Thursday’s second evening of the 2109 Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan was highlighted by a quality renewal of the $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 sponsored by Yahsat, a Group 2 contested over 1600m that has served as a prep for both the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) and $1.5 million Godolphin Mile (G2). Additionally, two exciting sophomore stakes were on tap, including the inaugural $100,000 Dubai Trophy over 1400m on turf and the $100,000 UAE 2000 Guineas over 1600m on dirt, as well as a trio of enthralling handicaps and a Group 1 Purebred Arabian affair.
AL MAKTOUM CHALLENGE ROUND 1 (Group 2, $350,000)
Well away under Richard Mullen, riding for main employer Satish Seemar and owner Ramzan Kadyrov, North America was absolutely dominant in a race that shaped up as one of the most compelling and competitive dirt miles Dubai has ever seen. The 7-year-old gelded son of Dubawi soon turned that presumption on its head, going gate-to-wire and never looking in doubt.
Shaking off defending champion and Godolphin Mile (G2) winner Heavy Metal, as well as UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) winner Gold Town, Burj Nahaar (G3) winner Kimbear and Godolphin Mile runner-up Muntazah, gingerly campaigned North America won for the sixth time in 16 starts and first time since winning the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday last March in similar fashion over subsequent Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow.
The victory provided some consolation for the winner’s connections, as his last two disappointing efforts—a 10th in the Dubai World Cup and third in last year’s edition of this race—were caused by poor starts. This time, there was no such worry.
“That’s the way he is,” Seemar said. “I was telling (Mullen) to let him do his thing. We had the right draw. If he pops out, just don’t stop him. I know when he’s in form like that, he’s so good. About 10 days ago, we jumped him out of the gate, just to wake him up and he did it exactly the same way. I wasn’t worried about (Heavy Metal). After (North America) broke like he did, I had no worries. His stride is about 1½ compared to other horses. He could have set a track record today, but no one was there to challenge him. He’ll go to (Al Maktoum Challenge) Round 2.”
“Unbelievable,” Mullen added. “I just said to the boss (Seemar) that there are not a lot of horses who give me goosebumps and he has done that. It was an incredible performance for his first run (this season). He has such huge stride. I think anything that comes near, he has that much pace that he just kills them off.
“This is step one. There are a few to go, so let us not get carried away. Like I said, they are horses, not machines, and anything can happen. There is potential for him to be better. He is only going to have four runs this year and he already has his program penciled out. I know he is a 7-year-old, but he has probably had less races than most 3- or 4-year-olds in Europe. He is very lightly raced and very well looked-after. They have the whole summer off, so seven is the new three or four in UAE terms.”
The Doug Watson-trained pair of Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi’s Kimbear and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Muntazah, ran on well, but were clearly distanced by the victor’s powerhouse performance. Kimbear saved ground under Pat Dobbs before tipping out and attempting to reel in the winner, while Muntazah dealt with a slightly more eventful trip under Jim Crowley.
“He had a nice trip around,” Dobbs said. “The winner was far too good. He’s a tough horse and ran his race, but I’m afraid the winner was in a different league today.”
“I didn’t get a great trip around,” Crowley explained. “There was a little interference on the backside, but he ran a good race and I think he’ll improve from this.”
Watson added: “North America was just fantastic tonight. I thought he might need farther, but the way he did that, he’s going to be a tough horse this year. I’m pleased with ours. Muntazah got into a little trouble, but he’ll come on from that run, again. I think Kimbear got another good blow out of this race. I’d say we go to the Firebreak with both of them.”
Gold Town, African Ride, Dolkong, Etijaah, Masaarr and a shockingly flat Heavy Metal completed the field.
Mickael Barzalona, aboard Heavy Metal, offered little excuse: “The horse, mainly, needed the run. We’ll see next time.”
North America and Richard Mullen, picture Dubai Racing Club and Erika Rasmussen
UAE 2000 GUINEAS TRIAL (3-year-olds, $100,000)
The UAE 2000 Guineas Trial sponsored by Strata, over the same 1600m dirt course and distance as the first colts’ classic, was turned into a procession by Walking Thunder, who is now unbeaten after three starts, all at Meydan on dirt. Trained by Ahmad bin Harmash for the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, the 3-year-old son of Violence provided the owners a winner with their first ever runner at the opening Meydan meeting of the season, at the beginning of November, over 1400m and followed up five weeks later over 1600m. Ridden by Connor Beasley on each occasion, the pair were able to overcome being drawn widest of all to stalk early leader Power Link, before sweeping past early in the straight and powering clear by nine lengths.
Bin Harmash said: “He’s a very good horse. We are trying to get to the UAE Derby with him. He’s doing very well and has trained very well. He ran a great race. Congratulations to this new group of owners. We weren’t worried about the (draw). He’s a horse who runs fast from the gate and it didn’t scare us that much. It looks like he can travel the Derby distance.”
“From a wide draw, I just thought I would let him jump and, instead of fighting, let him breathe and find his feet,” Beasley added. “He did that really well today and he travelled very easily. He is a real professional in his mannerisms; the way he goes to start—just everything. To me, he feels like a good horse. When the draw came out, I was a bit disappointed, but in hindsight, it worked out really well. I’ve let him get into stride and I had no kickback in his face; not that he minds kickback. He had a smooth passage throughout and I think that was probably key.”
