but arguably disappointed. Now a 4-year-old, the Wootton Bassett colt was staying on, despite a troubled trip, when fourth in the Zabeel Mile (G2) on his first start for Appleby.
James Doyle, aboard Blair House last season, will partner well-regarded 4-year-old New Approach colt Loxley, who was highly progressive in Europe last year other than when failing to stay in the St Leger (G1) over 2900m at Doncaster. Mickael Barzalona rides the fourth Appleby hope First Contact, who will be having his third outing of the season at Meydan and most recently ahead of Wootton when third in the Zabeel Mile.
Appleby commented on his four trainees: “Blair House won this last year when everything fell into place for him. If the gaps open again he should run well and we were pleased with his comeback. First Contact and Wootton both pleased us in the Zabeel Mile and with a clear run, we feel the latter would have finished a fair bit closer. The Dubai Turf has always been Loxley’s target, so this was the obvious race for his comeback.”
Saeed bin Suroor relies on Dream Castle, who appears the one to beat after one-sided course and distance victories in the Singspiel Stakes (G2) and Al Rashidiya (G2) in January. The 5-year-old son of Frankel will once again have the services of Christophe Soumillon and breaks from barrier nine in an attempt to make it 3-for-3 since being gelded.
“Everything has really gone well for him in Dubai this year and this, as with Benbatl (in 2018), is the natural progression for him,” Bin Suroor said. “Obviously, he is stepping up in class again, but he has done nothing wrong and worked very well the other day.”
Trained by Simon Crisford, who celebrated a Dubai World Cup Carnival double last Thursday, Abdulla Belhabb’s Century Dream was runner-up in the aforementioned Zabeel Mile and appears the main threat to the Godolphin runners under Oisin Murphy. Expected to come on from his effort, he must overcome a two-week turnaround, but a return to the form that saw him a three-quarter-length third in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1) behind Roaring Lion makes him a serious player.
Seventh in said Ascot feature was Richard Fahey-trained Forest Ranger (Tony Hamilton), who makes his first start since finishing second in Group 3 Newmarket company and must improve to figure. The field is completed by South Africa’s Majestic Mambo (Bernard Fayd’Herbe) and Janoobi (Jim Crowley) from the Mike de Kock yard and locally based Muzdawaj (Dane O’Neill).
DUBAI CITY OF GOLD (Group 2 | $300,000 | 2410mT)
The course and distance prep for the $6 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, the Dubai City of Gold (G3) will be sponsored by Emirates SkyCargo and have a field of 10 lining up to contest 2410m on turf. Three representatives from the United Kingdom—Marco Botti’s Crowned Eagle, the mount of leading Dubai World Cup night rider Frankie Dettori, Melbourne Cup third Prince of Arran and recent Canadian International Stakes (G1) winner Desert Encounter—must be respected, but Godolphin’s Charlie Appleby starts the two likely favourites, Old Persian and Spotify.
The mount of William Buick, Old Persian is the highest-rated runner in the field and boasts a resume that includes a Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes (G2) win over 2400m at York’s 2018 Ebor Festival, beating subsequent Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter. Stablemate Spotify will bid to make it a third win in a row at Meydan with regular partner James Doyle, having won the Dubai Millennium Stakes (G3) last out, beating Racing History and Team Talk, who also make their starts here for Saeed bin Suroor.
First rider (for Bin Suroor) Christophe Soumillon has opted to ride Racing History, with the son of Pivotal having finished in the money in each of his last three starts in the Carnival’s Group races. Stablemate Team Talk will get a hand from Patrick Cosgrave, with his best race at Meydan in 2019 being a close second to Oasis Charm in the Jafza Handicap.
Desert Encounter, unplaced in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic last year, will likely need the run, but has improved with age—as many of trainer David Simcock’s runners do. Crowned Eagle has reportedly been training well in Newmarket, but must step up against the likes of these, while South African Group 1 winner Marinaresco must do the same. Godolphin Mile (G2) winner of 2017 Second Summer (Royston Ffrench) tries a new avenue in this spot, while Sharpalo (Connor Beasley), second to Spotify in handicap company two back, completes the field.
