Thursday’s Dubai World Cup Carnival card got off to a fast start literally and figuratively, as the most tantalizing match-up came in the opening $175,000 Meydan Sprint (G2). Defending champion Ertijaal extended his record to 7-6-1-1 over Meydan’s about five-furlong trip, but near-misser Blue Point advertised himself as perhaps the one to prefer going an extra panel in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on Dubai World Cup night.
Trained by Ali Rashid al Rayhi and piloted by Sheikh Hamdan’s retained rider, Jim Crowley, Ertijaal is a speed machine on this straightaway. The homebred son of Oasis Dream easily secured the lead, despite not being quickest away, and turned on the decisive burst of pace after the halfway mark. Godolphin’s Blue Point, bringing top European six-furlong form into his Dubai debut, was momentarily outpointed by that dash of speed. In deep stretch, however, the Charlie Appleby trainee found his legs to go close.
Ertijaal refused to let him pass, rebuffing Blue Point by a head in :56.56. Hit the Bid, who’d pressed Ertijaal to the wire in their mutual reappearance January 11, was a further 3 1/4 lengths back in the five-horse field. Out Do checked in fourth, and Fityaan trailed after trying to go with Ertijaal early.
“He was on his toes a bit in the stalls and actually missed the break a little bit, but was soon in that amazing rhythm he has,” Crowley said. “I was always happy on him and we knew Blue Point, who is a very good sprinter himself, would be staying on. When my horse is challenged, I know he is going to find plenty for pressure and that is what happened.”
Ertijaal has now won seven of his last nine starts on this course, going back to the 2015 Carnival. His two losses within that time frame have both come in the Al Quoz, a second in 2016 (its final running at this trip) and a third in last year’s at about six furlongs. The question now is to what extent Ertijaal is vulnerable at the longer distance. The 2017 Al Quoz isn’t necessarily a true bill since it was contested over unusually soft going in Dubai, and Ertijaal holds the course record over both five and six here. Still, the seven-year-old will be facing a primed Blue Point along with internationals on World Cup night.
Sheikh Hamdan and Crowley turned the Group 2 double with South African import Janoobi in the $250,000 Zabeel Mile (G2). The Mike de Kock charge reached his peak in this third Carnival start, running down repeat-seeker Championship to score by three-quarters of a length.
Fellow South Africans rounded out the superfecta, with stablemate Noah from Goa (last year’s Zabeel runner-up) taking third and Brett Crawford’s comebacker Whisky Baron an eye-catching fourth. Considering that was an inadequate distance for the 2017 Sun Met (G1) winner, whose only interim outing was a sixth in the September 29 Joel (G2) at Newmarket, Whisky Baron stamped himself as one for next time.
Janoobi clocked a swift 1:35.27, just an eyelash off the 1:35.19 recorded by Championship in last year’s Zabeel Mile. This marked the second straight race that Janoobi flirted with a course record. In his previous attempt in the February 1 Al Fahidi Fort (G2), he was collared by Jungle Cat in 1:22.40 for about seven furlongs.
“I had planned to lead,” Crowley said of the Zabeel Mile, “but Championship was able to get across us and to the front, so I was conscious to switch out off the rail, as I did not want to be stuck behind him. It actually proved ideal, because I had a nice tow from him and we went a good gallop which has suited my horse who won nicely. He has improved with each run this year and we knew we had a good chance in a competitive race.”
De Kock praised Crowley’s tactical acumen.
“That was a very good ride from Jim, who did well to angle off the fence to alleviate the chance of getting trapped on the rail,” the trainer said. “We were quite hopeful back over 1600 meters, which is his best trip, but I think the 1800 meters of the Jebel Hatta ([G1] on Super Saturday) would be too far, so we could try him on dirt (in the Burj Nahaar [G3] on the same March 10 card). I think he would handle the surface with his style of running, but we will have to talk to Sheikh Hamdan first.”
Janoobi’s signature wins at home likewise came at the metric mile, in the 2017 Gauteng Guineas (G2) at Turffontein and the Daisy Guineas (G2) at Greyville. His first stakes coup as a juvenile, the about 5 1/2-furlong Protea (G3), could also be read as a forecast of his future distance limitations although he’s by by Silvano.
“Noah From Goa will head for the Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday,” de Kock said of the third-placer, “and looks as though he will appreciate the extra 200 meters.”
Championship, a non-threatening eighth behind Jungle Cat off the year-long layoff last time, moved forward considerably in this title defense and led with his old enthusiasm.
“I was drawn 10 and he likes to be a frontrunner,” jockey Silvestre De Sousa said. “I had to use the horse early to come across. He ran a good race. It was his second time out in the Carnival and he’s still not 100 percent, but it was a big performance tonight.”
Appleby landed the other Group race, the $200,000 Dubai Millennium (G3), with Godolphin’s Folkswood. Traveling powerfully behind the leaders from his rail draw, the Exceed and Excel gelding lacked room in upper stretch and would have been an unlucky loser. But jockey William Buick steered him into a seam, and Folkswood was game to take it. He quickened well to edge Saeed bin Suroor’s progressive Leshlaa in a Godolphin exacta, finishing the about 1 1/4 miles on turf in 2:02.33.
