Southern California-based Rockingham Ranch has quickly made a name for itself as a source of quality racehorses that enjoy success on the global stage. In the past two years, its athletes have risen to the occasion when it counted most and a worldwide audience was watching.
In early November at Del Mar-hosted Breeders’ Cup, Gary Hartunian’s light blue and black silks graced the winner’s enclosure with the likes of popular Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Roy H and upset Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) victor Stormy Liberal. The outfit’s impressive performances have also reached Dubai over the last two Dubai World Cup cards, including a tough-beat second by consensus choice X Y Jet in the 2016 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) and a close fifth by Richard’s Boy in 2017’s Al Quoz Sprint (G1).
All but X Y Jet – conditioned by Jorge Navarro – are trained by Peter Miller, but all four are being pointed to the prestigious Dubai World Cup card on Mar. 31, 2018, at Meydan Racecourse.
“The Dubai experience has been a blast for us,” said Brian Trump, racing manager. “His Highness (Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) knows how to host an event with the best in the world and we have been blessed to have sent a horse each year and had great results. We look forward to expanding the roster for the upcoming World Cup.
“Ideally we would like to send Roy H and X Y Jet for the Golden Shaheen and Stormy Liberal and Richard’s Boy for the Al Quoz Turf Sprint,” Trump continued. “We will have to see how everyone is doing at the time and how they come out of their prep races. Ultimately the trainers will make the call based on how they feel they are training.”
Possibly a favourite if he makes the trip, Roy H put together a championship season in 2017 in the United States, including multiple top-level victories. Stormy Liberal, who bested his stablemate Richard’s Boy in a photo-finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint – completing a rare one-two on one of racing’s biggest days – returned earlier this month to finish off the board in the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) at Sha Tin.
“Roy H is doing great coming off the Breeders’ Cup win. He was given some well-deserved ‘R&R’ and should begin training at the beginning of the year,” Trump said. “Stormy Liberal didn’t appear to show up for his race in Hong Kong. Physically he is fine, but I think the trip was a bit much for him.
“Richard’s Boy is a special horse,” Trump continued. “Pete tried to give him some rest, but the horse keeps wanting to run. He’s every owner’s dream. X Y Jet has had a full year to recover from a minor surgery. Jorge has told us that he has been training better than before and that he is very excited for his upcoming return on Dec. 23 in the Mr. Prospector Stakes (at Gulfstream Park in South Florida).”
BIG SEASON GOALS FOR SECOND SUMMER, FAULKNER
The top name on the Thursday card is reigning Godolphin Mile (G2) champion Second Summer, who makes his first start since said Mar. 25 triumph in the evening’s fifth race, The Entisar Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors over 2000m. A logical starting point for those with Dubai World Cup (G1) dreams, the race also features three others from the same Doug Watson yard. Chief among those is arguably Faulkner, who has long had high hopes surrounding him.
The Entisar is a step up in trip for Second Summer, a 5-year-old son of U.S. champion Summer Bird, and will be his second try over 2000m at Meydan following a seventh-place finish two back in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) on Mar. 4. Previously trained in the United States by Peter Eurton, he was an impressive winner of the 1800m Californian Stakes (G2) in May of 2016.
“Second Summer is out for the first time and is giving away a little bit of weight, but he’s in really good form at home,” Watson said. “We need to get him started. He’s been off since (Dubai) World Cup night (Mar. 25). He wants the (2000m), anyway, but because he ran poorly in the third leg of the Al Maktoum Challenge, we couldn’t get to the World Cup last year, so we ran him in the (Godolphin) Mile. We were fortunate enough to win that.”
Second Summer defeated one of the world’s top dirt milers in the Godolphin Mile, Sharp Azteca, who finished a game third. Said foe would go on to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and romp in New York’s prestigious Cigar Mile (G1).
Faulkner was a game second two races back in the 2016 running of the Godolphin Mile (G2) and returned from a 20-month layoff to finishing a good second at Meydan behind stakes winner and stablemate Cosmo Charlie on Nov. 23.