NAD AL SHEBA TURF SPRINT (Group 3 | $350,000 | 1200mT)
Godolphin’s Blue Point, to be ridden by William Buick for Charlie Appleby, is the class act in the field facing 10 rivals in the 1200m Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) sponsored by Arabian Adventures. Victorious in last year’s King’s Stand Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot and a dominant victor in the Meydan Sprint (G2) last out, he will be hard to beat, but Hugo Palmer’s dual Group 3 winner Gifted Master is poised to give him a tough fight if returning to his Goodwood Stewards’ Cup winning form. James Doyle rides the son of Kodiac.
Faatinah and Ekhtiyaar represent the Shadwell blue and white of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and must both be respected.
Faatinah, representing Australia and to be ridden by Dane O’Neill, is a two-time Carnival winner and was second by a distance to Blue Point last out. Doug Watson trainee Ekhtiyaar aims to follow up on his impressive 5¼-length runaway victory in the Land Rover Discovery Handicap 16 days ago and will probably sit cosily behind Blue Point before making a move in the turf dash under Jim Crowley.
Another high-class contender who has been looking ready to go in his morning workouts is Darren Bunyan’s Hit the Bid (Chris Hayes), who will be fresh after finishing a close second to Mazzini six weeks ago. The aforementioned Fawzi Nass trainee will aim to make it a fifth victory in a row, with stable jockey Adrie De Vries on board. Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum’s High On Life will be another danger, having consistently knocked on the door this season, with Zabeel Stable’s Riflescope (Richard Mullen) being prepped to test his capabilities against the big boys after a pair of excellent handicap runs. Portamento (Fernando Jara), Log Out Island (Tadhg O’Shea) and Ajwad (Bernardo Pinheiro) complete the field.
AL BASTAKIYA (Listed | $300,000 | 1900m)
Only Asiatic Boy in 2007 has won the UAE Triple Crown, but Godolphin’s Estihdaaf has a chance to emulate him; already winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), he is one of 14 declared in the middle leg, the Al Bastakiya (Listed) sponsored by emirates.com over the same 1900m on dirt as the concluding leg, the $2.5 million UAE Derby sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2). Christophe Soumillon will ride the son of Arch, whose dam is a full-sister to multi-surface G1 winner Better Lucky. His main danger may well be UAE Oaks (G3) heroine Divine Image, also owned by Godolphin, but trained by Charlie Appleby, who has been gaining experience with each start. Brett Doyle rides with the 53kg impost.
Argentinian Grade 1 winner Grecko—by Asiatic Boy’s sire Not for Sale—will be expected to show improvement with a Meydan run under his belt for Kenny McPeek. Senior jockey Frankie Dettori takes the ride on the good-looking grey colt, who has been training well in the mornings over the local surface. He is joined by another U.S.-trained colt in Tone Broke, who breaks from the rail under Mickael Barzalona. The son of Broken Vow is also expected to improve form his sixth in the Al Bastakiya Trial for 2008 Dubai World Cup-winning trainer Steve Asmussen.
Al Bastakiya Trial winner Manguzi (Fernando Jara) made all on his last start to just hold off Estihdaaf and will be a strong contender for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi. Unexposed The Song Of John (Richard Mullen) for Satish Seemar and the Touch Gold Racing syndicate adds a level of intrigue to the race, having finished 6th in his most recent outing in the Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, after having broken his maiden on his first start.
Denmark’s Red Cactus, a late-closing son of Hard Spun, was a good third to Estihdaaf in the UAE 2000 Guineas and should appreciated the increase in trip when Elione Henrique Chaves takes the reins, while local winners Moshaher (Pat Dobbs), Superior (Connor Beasley) and the filly Al Hayette (Fabrice Veron) are very highly regarded by their connections, but must return to their best form to factor.
The field is completed by Shanty Star (Bernardo Pinheiro) and Tabarak (Adrie de Vries) for Rashed Bouresly, England’s Fintas (Shane Kelly) and the imposing filly Al Shamkhah (Royston Ffrench).
