Godolphin has mustered a formidable team for Meydan’s Super Saturday, comprising seven course-and-distance tune-ups for the March 31 Dubai World Cup night races. Although the internationals will have to be reckoned with in three weeks, these final preps will help to sift through the locally based hopes.
Here’s an overview after Tuesday’s draw:
Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1)
This stepping stone to the World Cup itself features Godolphin’s Thunder Snow. Saeed bin Suroor’s multiple French Group 1 winner was most recently victorious in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) over North America, who will get a rematch along with the respective fourth and fifth, Furia Cruzada and Second Summer, and an off-form Eragon. Drawn in post 2, Thunder Snow will have a new rider as Christophe Soumillon is serving a suspension. Oisin Murphy now takes over on the sometimes quirky colt. Godolphin has two others in the line-up, Charlie Appleby’s Group 2 veteran Boynton, a very intriguing type on the stretch-out if not too compromised by post 11, and bin Suroor’s class-climbing Team Talk who tries dirt for the first time.
Special Fighter, the hero of Round 3 in 2016 and runner-up last year, makes his second start back from a year-long layoff. His trainer, Musabbeh al Mheiri, has likewise recently returned from a long absence – he was handed a one-year ban in February 2017 for a cobalt positive. Trainer Salem bin Ghadayer may soon be in that position himself. Just banned for a year due to a positive test for ketamine, bin Ghadayer was granted a stay as he pursues an appeal, and he sends out the outsiders Capezzano and Montsarrat in Round 3. Argentine Group 1 winner Saltarin Dubai wheels back off a five-length romp in the Curlin, while Cosmo Charlie goes back up in trip after a second in the Firebreak (G3).
Jebel Hatta (G1)
A lead-in to the Dubai Turf (G1), this about nine-furlong test could complete the Carnival hat trick for bin Suroor’s Benbatl, who’s been dominant in the Singspiel (G3) and Al Rashidiya (G2) in his two local starts so far. But he’s also meeting a tougher group here, the threat mainly coming from fellow Godolphin entrants. Appleby’s Folkswood, who just missed in last year’s Jebel Hatta and finished third to Winx in the Cox Plate (G1), exits an up-in-time score in the Dubai Millennium (G3) over Leshlaa (bin Suroor). Another bin Suroor stablemate, the mare Promising Run, swept the two features for turf distaffers, the Cape Verdi (G2) and Balanchine (G2), while Blair House takes a class hike off a handicap victory for Appleby. Classy South Africans Whisky Baron and Janoobi have the best chance of thwarting the Godolphin stranglehold. Brett Crawford’s Whisky Baron in particular, as last year’s Sun Met (G1) winner who was a bang-up fourth to Janoobi in his Zabeel Mile (G2) comeback, is eligible to jump up markedly.
Dubai City of Gold (G2)
Godolphin also has the prep for the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) surrounded. Appleby has two of the six Godolphin hopes – Hawkbill, the 2016 Eclipse (G1) victor not seen since getting overturned in Woodbine’s Northern Dancer Turf (G1), and Frontiersman, Ouija Board’s son by Dubawi whose calling card is a second to Highland Reel in last June’s Coronation Cup (G1). Bin Suroor’s quartet is led by multiple Group 1-placed Best Solution, a smashing handicap winner in his warm-up but saddled with post 14 on Super Saturday. Stablemates Gold Star, Elhaame, and Memorial Day all need to improve to deal with Best Solution and the Appleby duo. Of the rest, Mike de Kock’s Al Sahem is likely to peak in this third start of the Carnival, especially back up to near the distance of his signature SA Derby (G1) victory, and Pia Brandt’s talented Called to the Bar, never out of the top two, resurfaces for the first time since chasing Oscar Performance home in the Belmont Derby (G1).
Burj Nahaar (G3)
Defending champion Heavy Metal has been unbeatable over this metric mile during the current UAE season, but the cloud over the bin Ghadayer yard and the far outside post 13 may bring his invincibility into question. That could open the door for Hong Kong’s Classic Emperor, who deserves a bit of luck after his Dubai venture began by stumbling and unseating his rider in a handicap, or Kimbear from the yard of UAE champion trainer Doug Watson. Ever dangerous on the dirt, Watson has both sides of the tactical equation covered – the speedy Kimbear, second to highly regarded Boynton and Raven’s Corner in his last pair, and deep closer Drafted. Godolphin’s Dream Castle tries a dirt experiment in this tune-up for the Godolphin Mile (G2), and the Frankel colt may hope to inherit some proficiency on this surface from broodmare sire Dubawi. Although not accomplishing much on the turf of late, his back class, as runner-up to Barney Roy in last spring’s Greenham (G3) and a close fifth in the 2000 Guineas (G1), would put him right into contention – if he handles the track. The Peter Schiergen-trained Ross can’t be overlooked as runner-up in this race as well as the Godolphin Mile a year ago, but he’s yet to show that form this Carnival.
