One of just two Saturdays to be staged during the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival, the other being Super Saturday in three weeks’ time, the seventh meeting of this year’s international extravaganza was highlighted by the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes sponsored by AZIZI Developments. The US$200,000 event included a thrilling finish between Godolphin’s multiple G2 winner and race favourite Promising Run and multiple G1 winner Furia Cruzada, who was running on nine days’ rest following a fourth-place finish in the Al Maktoum Challenge R2 (G2) on dirt. The former, under Pat Cosgrave for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, held on by a diminishing head over her Antonio Fresu-ridden South American champion foe in exciting style.
Penalised for their victory in the 1600m Group 2 Cape Verdi (G2), also for fillies and mares, three weeks ago, Promising Run carried her 58.5 kgs to the front soon after turning for home, but quickly came under attack from Opal Tiara, winner of this race last year for England and trainer Mick Channon. Cosgrave’s mount shrugged her off 200m out, only for Fresu and Furia Cruzada to throw down a determined, late challenge in the centre of the track. Ultimately holding on, Promising Run was part of a treble on the evening for the Godolphin blue.
“To be honest, things did not really go to plan this evening and in such a small field I would have much preferred a faster early gallop but we did not go very quickly,” Cosgrave said. “It then became a bit messy and, not wanting to disappoint her, I was in front plenty soon and we were there to be aimed at. In fairness to her, she has seen off the challenges well and then had enough to thwart the very last one. A faster run race will suit her and, remember, she has done that under a penalty, so you have to be happy.”
Sun Classique, Cladocera, Very Special and Sajjhaa –the last two bin Suroor trainees– had all previously completed the Cape Verdi and Balanchine double. Sajjhaa went on to win both the Jebel Hatta (G1) and Dubai Turf (G1).
Promising Run (middle) holds off a furious rally from Furia Cruzada in the Balanchine, picture Dubai Racing Club and Andrew Watkins
The evening’s co-feature was the $200,000 Firebreak Stakes sponsored by AZIZI Developments (G3) over the same dirt course and 1600m distance as next month’s $1 million Godolphin Mile sponsored by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City – District One (G2). From halfway, there was only ever going to be one winner with big favourite Heavy Metal never threatened under Mickael Barzalona and able to register his sixth course and distance victory emphatically for trainer Salem bin Ghadayer and owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
Winner of the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G2) on the first night of the carnival six weeks ago, over the same track and trip, he was penalised for that success and was also making a quick return to action, having finished a tired third in the 1900m Al Maktoum Challenge R2 last Thursday.
“He just loves it here at Meydan and this dirt surface,” Barzalona said. “The 1600m is probably his ideal trip and he has won that today without me having to ask him to do anything. He seems to anticipate the start and knows when it is time to go. That helps him get to the lead, and the rail, after which he has proved many times he is a hard horse to pass. The 1900m last week was probably too far for him and I guess the Godolphin Mile will be his main target.”
It was perhaps not quite as easy but the same connections made an immediate return to the winner’s enclosure after the virtually identical success of front-running Yalta in the following 1200m dirt handicap, the $125,000 Mina AZIZI. It was a first UAE victory for the horse in his sixth attempt.
“He is only four and, if you look back, was a very good, fast juvenile,” Barzalona said. “He has shown he retains his speed and ability but getting his head back in front is important. This should have done his confidence a lot of good and it would be nice to think he could cope with a step back up in class.”
The meeting opened with the $175,000 AZIZI Riviera, a 1200m turf handicap in which only five started following the late defection of Steady Pace. Over the same course and distance four weeks ago, representing Australia and David Hayes, Fatinaah had made all under Jim Crowley and HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s sprinter tried to repeat the trick here. However, they were stalked throughout by William Buick aboard Baccarat, trained by Charlie Appleby for Godolphin, and runner-up to Fatinaah on that previous occasion.
Keen early on, Buick’s mount was soon travelling happily in behind the leader. Moving strongly to the leader 300m out, the chestnut 9-year-old proved best with a three-length victory.
“He actually broke well tonight, which for him is not ideal, especially in a small field because he needs cover and we could not get that for the first 150m, so he was fighting for his head,” Buick said. “Then he raced in a lovely rhythm just behind the leader and everything went very smoothly from about halfway. He is a real stable favourite who has a great record here at Meydan and has a real good following with the crowd here as well. All being well, he should be competitive in the Al Quoz Sprint on the Dubai World Cup card.”
Blair House, under jockey James Doyle, completed a treble for Godolphin and a double for Appleby when running on strongly to land the $125,000 AZIZI Victoria, a turf handicap over 1800m in which he was chased home by the same owner’s Mountain Hunter, saddled by Bin Suroor.
“He had run well twice already this season so we knew he was in form and I was happy to get the chance to ride him,” Doyle said. “He enjoyed himself being settled in amongst horses and has taken every gap when they appeared, hit the front going strongly and then ran on well.”
The $60,000 Aliyah AZIZI, a non-carnival 1800m turf handicap, looked competitive beforehand but that proved not to be the case when Mike de Kock-trained Baroot stormed clear under Christophe Soumillon, riding for owner Sheikh Mohd bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.
“He was probably a bit unlucky and a bit fresh last time so we thought he had a big chance today,” Soumillon said. “We jumped well and it took 50m to find cover and get him relaxed. After that, I was always happy as I knew we would get a nice lead into the race and he can improve from this as he is probably still not 100% fit.”
The finale, the $125,000 Shaista AZIZI Handicap over 1400m on turf, was won in gritty fashion by game English invader Oh This Is Us, from the yard of Richard Hannon. The Irish-bred son of Acclamation carried top weight of 60 kgs and held off the Godolphin pair of Top Score and Van Der Decken. Tom Marquand was aboard for the victory, giving one of the top trainers in England his first UAE victory.