Godolphin furnished four of the six Thoroughbred winners on the final Thursday card of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, but its best-backed favorite, Winter Lightning, was not among them. Surprisingly lackluster in the $250,000 UAE Oaks (G3), the 1-5 favorite spun her wheels in a well-beaten third behind familiar foe Rayya. As a Kentucky Oaks (G1) nominee, Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid al Nuaimi’s Rayya could well take up her spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs after banking 50 points in Thursday’s scoring race at Meydan.
A blistering first-out winner for Doug Watson, Rayya had been bested by Winter Lightning in her last two. There was precious little between them in the January 18 UAE 1000 Guineas Trial, where the Godolphin filly just outdueled Rayya. Over an extra furlong in the Guineas proper, Winter Lightning extended her superiority to a persuasive couple of lengths.
What was going to prevent her from accomplishing the same UAE 1000 Guineas/Oaks double turned by full sister Ihtimal in 2014? Or from becoming her dam Eastern Joy’s third dual classic winner on this circuit, after half-brother Thunder Snow landed the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and UAE Derby (G2) last year?
A beneficial set-up for Rayya, who was in a better frame of mind than in the Guineas, and Winter Lightning’s being out of sorts herself, combined to overturn the form.
Securing the early advantage from her rail draw, Rayya got away with a far softer pace than in the Guineas. Stable rider Pat Dobbs nursed her along cleverly until the far turn, when she bid adieu to the tracking Expressiy and the flat-footed Winter Lightning. Rayya drew off by 3 3/4 lengths while finishing about 1 3/16 miles in 1:59.66.
“She was a lot more relaxed today than last time when we never really knew what upset her,” Dobbs said of the Kentucky-bred daughter of Tiz Wonderful, a $190,000 OBS April buy.
“Halfway down the back straight I knew she was going to be very hard to beat. The one draw is a big help and I was not going to waste it. We knew she would stay, so I was always going to be positive, but you have to compliment Doug and his team for getting her back to her best.”
“She was just not herself in the Guineas,” Watson noted, “but was much better tonight and always looked happy.”
The opposite was the case for Winter Lightning, who didn’t look happy beforehand and never really got comfortable in the running. Drawn widest of all in post 6, she didn’t go well enough for Pat Cosgrave to drop her in, and she boxed out wide for the duration. Still, ground loss alone can’t explain her failure to fire. In a measure of how off form she was, Winter Lightning trudged home 4 1/4 lengths behind Expressiy, the distant third in both the trial and the Guineas. Winter Lightning nearly lost third in a photo with Sa’Ada, whom she’d drubbed by double-digits in the same races.
“Winter Lightning was disappointing tonight,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor told Godolphin.com.
“She was a little fresh, which is unusual as she has never behaved like this before. Even in the paddock, she was unhappy and she was a bit keen in the race as well.
“The race was quite clear – she was keen on the outside – and things didn’t look great for her.
“She came back in good order and we will make a decision in the future, but she could still run in the UAE Derby (G2).”
Watson indicated that the March 31 UAE Derby is the next port of call for Rayya as well, setting up a World Cup night clash with the Carnival’s leading three-year-old male, Gold Town; an international party expected to include Aidan O’Brien’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Mendelssohn; and a potential rematch with Winter Lightning.
Thoughts of shipping for the Kentucky Oaks are on the backburner until Rayya gets through the UAE Derby.
“(The Kentucky Oaks) would be (a goal),” Watson said. “We have her nominated, but let’s see how she comes out of this and the (UAE) Derby.”
The second through fourth-place finishers all earned Kentucky Oaks points too, but the non-nominees must be regarded as doubtful to contemplate it. Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby is looking toward a European campaign for Expressiy (20 points), Winter Lightning (10 points) has classic aspirations back home in Europe, and Sa’Ada (5 points) is locally based with Ahmad bin Harmash.