“We’re running Faulkner over the right trip this time,” Watson continued. “He had a fracture we caught before it got too bad. We put a screw in it and gave him plenty of time. His first run back against Cosmo Charlie was very good. If he stays sound, he can win in the Carnival. Cosmo Charlie is also one to look forward to. He’s stronger and a more relaxed horse.”
A victory by Faulkner would give him a Meydan triumph in four consecutive years, following wins in Nov. 2014, Jan. 2015 and Feb. 2016.
Watson also starts Etijaah and Storm Belt. “They are both doing well,” he said. “I think they should run well on Thursday and will be good horses for the Carnival.”
ZAMAAM PRIMED TO BUILD ON MOMENTUM
While the stayers are not often the flashiest horses to watch, they may be the most admirable with their stamina and longevity on the racetrack. One worth watching this season who showed marked improvement last Carnival is Group 3 winner Zamaam, who campaigns for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and trainer Erwin Charpy.
“We are looking at the first day of the Carnival with him,” Charpy said. “There’s a 2400m race and he is doing very well right now. I think the key with him is (jockey) Jim Crowley. He gets along so well with him. He can be erratic and pull and right from the first time Jim rode him he told me that he would win next time. Sure enough, he won with him in his next race. In the morning, he tanks along and Jim just threw the rein at him out of the gate. Once he relaxes, he’s great to ride. If you take a hold of him out of the gate, he gets rank.”
Earlier this year, Zamaam nearly pulled the impossible when he won the Abu Dhabi Championship (G3) going 2200m at its namesake racecourse on Mar. 19 and then wheeled back to finish a game fifth in the US$1-million Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2) at 3200m six days later.
“I think he’s done well and is just as good as last year,” Charpy continued. “In the Gold Cup, he was traveling so well that Jim told me he got excited. He came back with a big grin on his face and thought that he would give them a run for their money, which is great for a horse coming out of the handicap ranks.”
JUVENILE FILLY RAYYA AN EXCITING ONE
Having a 2-year-old filly win like Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi’s Rayya did on debut (Dec. 7) at Meydan is never a bad feeling and that is exactly the sentiment of an optimistic Doug Watson, who trains the talented chestnut. Powering clear early and then decimating her foes late, the daughter of lightly raced multiple graded stakes-winning American racehorse Tiz Wonderful rolled to a 9 3/4-length romp on debut under jockey Patrick Dobbs, earning a Racing Post Rating of 80 and finishing up 1400m in 1:26.10.
“You never know (how good they are) when they’re home working against your own horses,” Watson said. “We needed to get over there and see what she would do. I expected her to run well, but I didn’t expect her to win like that and I don’t know what we beat (class-wise).
“We’ll go to the (1000 Guineas) Trial with her next on the 18th of January, so that is six weeks from her last race,” Watson continued. “It gets busy after that, with three weeks to the (UAE) 1000 Guineas and then three weeks back to the (UAE) Oaks. We’ll probably take on that nice filly of Ismail Mohammed’s (Halima Hatun) in the Guineas Trial, so we’ll see how we stack up.”
The US$100,000 UAE 1000 Guineas Trial is over 1400m (about seven furlongs) on the main track and is the local prep for the top two events for sophomore fillies in Dubai — the US$250,000 UAE 1000 Guineas (Listed) over 1600m (about one mile) on Feb. 8 and US$250,000 UAE Oaks (G3) over 1900m (about 1 3/16 miles) on Mar. 1.
“I’m personally involved in this,” Watson continued. “I went to the Ocala Sale with Conor Foley and his bloodstock partner and we picked her out. I’m glad we got her. I think she has stamina and we were looking for horses who could get the Derby and Oaks trips. We have (a 2-year-old colt) in (Thursday night) named Rougher for the same owner, who we bought down there (for US$190,000), and he seems to really want the trip. He doesn’t have as much speed as Rayya, but you really never know until you get them to the races.”
Consigned by Shooting Star Sales, Rayya was also purchased for US$190,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale April 2017 Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. Out of the Coronado’s Quest mare Spread, she is a half-sister to Curlin Road, who won the 2400m Cougar II Handicap (G3) at Del Mar last summer. Her second dam is a sister to Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Concern.