Favorites obliged in both Group events on a rare Saturday Carnival card at Meydan, but it was a much closer run thing for Promising Run in the $200,000 Balanchine (G2) than for Heavy Metal in the $200,000 Firebreak (G3).
From the Godolphin yard of Saeed bin Suroor, Promising Run was exiting a 4 1/2-length coup in the January 25 Cape Verdi (G2) at a metric mile. That made her the one to beat in the Carnival’s only other feature for turf distaffers, the Balanchine, over an extra furlong. As the Hard Spun mare attended Saudi shipper Tiaemah through tepid splits early, she appeared to be in the catbird’s seat. The leader couldn’t go on cornering for home, however, and Promising Run struck the front sooner than ideal for jockey Pat Cosgrave. Under top weight of 129 pounds, she kept digging in for the length of the straight and just lasted from the closing Furia Cruzada.
“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.”
Furia Cruzada, fourth to Thunder Snow as the defending champion in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) nine days ago, turned in her best effort in a year. Making her second start back with trainer Erwan Charpy after a disappointing European campaign, the former Chilean champion is now expected to step up in trip.
Opal Tiara, winless since taking last year’s Balanchine, loomed on the inside before surrendering her title in third. Norway’s Icecapada was a further 5 1/2 lengths back in fourth, followed by Tiaemah and long gaps to Singyoursong and Absolute Blast.
Promising Run is expected to get another chance in the Jebel Hatta (G1) versus males on March 10, Super Saturday, in which she was seventh last year.
Heavy Metal confirmed his status as the leading local miler when humbling a small field in the Firebreak, a stepping stone to the March 31 Godolphin Mile (G2) on Dubai World Cup night.
Imperious in the December 21 Dubai Creek Mile and the January 11 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2), where he ran away from Thunder Snow, Heavy Metal lacked the stamina in his rematch in Round 2. Trainer Salem bin Ghadayer wheeled him right back to his optimal distance in the Firebreak, and the eight-year-old veteran never looked like losing.
Heavy Metal blasted straight to the early lead, traveling so easily that regular rider Mickael Barzalona took his sweet time looking over his shoulder on the far turn. The Exceed and Excel gelding did just that, blowing off his nearest pursuer in Cosmo Charlie and cantering 9 3/4 lengths clear. His final time of 1:36.74 was snappy in light of how the track has been playing this season.
“He just loves it here at Meydan and this dirt surface,” Barzalona said. “The 1600 meters 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 1900 meters last week was probably too far for him and I guess the Godolphin Mile will be his main target.”
Cosmo Charlie was best of the rest by 6 1/4 lengths. Fantastic Four prevailed over the winner’s stablemate Richard Pankhurst for third, narrowly denying a one-three result for bin Ghadayer. Godolphin’s Bravo Zolo did not enjoy his dirt experiment at all, as the Charle Appleby pupil beat only one home, the tailed-off Nobelium.
Heavy Metal aired in Super Saturday’s Burj Nahaar (G3) last year, but it would be no great surprise if he freshens up and awaits World Cup night. He wasn’t able to put his best foot forward in the 2017 Godolphin Mile, thanks to a frenetic pace in the slop, but conditions may be more in his favor this time. And bin Ghadayer rightly believes he’s better than ever in 2018.
Bin Ghadayer and Barzalona made it a quick double with another Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed runner, Yalta, in the dirt sprint handicap. Also by Exceed and Excel, and likewise cutting back in trip after a second to Drafted at about seven furlongs February 1, Yalta cranked up the early speed and rolled by five lengths from Taamol.
“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.”
Yalta, who was winning in his new UAE home for the first time, hasn’t coped with his Meydan stakes tests yet. Fourth to 2016 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) victor Muarrab in the December 21 Garhoud Sprint, he was fifth to Comicas and Muarrab in the January 18 Dubawi (G3). But as Barzalona noted, Yalta is still a relative youngster at this venue, and his time of 1:10.96 for about six furlongs wasn’t far off Muarrab’s track record of 1:10.20. Granted, it was accomplished versus lesser, and without pace pressure.
Still, Yalta has something else in common with Heavy Metal aside from their sire and connections. Both were Group-winning two-year-olds at Glorious Goodwood for trainer Mark Johnston. While Heavy Metal landed the six-furlong Richmond (G2) in 2012, Yalta romped in the five-furlong Molecomb (G3) in 2016, signifying his future as a pure sprinter. Might he develop as well as Heavy Metal in time?
Appleby notched a double on the card himself. Godolphin’s Baccarat turned the tables on the Australian speedster Faatinah in the opener, raising his profile for the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night.
A neck shy of Faatinah over the same course and about six-furlong trip January 18, Baccarat stripped fitter this time around, and may have benefited from his rival’s awkward start too. Although Faatinah recovered fast and set up shop on the front end, his being on his back foot at the break may have gotten him out of sorts. The David Hayes charge was giving Baccarat four pounds as the 132-pound highweight, but he spotted him nearly as much in their prior meeting. The weight differential isn’t enough to explain Baccarat’s emphatic revenge. Quickening three lengths clear, the nine-year-old son of Dutch Art clocked 1:09.90.
“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 150 meters, so he was fighting for his head,” winning rider William 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 favorite 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.”
The other nine-year-old, Sir Maximilian, was under a ride a long way out but stayed on and nearly caught Faatinah for second. Bin Suroor’s Steady Pace, who would probably have been involved, was a late scratch.
Appleby’s Blair House posted a convincing 2 3/4-length decision in the turf handicap at about nine furlongs. With James Doyle picking up the mount from Buick, who rode co-highweight Kidmenever to a seventh-place finish, Blair House burst from the pack and topped the Godolphin exacta with Mountain Hunter. That bin Suroor trainee, the other 132-pound co-highweight was conceding Blair House four pounds.
The winner’s time of 1:48.73 was considerably faster than Promising Run’s 1:49.79 in the Balanchine, a byproduct of the more generous pace. The Pivotal gelding appreciated turning back in trip after a pair of about 1 1/4-mile seconds, missing by a neck to Light the Lights on January 18 and no match for bin Suroor’s Leshlaa nine days ago.
“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.”
British trainer Richard Hannon Jr. finally recorded his first UAE winner courtesy of Oh This Is Us in the nightcap. Arguably unlucky not to get his head in front last Carnival, the Acclamation entire got the split early in the straight and asserted under the top weight of 132 pounds. Oh This Is Us, well handled by jockey Tom Marquand, safely held the Godolphin duo of Top Score and Van Der Decken in 1:23.62 for about seven grassy furlongs.
In career best form in the spring of 2017, Oh This Is Us was just denied as the favorite (and co-highweight) in the Lincoln. He later made a winning debut at the listed level in Haydock’s Spring Trophy and suffered a troubled third in the Diomed (G3) on Epsom Derby Day. Oh This Is Us had yet to run up to that standard in the interim, but is back in business now.
Mike de Kock and Christophe Soumillon teamed up with Baroot in the non-Carnival handicap. Despite being drawn in post 12, the 131-pound co-highweight drove clear to become a winner for the third straight UAE season.
“He was probably a bit unlucky and a bit fresh last time so we thought he had a big chance today,” Soumillon said of this third start off a year-long layoff. “We jumped well and it took 50 meters 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 percent fit.”