Appleby scored three of Godolphin’s four wins, highlighted by Rare Rhythm’s triumph over world-class French stayer Vazirabad in the $200,000 Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3). By capturing this stepping stone to the Dubai Gold Cup (G2), Rare Rhythm convinced connections to stay here for World Cup night rather than travel to Randwick for the Sydney Cup (G1) during The Championships.
The top two were both returning from layoffs, but sparingly-raced Rare Rhythm knows how to win off the bench, while Vazirabad was resuming at an about 1 3/4-mile distance that’s on the short side for him. Indeed, the Aga Khan homebred had been second in the same race last year, a solid effort that propelled him to his successful title defense in the Dubai Gold Cup. History repeated here in the prep, posing the question of whether Rare Rhythm can confirm the form on the stretch-out to two metric miles, or if Vazirabad’s forecast improvement will ensure the Gold Cup three-peat.
Although Rare Rhythm was settled in midpack by William Buick, and Vazirabad dropped anchor at the rear early, they ranged into contention at almost the same time in upper stretch. The French shipper enjoyed a dream run along the inside to join the leaders fractionally before Rare Rhythm did on his overland route. If the tenderly handled Vazirabad wasn’t seriously asked by Christophe Soumillon until Rare Rhythm was already striking the front, the winner’s turn of foot was stronger in any event, and he outkicked Vazirabad by 1 3/4 lengths.
The final time for the 2810 meters on a good course – 2:54.88 – was just off Almoonqith’s course record of 2:54.47 established in the 2015 running of the Nad al Sheba Trophy. And as a further barometer of the strength of this edition, there was a 7 3/4-length gap back to the classy veteran Sheikhzayedroad.
“That was very impressive and I was mindful that I did not want to give him too hard a race,” Buick said. “He has not had that much racing and is a horse we have always really liked. The extra distance in the Dubai Gold Cup should suit him and he must go there with a big chance.”
Appleby was quick to confirm the World Cup night target.
“I have spoken to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and we have agreed he will stay here for the Dubai Gold Cup,” the trainer said. “We thought he had a big chance tonight because he was working very well and looked in great nick. Hopefully he will be very competitive on the big night in four weeks’ time.”
Unlike Vazirabad, Rare Rhythm is exploring terra incognita over the two miles. The six-year-old hasn’t managed to race more than twice in a calendar year so far, but he has won five of eight in his intermittent career, and all three starts since being gelded in 2016. The 650,000-guinea son of Dubawi showed no rust off a year-long absence when upsetting last summer’s Duke of Edinburgh, a 1 1/2-mile handicap at Royal Ascot. After handling the step up to 1 3/4 miles, and listed stakes company, in the July 15 John Smith’s Silver Cup at York, Rare Rhythm was in the mix for an Australian campaign. The fragile performer wasn’t sighted again, though, until Thursday, when he put off Australia for a much happier reason.
Appleby and Buick also took the Meydan Classic with odds-on favorite Zaman. Shaping as if he’d prosper over added ground when a ring-rusty second in the February 8 trial, the Godolphin sophomore benefited from a better draw and a sharper break here — so sharp that Buick felt that was when his saddle slipped. But it did not inconvenience him.
Zaman, tucked just behind the pacesetter in a perfect spot on the fence, appeared to have a seam between rivals in the stretch. Buick elected to tip him out rather than risk the hole closing on them, and the son of Dutch Art picked up well to put the race away. While Waqqad steamed home late to reduce the margin, Zaman wasn’t threatened as the 1 1/2-length winner in 1:36.69 for the metric mile on turf. He didn’t have the satisfaction of a rematch with the Meydan Classic Trial upsetter, Wasim, who was withdrawn after unfortunately coming up lame.
“We went a nice gallop, so I was always pretty confident a gap would appear and it did when we wanted it,” Buick said. “He broke well today. From a good draw, I was happy to settle him in behind the leaders on the rail and wait for the split. He ran well in the Trial and has improved a lot from that outing and over the extra furlong today. He has produced a nice turn of foot and is a nice, young horse.”