Manguzi finished a hard-trying second on short rest for trainer Ali Rashid Al Rayhi, while Doug Watson-trained Al Seel Legacy’s pipped disappointing favourite Royal Marine for third in the final strides. Jockey Christophe Soumillon said of the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Godolphin homebred: “We got off to a slow start and he finished well in the end. He needed that run.”
The Factor’s three-quarter brother Power Link, who set the pace, retreated to fifth, while Red Cactus, Burj, Giant Hero, Rayig, Faith and Fortune, Dark Thunder, Galaxy Road and Nitro completed the order of finish.
Bin Harmash and Beasley completed a double with the easy victory of New Trails in the 1900m dirt handicap, the Special Olympics Cup, in which the improving charge decimated his rivals by 10½ lengths. The effort inspired Bin Harmash to report that he will head to the $450,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) on Feb. 7.
DUBAI TROPHY (3-year-olds, $100,000)
A new race this year, the Dubai Trophy sponsored by Masdar, a 1400m turf conditions contest for the 3-year-olds, was won in determined fashion by Godolphin’s Good Fortune, a first 2019 carnival winner for both Charlie Appleby and James Doyle. Never far off the pace, Doyle asked the New Approach colt to challenge at the top of the straight with the pair hitting the front about 350m from home before drifting slightly across the track, but never appearing in much danger, although David Simcock-trained Woven did run on well to take second. Trolius ran on well to be third, which provided a small consolation for trainer Simon Crisford, whose favoured Sporting Chance disappointed in 12th of the 16 runners.
“He’s certainly done well since he’s been out here,” Appleby said. “I feel stepping up in trip after this is only going to be his forte. He’ll obviously most likely go on to the Meydan Classic; the most natural progression for him.”
“It went off quite nicely on a horse that has shown decent level of ability at home,” Doyle added. “He was drawn very wide in a competitive field with plenty of runners, which can make it a bit tricky. He jumped well, did everything well and relaxed very nicely. He has thrived out here and looks like he has grown a bit. He looks pretty solid, now, and hopefully we can have a bit more fun. I was always pretty happy with him. He didn’t click away in the straight, but he just kept lengthening and it just turned out well.”
Jim Crowly, aboard Woven, was pleased with his mount’s game effort: “It went well,” he said. “It’s his first start out here and he’s ran well and he’ll improve off this race. It was a good run.”
Chris Hayes, aboard Trolius, said: “We had a very bad draw, but it was a good trip. I got across into a nice position; probably a length or two off the eventual winner. He probably wants farther than this trip. If they kept a good gallop going, I thought I could have caught him. It’s a good, promising run. He’s done everything right; couldn’t’ fault him.”
Pat Cosgrave offered little excuse for the beaten favourite: “He probably just needed the run and got a little tired in the straight, but it’s his first run for a while. I’d just say he needed a run.”
Irish Trilogy finished fourth, followed by Shining Armor, Prince Elzaam, Al Fajir Mukbile, Estihdaaf, Dream With You, Iskandarani, Bosconero, Sporting Chance, Magic Image, King Lothbrok, Al Mortajaz, Mneef.
Remainder of Card
The only Purebred Arabian race on the card, the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 sponsored by Mubadala (G1 PA) kicked off proceedings over 1600m on dirt and provided trainer Mohamed Ali with his first winner of the season when Wadeeaa was never headed in her dirt debut. Owned and bred by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the 5-year-old mare absolutely flew out the stalls under Szczepan Mazur and proceeded to hold off all comers in an impressive gate-to-wire win.
“I was pretty confident we were going to hold on, but was also relieved to get to the post still in front,” Mazur said.
The Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi World Class Healthcare Cup, a 1200m turf handicap, was an absolute thriller with 13 going to post and six of them locked in battle throughout the final 50m. Not only was it exciting, but said blanket finish perfectly encapsulated the international nature of the concert with Godolphin’s Roussel locking horns with Abrantes from Spain, Alfredo Arcano for Ireland and a trio from the UK—Glenamoy Lad, Intisaab and Dream Today. Ultimate it was the last named, Jamie Osborne-trained Dream Today, who pulled off the short-headed victory for a raucous ‘The Melbourne 10’ ownership group.
Ridden by Chris Hayes, the 4-year-old Dream Ahead gelding was saddled by Jamie Osborne, who said: “That was brilliant; I was stood by the furlong pole and thought he was beaten, but had run a big race and was happy with that. Then, as Chris said, he has just fought back and has shown a great attitude to regain the initiative, having been headed as he passed me. It is a great occasion for all the syndicate and we will enjoy it!”
The finale, the ultra-competitive looking Cepsa Energy Cup, a 1600m turf handicap, was contested by the maximum allowed field of 16 and was won impressively by one of the most decorated yards in Carnival history, the Blue Stables of Mike de Kock and his 7-year-old Baroot, who was making his first start since Mar. 15. Owned by Sheikh Ahmed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, the son of Dubawi closed from the tail-end of the field, pounced on his rivals and won with authority under Adrie De Vries.
“When I heard the commentator say ‘Baroot,’ I thought to myself that he must have the wrong horse,” De Kock quipped. “He’s such a game horse and always tries his best. He’s one of those horses who improves with each run and it’s unbelievable how versatile he is.”