Mahab al Shimaal (G3)
Godolphin’s Comicas, best of the rest in the 2017 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), is likely to get the pace set-up he craves in this prep for the dirt sprint on World Cup night. The Appleby charge received plenty of pace help en route to victory in the January 18 Dubawi (G3), but not last time out in the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3), where My Catch had things his own way. With rival speed from Yalta, and if Jordan Sport shows the same dash on dirt as on turf, My Catch will have a fight on his hands from post 10. Satish Seemar’s Raven’s Corner, regarded as a potential heir apparent to 12-year-old stablemate Reynaldothewizard, put his gate demons behind him in his latest coup and may work out the right stalking trip despite being drawn wide. Time is catching up with 10-year-old Krypton Factor, but the 2012 Golden Shaheen winner always deserves a mention.
Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint
Local supremo Ertijaal bids to carry his warp speed over an extra furlong after two hard-fought wins at about five furlongs this Carnival. Trained by Ali Rashid al Rayhi, Sheikh Hamdan’s homebred found extra to see off Hit the Bid in his handicap reappearance, then held Godolphin’s Blue Point in the February 22 Meydan Sprint (G2). While those opponents are both resting up to take him on again in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night, Ertijaal is right back in action on Super Saturday. Godolphin is throwing six in his way. Appleby’s Jungle Cat, who won this race last year, reverts in trip after a near course-record score in the Al Fahidi Fort (G2) at about seven furlongs. So does stablemate D’bai, who set that course mark in a handicap before finishing fourth in the Al Fahidi Fort. Baccarat, runner-up to Jungle Cat here a year ago, comes off a good-looking handicap win at this course and distance. Bin Suroor’s trio of Top Score, Steady Pace, and Silver Line wheel back from an about seven-furlong handicap March 1, when Top Score got up over The Grape Escape, Silver Line checked in fifth, and Steady Pace was a troubled seventh, making him an enticing rebound candidate back at his preferred trip. Veteran Dutch Masterpiece has had a productive Carnival, while Sir Maximilian has been more of a fringe player. Recent Jebel Ali Sprint winner Shillong makes his turf debut, and runner-up High on Life (ironically bin Ghadayer’s horse with the ketamine positive) returns to the scene of his previous handicap success.
Held over the same track and trip as the UAE Derby (G2), this middle jewel of the UAE Triple Crown does not include UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) romper Gold Town, who sits it out in favor of staying fresh for World Cup night. Yet in his absence, trainer Appleby still has by far the highest-rated contender in Masar, hero of last season’s Solario (G3), third in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) and a troubled sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). The European classic hopeful takes a test spin on the dirt, and if he passes it, he may try to emulate his dam, Khawlah, the only filly to win the UAE Derby. Also of great interest is Yulong Warrior from the Seemar yard. Placed to the likes of Seahenge, Sioux Nation, Riyazan, and Nelson in a series of good maidens in Ireland last year, the Street Cry colt broke his maiden second time out on the Meydan dirt. Waqqad, beaten pointless by Gold Town in the Guineas Trial, was a much-improved runner-up in the grassy Meydan Classic in his latest.
Representing Gold Town’s Guineas form are the respective second through seventh – Phoenix Thoroughbred’s Gotti, Appleby’s Last Voyage, El Chapo (most recently fourth in the Meydan Classic), Roy Orbison (previously second to Yulong Warrior), Daffg and Rua Augusta – and bin Suroor’s trailer, Racing Country (subsequently seventh in the Meydan Classic). Nordic Defense, Arroway, and David Hayes’ Australian shipper Mutamayel all need to step up from unplaced efforts in the Meydan Classic as well.
The two World Cup night events without Super Saturday preps are the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) for stayers and the Dubai Kahayla Classic for Purebred Arabians. Their final tune-ups were conducted on March 1, with Rare Rhythm beating two-time Dubai Gold Cup star Vazirabad in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) and Ziyadd taking the Purebred Arabians’ Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3.
The Super Saturday card gets off to an early start, a 7 a.m. EST post time for the Al Bastakiya. Free Brisnet past performances are already available for Meydan, and more analysis will be forthcoming later this week on TwinSpires.com.