Thursday’s sixth meeting of the 2019 Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan Racecourse was highlighted by the Group 2 $450,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 sponsored by Al Naboodah Allied Products Division over 1900m on the dirt and boasting a purse of $450,000. Also on tap was the classic Group 3 $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas, as well as multiple handicaps with Dubai World Cup night implications.
$450,000 AL MAKTOUM CHALLENGE ROUND 2 (GROUP 2)
The Maktoum Challenge R2 was won emphatically, while controlled from start to finish, by Ramzan Kadyrov’s Satish Seemar-trained North America. Ridden by Richard Mullen, the son of Dubawi struck the front from the outset and never looked back, winning with easy by 2¼ lengths over New Trails (Connor Beasley aboard) and Cosmo Charlie (Pat Dobbs) in a time of 1:58.65. Senior Investment (Pat Cosgrave), Etijaah (Jim Crowley) and Second Summer (Royston Ffrench) completed the order of finish.
Last year, the now 7-year-old lost a heart-pounding battle with subsequent Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) winner Thunder Snow by a neck in the race before going on to defeat that rival handily in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3. He now has the option of going on to defend said title or wait for the Dubai World Cup, for which he must now be considered the lukewarm favourite. The victory was his seventh from 11 dirt tries and 17 races overall. It follows an even more dominant victory in the Jan. 10 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) over 1600m.
“He is a bit like his jockey, improving with age,” Mullen said. “A lot was made out of his (dominant) first run and it is hard for a horse to replicate what he did. Yes, he was visibly impressive and I always had it in the back of my mind that I thought he would win this race, but I didn’t think he would do it in the manner in which he did. It is very hard for a horse to back that up. A lot of it was freshness and a lot of it was obviously adrenaline.
“He is a top-class horse and he likes the surroundings,” Mullen continued. “He has a beautiful stride and I think that is what kills a lot of the other horses off. His stride pattern is so different to the others; just half-pacing around there. That was phase one and phase two complete and now two more to go or maybe just one. We will sit down with the boss and speak to the owner and see if we skip Round 3 or freshen him up and go to the big night. He is going in the right direction.”
“The thing is, he did it his style and that’s what is important for this horse, the way he just jumped out and went on his way,” Seemar added. “Richie didn’t even touch him and he was doing it on his own. Richie, even though he knew horses were coming, he and the horse knew they could take another stride and (hold them off). It was exactly what we wanted. We have time now and we may or may not go for the (Group 1 $600,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3) on Super Saturday.”
Beasley said: He travelled very good and ran a very bold race. I’m very pleased with him.”
Dobbs said: “He’s a nice run around, but he’s not the same horse unless he’s making (the pace). He got a bit tired. He hasn’t run in a long time. We’re happy enough with him.”
Cosgrave said: “He ran a nice race, but he just needs to go a little bit forward with more distance. We can’t complain.”
Crowley said: I got a good run but, he ran ok. It was a good race. He isn’t getting any younger. I had a good position, but he was just not quite good enough.”
Ffrench said: “Obviously, he’s had a long time off. He bled last time, but thankfully he’s come back and had an easy race there. Everything seems to be fine so he can go on from here.”
North America wins the Al Maktoum Challenge R2, picture Dubai Racing Club|Erika Rasmussen
$250,000 UAE 2000 GUINEAS (GROUP 3)
Earlier, over 1600m on the dirt surface, the UAE 2000 Guineas sponsored by Al Naboodah Ashok Leyland Partnership was turned into somewhat of a procession by Godolphin’s Estihdaaf who, having been slowly away, was rousted to lead by Christophe Soumillon to take advantage of the number one stall. Once in front, the 3-year-old Arch colt travelled extremely well before shaking off heavy favourite Walking Thunder (Connor Beasley aboard) and handing trainer Saeed bin Suroor a seventh victory in the race. Two years ago, Soumillon and Bin Suroor landed the spoils with Thunder Snow. A homebred, the dark bay colt is out of a full-sister to multi-surface Group 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) runner-up Better Lucky, as well as a great-grandson of Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Desert Stormer.
Walking Thunder (Connor Beasley aboard) stayed on for the place 5½ lengths astern the victor, while followed by late-running Danish invader Red Cactus (Carlos Lopez) in third. Group 3 winner Sporting Chance (Pat Cosgrave) was fourth, followed by English colt Fintas (Shane Kelly), well-regarded local charge Moshaher (Pat Dobbs) and fellow UAE-based runners Eyelool (Chris Hayes) and Mulfit (Mickael Barzalona). The final time was 1:39.87.
“When I hit the front, I was quite confident,” Soumillon said. “I know when you have a horse like him, who is a bit lazy, if you can hit the front and relax for a while, it’s hard to catch up. I was very confident (once he hit the front), especially when I saw the favourite turning (for home) four (paths wide). I knew I had a winning chance. When Saeed gets some ideas, he can make things work. He showed more speed today. I told Saeed last time that if I had hit the front, I would have won it, and finally we did it today. It was a better race, and we are all very happy with it.”
“If he was more forward, I knew he would improve from last time,” Bin Suroor added. “I was confident he could run the mile and I knew the dirt would suit him because of his breeding. I told Christophe to be handy with him like he was in the morning and it went well. Last time he came from too far back, but this time I told him to put him (in position). We will see how he comes out after the race and Sheikh Mohammed will make a decision about (the Al Bastakiya and UAE Derby).”
Beasley was naturally underwhelmed about the performance of previously undefeated Walking Thunder: “He travelled very good there. He quickened up the straight, but just kept on one pace.”
“It was too fast for him,” Lopez said of the late-running Red Cactus. “He’s a distance horse who needs more distance. He’s a big horse with big action. I spent half the (time) trying to get him into the race. He hasn’t race too much and he’s very green; he’ll develop after this.”
Cosgrave said: He ran good. He just didn’t see the mile out, but he ran a nice race.”
Kelly said: He ran very well. The trip was fine and he can go a longer distance. Hopefully, we will see what the trainer wants to do, but he may be a possible for Super Saturday.”
Dobbs, whose Moshaher was expected to be forwardly placed and one of the main challengers to the favourite, was naturally disappointed: “He jumped slow and didn’t appreciate the kickback. The race was over after a furlong.”
Estihdaff wins the UAE 2000 Guineas, picture Dubai Racing Club|Erika Rasmussen
Remainder of Card
Godolphin swept the top two spots of the $175,000 3200m turf handicap, the Al Naboodah Honeywell Partnership, over the same course and distance as the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup and likely to see at least one or two of its runners in said $1.5 million affair. Well-bred Dubhe bested 2018 Dubai Gold Cup alumnus Red Galileo, of whom (at four) he was half the age. Buick was aboard for Appleby, while Soumillon was aboard the latter for Bin Suroor. A son of Dubawi and Irish Oaks (G1) winner Great Heavens, he won for the third time from seven starts.
Appleby said: “We have always thought these staying races would be his forte and he probably needed that first run (when unplaced two weeks prior) more than we expected because he is not the easiest to get fit. He has done that well this evening and we have a few options with him now going forward in the Carnival. Whether he is a Dubai Gold Cup horse only time will tell but he is a progressive young stayer.”
The $135,000 1800m turf handicap, the Al Naboodah Travel, looked competitive on paper, but was ultimately won comfortably by Nordic Lights, completing a double for both Appleby and Buick. A 4-year-old gelded son of Intello, he was soon in front with Buick seemingly able to set steady fractions before committing for home early in the straight when the pair shot clear and never looked likely to be caught.
Buick said: “He does not make life easy for himself, but he was a bit calmer this evening and we took him down to the start early which has helped him. He has plenty of natural speed but is not the easiest to settle, so I was happy to let him bowl along out in front and he seemed to really enjoy that.”
Last out the stalls, Mazzini ended up the smooth winner of the 1200m turf handicap, the Al Naboodah Automotive Division, following up his victory in a 1000m turf handicap a fortnight ago for Bahrain’s Fawzi Nass. A course and distance prep for the $2 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on Dubai World Cup night, the $175,000 produced a sharp runner-up effort from High on Life, who simply could not go with the widening winner, who crossed the line 2½ lengths the best.
Nass said: “He is a nice sprinter and did well to win first time over 1000m because this 1200m suits him better but he seems to be thriving here in Dubai. He improved from that outing and credit to Adrie who has given him a really good, confident, ride this evening.”
The concluding 1400m turf handicap, the Al Naboodah Cargo worth $135,000, was won by Appleby, Buick and Godolphin with market favourite Mubtasim, who proved too good for his rivals in a race that ran solidly to form.
A non-carnival race, a 1400m dirt maiden, the Al Naboodah Commercial Group opened proceedings and was won by Tabarak, sent straight to the front by Royston Ffrench and never headed.
A delighted Bouresly said: “This is a very nice horse indeed and we were very pleased with his first run last week and this race was ideal for him because he is a dirt horse on pedigree. Now he has won this he should be eligible for the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday and then, hopefully, the UAE Derby, which we think is a race he deserves to be aimed at.”