“The horse really deserves a lot of credit for that win,” Buick commented, “because we were in trouble with nowhere to go for a little while, but when the gap opened, he really picked up in style. I knew once we were clear, it was going to be close and the horse has really battled to lead on the line. His last run was in Australia was in November, so he was entitled to need this outing.”
Third in superstar Winx’s Cox Plate (G1) three-peat in October, Folkswood had warmed up for that test with a victory in the Cranbourne Cup 13 days prior. He wheeled back again for the November 11 Emirates (G1) at Flemington, winding up fifth, and the freshening did him good here. An improver during the 2017 Carnival, when jumping up from a handicap to miss by a neck in the Jebel Hatta (G1), Folkswood will likely try to go one better there on Super Saturday.
Salem bin Ghadayer’s perennial bridesmaid Earnshaw got up for third, preventing bin Suroor’s Team Talk from completing a Godolphin trifecta. South Africa didn’t have as much to cheer as in the Zabeel Mile, for De Kock’s duo of Light the Lights and Al Sahem checked in fifth and sixth. But Al Sahem’s effort was far better than his too-fresh, fizzling out last in the Al Rashidiya (G2), and this step in the right direction portends still better.
Godolphin’s smart prospect Walton Street made it an Appleby and Buick double in the nightcap, an about 1 1/2-mile turf handicap that featured a Godolphin superfecta. Sixth in his Meydan premiere after a less than ideal passage January 11, and nabbed by Gold Star last time February 1, the Cape Cross blueblood found his third try the charm. The pieces finally fell into place for the lightly-raced four-year-old, who’s been “learning on the job,” as Appleby put it, and he swept to a convincing two-length tally over stablemate Eynhallow in 2:28.25.
“I’ve been on him before and I thought he would improve for it,” Buick said. “Today he seemed to just get everything together. He looks like a lovely horse and has the pedigree to go with it.”
Walton Street gained vengeance on bin Suroor’s Gold Star back in third. The seven-pound weight concession alone can’t account for the turnaround, since Gold Star gave him six in their latest. Appleby’s Wolf Country, the early leader, was relegated to fourth.
Another work in progress, Touch Gold Racing and Sean Ewing’s Raven’s Corner, turned the corner himself with a track record-setting romp on the dirt.
Well regarded by trainer Satish Seemar, the son of Raven’s Pass has had problems at the gate, and actually had to be scratched from his intended reappearance (and stakes debut) in the December 21 Garhoud Sprint. His Carnival has accordingly taken time to get off the ground, but after a sixth behind Comicas in the Dubawi (G3) and a third to Drafted and speed merchant Yalta in a handicap, Raven’s Corner showed his true colors. He bagged the early lead with stable jockey Richard Mullen, spurted away from Kimbear by seven lengths, and lowered the about seven-furlong mark to 1:23.07. Note that Kimbear was giving Raven’s Corner 13 pounds as the 132-pound highweight.
“This horse had a few issues with the stalls, as we know earlier this season, and I have not actually ridden him the last twice when Pat Cosgrave has,” Mullen said. “He basically said to me to keep the horse away from the others and the actual stalls down at the start.
“The horse was lovely and relaxed all along. He jumped well and was soon in his stride. He is a horse with a lot of pace and we are still unsure what his best trip is. He is quick enough for 1200 meters and might stay 1600 meters. We have always really liked this horse and he is starting to justify our opinion of him but is still improving.”
Seemar and Mullen also captured the non-Carnival handicap over the same track and trip, in similar front-running fashion, with Secret Ambition. The finish was a lot tighter, though, and Secret Ambition had to keep finding to stave off Musawaat in a final time of 1:24.38.
Speed on the dirt was again unassailable in the metric mile handicap, where Hong Kong shipper Classic Emperor was expected to put up a bold show in preparation for the Godolphin Mile (G2). Frustratingly, it all went wrong when the Chris So trainee stumbled badly leaving the gate, unseating jockey Derek Leung, and he completed the circuit by himself. Horse and rider were both reportedly OK, and Classic Emperor could try again in Super Saturday’s Burj Nahaar.
“When he stumbled the first time,” Leung said, “he tried to pick himself up. It’s just bad luck; it happens. Hopefully the horse is able to come back in a couple of weeks and he can show the racing world what he can do.”
Instead it was the ex-Godolphin Capezzano making a winning debut for new trainer bin Ghadayer. With jockey Mikael Barzalona measuring out the pace, the Bernardini gelding had 1 1/4 lengths to spare from Footbridge – his former stablemate from the Appleby yard. Capezzano, who was third in last year’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and Al Bastakiya (G3), stopped the timer in a modest 1:38.66.
“He is a new horse for us and we were keen to run him on the dirt, as he has good form on it,” Barzalona said. “We have only had him about two weeks and I did do one piece of work on him when he went nicely. We would have to hope he can win again as he goes well on this dirt surface and is a tough, talented performer.”