MAHAB AL SHIMAAL (Group 3 | $350,000 | 1200m)
A competitive renewal of the $2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News (G1) prep will kick off Super Saturday, with Doug Watson stable star Drafted headlining the field for the Mahab Al Shimaal (G3) sponsored by Emirates Skywards. If the eye-catching grey manages to reproduce the scintillating turn-of-foot that gained him victory in the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) on his last start, the crowd will be in for a treat, but that could be a big ask with many of his competitors approaching peak form.
Asmussen saddles Switzerland, who hopes to make it a first Meydan victory, having found Satish Seemar’s Lavaspin too good on his most recent outing on Valentine’s Day. Drawn very well in post two under Mickael Barzalona, he could especially be a danger if he breaks well and holds position over the likes of Lavaspin, who seeks a fourth straight win at Meydan, having posted three victories over the 1200m course and distance for an average winning margin of 3¼ lengths. Two-time UAE Champion jockey Richard Mullen taking the ride on the Satish Seemar trainee.
Al Shindagha Sprint second Tato Key starts for David Marnane and will most likely enjoy the speed on offer in this dirt sprint. As a stalker breaking from the outside post 10 under Shane Foley, he will likely be the first to pounce if the early runners use up too much petrol early. Progressive Jebel Ali Sprint (Listed) winner Thammin (Jim Crowley) soundly beat High On Life and My Catch on his last start and will be out to provide trainer Musabbeh Al Mheiri with a second win in the feature.
Swedish I Kirk (Carlos Lopez) will bid for a fifth consecutive victory, having been kept fresh after his mid-January 3¼ length victory in the Azizi Farishta Handicap, putting him on par (110) on rating as Drafted. Trainer Susanne Berneklint has been very pleased with the son of Eishin Dunkirk and circled this run after his handicap victory.
Aforementioned My Catch (Sam Hitchcott), dirt-debuting Lansky (Royston Ffrench), comebacking Comicas (William Buick) and local winner Nine Below Zero (Adrie de Vries) have the deck stacked against them, but would not be a complete surprise if fortune shines upon them in a race that is so often won by the best trip.
BURJ NAHAAR (Group 3 | $350,000 | 1600m)
Doug Watson-trained Muntazah, second in last year’s Godolphin Mile (G2), and Salem bin Ghadayer’s American invader Axelrod (Royston Ffrench) lead the 12-strong field in the Burj Nahaar (G3) sponsored by Emirates Holidays on ratings. The latter, a dual Grade 3 winner and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) second to McKinzie, is out to explore the Meydan track for the first time. Last year’s Burj Nahaar winner Kimbear has been withdrawn and would have been considered one of the favourites in this spot, but Doug Watson will start another who will be well-fancied in Muntazah (Jim Crowley), who soundly beat the son of Temple City in their last outing, the Firebreak Stakes (G3).
In a field of seven, five will be coming here on the back of that race, giving Muntazah’s 4½-length dominating victory even more weight. Last year’s Godolphin Mile (G2) winner Heavy Metal (Mickael Barzalona) is one who failed to land a blow against Muntazah in the Firebreak or North America in the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G2) in January. He has drawn favourably and should be expected to improve from a fitness standpoint.
Jebel Ali Mile (G3) winner and Firebreak runner-up Secret Ambition take his chances for Satish Seemar, who also saddles Behavioral Bias, a son of Shackleford who not been seen in the winner’s circle since winning a 1200m Allowance Optional Claiming race at Fair Grounds in December 2017. Locally, his Jebel Ali Mile third shows he has kept his form and his connections have warned that his poor showing in the Firebreak is a line-through.
Jaguar F Pace Handicap winner Rodaini will be flying the flag for Ahmad bin Harmash, getting help from the talented young jockey Connor Beasley. Turkish champion Good Curry (Halis Karatas) will take his chances after a fourth placed effort in his first Meydan start over 1200m on dirt, with the three-time Group 1 winner most likely relishing the step up in trip, with his top-level wins all being over 1500m. Musabbeh Al Mheiri starts Moqarrab (Ben Curtis) and Ibn Malik (Dane O’Neill), Fawzi Nass brings classy comebacker Musawaat (Adrie de Vries) and Jaber Ramadhan-conditioned GM Hopkins (Antonio Fresu) complete the field.