Godolphin’s Blue Point has made his case for antepost favoritism for Saturday’s $1 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1), but the turf dash down the Meydan straight remains hotly competitive with a field of 14 declared. The beaten favorite in the past two runnings, Ertijaal [scratched Wednesday], hopes the third time’s the charm despite being upset by Jungle Cat last out. Four Americans are trying their luck, led by Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) exacta Stormy Liberal and Richard’s Boy, and a trio of Australians look to get their home base back on the honor roll.
Ertijaal was the Al Quoz storyline for the past two years thanks to his supremacy over the course. Trained by Ali Rashid al Rayhi, the Shadwell homebred was just outfoxed by Australian veteran Buffering in 2016. When the Al Quoz was lengthened from five to about six furlongs in 2017, that didn’t appear to be a major problem since Ertijaal held the course records for both trips. The unexpected monsoon, however, was a problem, blunting his speed enough to cause a massive upset at the hands of France’s The Right Man.
Perhaps this would finally be Ertijaal’s year, until two hard-fought wins – one in a handicap over Hit the Bid and the other over Blue Point in the Meydan Sprint (G2) – suggested that the seven-year-old was entering a zone of vulnerability. That premonition was confirmed sooner than expected when Ertijaal was a surprisingly tame second to new course record-setter Jungle Cat in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint on Super Saturday. The most negative reading is that he’s in a downward form cycle. A more encouraging hypothesis is that the crafty Al Rayhi thought it better to give him a quiet prep than to keep him under wraps until World Cup night. If the Ertijaal bandwagon is emptying too soon, he’ll be a better price as a rebound candidate with Jim Crowley.
Blue Point’s antepost favoritism is partly a compliment to Ertijaal. If the six-furlong specialist could finish that well against Ertijaal over five, surely he’d reverse form in the Al Quoz rematch. Indeed, trainer Charlie Appleby has set this as his long-range plan, and Blue Point owns some hefty British form at both two and three. An Ascot course record-setter who traded decisions with Harry Angel, chased Churchill and Caravaggio, and defeated his elders in last October’s Bengough (G3), Blue Point is on the verge of a Group 1 breakthrough after three placings at the top level. William Buick opts for him in preference to stablemates Jungle Cat, fourth in the last two editions of the Al Quoz but in career-best form at present, and Baccarat, a useful handicapper who was a rallying fourth after a slow start in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint.
Few might have anticipated that trainer Peter Miller would have as many Al Quoz runners as Godolphin, but his triumvirate equals Appleby’s. Perhaps the fact that Richard’s Boy ran a better-than-appears fifth here last year, on unsuitably yielding ground – and the near-miss by Bill Mott’s Long on Value – has spurred the raiding party in hopes of a first American success on the World Cup night turf.
Aside from his Breeders’ Cup duo of Stormy Liberal and Richard’s Boy, Miller has a relatively new recruit, Conquest Tsunami. Two-for-two since joining the barn, the Ontario-bred just wired the Daytona (G3) by daylight over Stormy Liberal. That runner-up was making his first start back since winding up 11th in the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) around right-handed Sha Tin. Conquest Tsunami’s previous trainer, Mark Casse, rounds out the American quartet with Shakertown (G2) winner Holding Gold, the fast-finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup and last-out hero of the Colonel Power at Fair Grounds.
Spearheading the brigade from Down Under is Music Magnate, the 2016 Doomben 10,000 (G1) hero who captured his Christmas Classic comeback under top weight of 134 pounds at Randwick. Faatinah, like Ertijaal a Shadwell homebred, just missed in last year’s Oakleigh Plate (G1) and traded decisions with Baccarat in Carnival handicaps. Illustrious Lad has the most to prove on form.
The British-based pair of Librisa Breeze and Magical Memory resume from their winter break. Librisa Breeze was last seen landing the British Champions Sprint (G1) at Ascot, his pet course where he loves the stiff six furlongs. That raises the question of whether the flat six here would prove as congenial to a horse who handles seven or a mile. The Charlie Hills-trained Magical Memory hasn’t fulfilled the hopes inspired by his 2016 Duke of York (G2) score, and concluded an underachieving 2017 with a third to Blue Point in the Bengough. But connections have long entertained the notion that he could be the type for international travel, and he’s run well fresh.
Aidan O’Brien’s Washington DC is a bona fide Group 1 chance when he gets the right set-up, but may have needed the race when a comeback seventh in last year’s Al Quoz. Unraced since his eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar, he may benefit from this excursion too.
Here’s the complete field after Wednesday’s draw, and the scratching of Ertijaal due to a stress fracture: