Godolphin enjoyed another banner evening on the Meydan turf Thursday, sending out four winners including a sweep of both Thoroughbred Group 2s. While Meydan Sprint (G2) smasher Blue Point threw down the gauntlet for the Al Quoz (G1) on Dubai World Cup night, Poetic Charm may declare her Carnival mission accomplished after turning the distaff double in the Balanchine (G2).
Blue Point, scratched behind the gate as the favorite for last year’s Al Quoz, later earned his Group 1 breakthrough in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot. Subsequently seventh in the July Cup (G1) and third in the Nunthorpe (G1), he emerged from York with a dirty scope and accordingly freshened up for the Carnival.
Once again the Meydan Sprint served as his launching pad. A year ago, the Charlie Appleby trainee ran Ertijaal to a head, and with that ill-fated rival gone, Blue Point lorded it over the short field. His only minor blip was a less than fluent scramble out of the gate, but he rapidly found his stride to track Faatinah and Mujaafy. Blue Point grew more menacing as they hurtled down the straightaway, and he imposed his will by five lengths in :56.52 – not too far off Ertijaal’s course record of :55.90 for about five furlongs. Faatinah was second-best on paper, and on the course.
“It was a nice comeback opportunity for him and he did it very comfortably,” jockey William Buick said. “He did everything right. Lovely to see him come back like that. He has probably matured a bit and the biggest difference (from his last Carnival) is he is coming here now a Group 1 winner this time. He has proved himself and he feels like a very confident horse. No question about it.”
“He’s a nice horse, this fellow,” Appleby said. “Not having been fully tuned up, he ran well. This horse is going to come forward and come into his own this year. He’s a five-year-old now and he’s a professional. William asked him to pick up and he ran a professional race. After this is the Al Quoz (on March 30). He’s not overly exposed, really. Last year, he wasn’t over-raced. It’s going to be a fun season for him.”
Faatinah’s rider, Jim Crowley, summed it up: “It was a good trip; a straight line. That one was too good.”
A Shamardal half-brother to Group 2 winner Formosina, Blue Point is out of the Royal Applause mare Scarlett Rose. During his juvenile campaign, he captured the 2016 Gimcrack (G2) and placed in the Middle Park (G1), Dewhurst (G1), and Richmond (G2). Blue Point added the 2017 Pavilion (G3) and Bengough (G3) along with a placing in the Commonwealth Cup (G1), and he’s built upon that foundation as an older horse.
Four-year-old Poetic Charm, a Dubawi half-sister to Teofilo, is hitting her peak at the moment for the Appleby/Buick tandem. Following up on her four-length conquest of the January 17 Cape Verdi (G2), she turned in another decisive display over familiar foes in the Balanchine. The step up to about nine furlongs, and carrying an extra three pounds thanks to her Cape Verdi win, were the only theoretical questions going in, and she scoffed at them.
Settled off the pace as Asoof and Monza vied up front, Poetic Charm powered clear down the stretch and crossed the wire a 2 3/4-length winner in 1:49.60. Mia Tesoro got up for second over Turkey’s Peri Lina, who ran well despite her pre-race antics that delayed the start. Asoof tired to fourth, trailed by Furia Cruzada and Monza.
“She relaxes so nicely now, the extra furlong was not a problem for her,” Buick said. “She has just opened up a few more opportunities for herself. She proved last time that she is a quality filly that she really fills herself up for the race. She has a great finishing kick.”
Now that she’s swept both Carnival features for turf distaffers, Poetic Charm’s remaining options at Meydan involve males – the Jebel Hatta (G1) on Super Saturday March 9 and the Dubai Turf (G1) on the World Cup program. Although Appleby has left the door ajar for another Carnival start, he sounded more interested in pointing for a winnable prize at Santa Anita, the May 27 Gamely (G1).
Appleby and Buick combined for a total of three winners, with Art du Val running himself into the UAE Derby (G2) picture. The son of No Nay Never, and grandson of outstanding racemare Aquarelliste, dominated a new conditions race on turf for sophomores. Traveling beautifully in the pocket, Art du Val tipped out turning for home, drew off, and won geared down by four lengths. He also has the distinction of setting the course record in 1:56.94, albeit at the inaugural voyage of about 1 3/16 miles.
An odds-on debut winner at Sandown, Art du Val was mentioned as a candidate for last fall’s Bourbon (G3) at Keeneland, but didn’t make the trip. The bay instead went to France, finishing second to the more experienced Duke of Hazzard in Deauville’s Prix Isonomy. He was entered in the Al Bastakiya Trial on the Meydan dirt, but missed that January 24 engagement due to a dirty scope. Appleby is intent on getting him on the dirt now.
“I am sure we will have a crack at the Al Bastakiya (on Super Saturday),” Appleby said on godolphin.com, “and I am confident that he can run a nice race, which hopefully might give him a slot in the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night.”