Zaman brought solid juvenile form from Europe, having finished best of the rest behind Expert Eye in the Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood and a close fourth to Gustav Klimt in the Superlative (G2). The York debut winner also defeated Unfortunately, subsequently hero of the Prix Morny (G1) and Prix Robert Papin (G2), in a Pontefract conditions race. According to Godolphin.com, the German 2000 Guineas (G2) could be an objective.
Jockey James Doyle guided Appleby’s third winner, Kidmenever, in the nightcap, with Buick on third-place stablemate Banksea. The about 1 1/4-mile turf handicap was Kidmenever’s last chance saloon at the Carnival, and it didn’t unfold the way they’d mapped it out. Doyle said he was farther back than he wanted for the 132-pound co-highweight, and hung out wide, after not getting quickly into stride. But it was a case of all’s well that ends well, for Kidmenever improved on the far turn, pounced into the stretch, and kept on to prevail by 2 1/2 lengths. Runner-up Baroot, who had to alter course when Kidmenever hung toward the rail, was receiving six pounds.
“It was an interesting race to watch,” Appleby said in an understated allusion to pre-race plans getting scrapped out of the gate. “He got a nice clear run and ran better than we expected. He traveled well and we worried about coming back a bit soon for him (after his comeback seventh in a February 17 handicap). He’ll go into quarantine with a bunch of horses tomorrow. He probably deserves a bit of a summer break after going to Australia and back.”
Eighth in the Herbert Power (G2) at Caulfield and a near-misser in the Australian Sandown’s Eclipse (G3), Kidmenever wasn’t up to tackling Super Saturday or World Cup night.
Bin Suroor sent out the other Godolphin winner, Top Score, in an about seven-furlong turf handicap that proved a costly victory for Soumillon. Buffeted in the early going before finding his way into the clear, Top Score (red cap) came in under right-handed urging down the stretch. In so doing he interfered with fourth-placer Khafoo Shemimi (yellow cap), causing a chain reaction to his inside as Steady Pace (white cap) was tightened up, and Salateen (green on rail), checking hardest of all, dropped right out of it to last.
The stewards charged Soumillon with careless riding and suspended him for three racing days, including the March 10 Super Saturday program.
Top Score, whose lone stakes win came in the 2017 Meydan Classic, was winning on this card for the second straight year. The gelded son of Hard Spun was coming off a second to Oh This Is Us in a February 17 course-and-distance handicap. Now getting a four-pound concession, as well as first run, Top Score turned the tables. Oh This Is Us finished fast but too late, just missing second in a photo with The Grape Escape.
Although the Curlin H. was contested over the same track and trip as the Dubai World Cup (G1), the listed event is unlikely to have any bearing on the $10 million prize.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum’s Saltarin Dubai grabbed the crucial early lead and could not be caught, breaking through with his first win since the 2016 Gran Premio Estrellas Classic (G1) in his Argentine swan song.
“This was his World Cup night,” jockey Richard Mullen forthrightly said, revealing that trainer Satish Seemar instructed him “at all costs, get to the front.”
In his last pair in handicap company, Saltarin Dubai had rallied for second to Godolphin’s forwardly placed Don’t Give Up, who re-opposed on Thursday. The E Dubai gelding had to change tactics to change the result, and the weights helped too. Saltarin Dubai had been conceding weight in their previous meetings, but Don’t Give Up was giving him a pound in the Curlin.
“He has always worked very well and has been running some good races in defeat,” Mullen said. “We thought to go out in front on him to keep him out of the kickback, as he has sulked at times in his races when getting dirt kicked at him. He is a Group 1 winner, so the talent is there and he has had a really hard race tonight so I guess that will be his last run this season.”
Saltarin Dubai reported home five lengths clear of Don’t Give Up while clocking 2:04.14. Defending Curlin champion Etijaah made belated progress for third, and Godolphin’s underachieving Alabaster, who flubbed the start again, checked in fourth.
Mullen kicked off his stakes double by steering the Jean de Roüalle-trained Ziyadd in the Purebred Arabians’ version of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3.