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor furnished the exacta in the nightcap, as Mountain Hunter got the jump on stablemate Red Galileo, and Appleby’s Walton Street rounded out the Godolphin trifecta. Stretching out to about 1 1/2 miles after a fifth to First Nation in his Carnival reappearance, Mountain Hunter was keen early. But jockey Christophe Soumillon got him to relax in the leader’s slipstream, and continued to keep him under wraps when Stage Magic made a bold midrace move. Mountain Hunter was turned loose at just the right time to mow down the tiring Stage Magic (who ended up seventh) and held sway.
“He is a nice horse and was always traveling well for me,” Soumillon said. “I was able to get a good lead and always had a nice position, so when we hit the straight, I was able to ask him for an effort and he quickened nicely. He has then run all the way to the line and seen out the trip well. It was a good performance.”
Mountain Hunter, a five-year-old homebred by Lonhro, is a half-brother to Group 3 winner Summer Fete. Although he has plied his trade in handicaps so far, he could advance to the Dubai City of Gold (G2) on Super Saturday.
Thursday’s star of the show on dirt was Sheikh Hamdan’s Muntazah, who was rerouted to the Firebreak (G3) after missing last Thursday’s Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2). Signaling a changing of the guard, the Doug Watson trainee dethroned defending champion Heavy Metal over the metric mile.
Runner-up to Heavy Metal in last year’s Godolphin Mile (G2), Muntazah has beaten that rival in both meetings this season. Both likely needed the run in the January 10 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2), where Muntazah was third behind World Cup contender North America, and Heavy Metal wound up a subpar last, exiting lame. Both improved in the Firebreak, but nine-year-old Heavy Metal may feel Father Time catching up.
While Heavy Metal flashed his early speed, he had to work much harder to dispose of pace rival Behavioral Bias, and did not have enough left down the lane. Muntazah, well handled by Crowley, swooped from his stalking perch and stayed on strongly. Clear by 4 1/2 lengths at the wire, the blueblood negotiated the metric mile in 1:38.21 to give sire Dubawi a Group double (with Poetic Charm).
Secret Ambition kept on dourly to overtake Heavy Metal for runner-up honors. Ironically, they could presage a battle between their sophomore half-brothers, both Triple Crown nominees for bin Suroor. Secret Ambition is a half to Royal Marine, the pro tem leader on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, and Heavy Metal is a half to Royal Meeting.
Muntazah’s stablemate, Kimbear, never picked up in fourth. He had come out of his runner-up effort in Round 1 with a quarter crack, so perhaps he re-aggravated something.
“I thought he (Muntazah) was a bit unlucky in the Godolphin Mile,” Crowley noted of last year’s run, “and that was his first time on dirt. Obviously, the Dubawis love (the dirt). I was a little bit disappointed with him first time out this season (when 14th of 15 in a turf stakes at Abu Dhabi) and I think there were genuine excuses for that. He ran a good race last time and he is a big horse who likes to get rolling….I felt he would come on a lot for that one and he did tonight.
“We went quick, as you would expect and I’d like to think there is a bit more to come from him, as well,” Crowley continued. “He is versatile. Although he is a big horse, he jumps well from the gate and he is quick into his stride. Horses like Heavy Metal were going a fair nick and I was traveling easily on the side. I didn’t want to get involved too early and I probably could have waited a bit more, but we always felt that he would get a little further. He feels a better horse than 12 months ago. I still don’t think he is there yet and there is still a lot to work on. I am sure he will keep progressing.”
Watson reminded everyone that the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 was the original idea.
“We thought he was in great shape last week and we really wanted to try him over the 1900 meters but he couldn’t,” his trainer said, alluding to Muntazah’s brief hiccup of “tying up” on the day the field was to be finalized. “He has come back and done that well. It was a tough race. He had to sit three-wide the whole way and picked up nicely when he went by. He’s in great shape and last year he got better at around this time and that showed it right there.”
As his Round 2 intention implies, Muntazah could step up in trip next time for the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday, or stick to this trip for the Burj Nahaar (G3), the Godolphin Mile prep.
Pedigree certainly suggests stamina, as his dam Rumoush, a descendant of blue hen Height of Fashion, placed in the Oaks (G1) and Park Hill (G2). Muntazah’s failures over longer in England might be chalked up to immaturity; at least he warrants further opportunities on this circuit.
In the dirt sprint handicap, front-running Lavaspin capitalized on a 14-pound weight break to repel a challenge from Steve Asmussen’s Switzerland. Trained by Satish Seemar and ridden by stable jockey Richard Mullen, the Hard Spun gelding covered about six furlongs in 1:11.98 to continue his climb up the ranks, and extend his winning streak to three.
“We have had to be patient with him since his last win (November 22) as he spiked a temperature when he was due to run and has had a few other little niggles as well,” assistant trainer Bhupat Seemar said. “He is a very fast horse. From that low draw (post 2) with such a low weight, the plan was always to be positive and Richie has given him a great ride.”