December 1, 2023

Divine Image earns Kentucky Oaks points in Dubai; Mythical crowns Magic sweep for Godolphin

Divine Image and jockey William Buick (outside) score in the UAE Oaks (G3) on February 21, 2019, at Meydan (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby swept all three Group races at Meydan Thursday, as Zabeel Mile (G2) winner Mythical Magic completed the treble begun by stablemates Spotify in the Dubai Millennium (G3) and Divine Image in the $250,000 UAE Oaks (G3), the lone Kentucky Oaks (G1) scoring race outside of the United States.

Divine Image, from the final crop of Scat Daddy, was a slow-starting but strong-finishing second to Silva in the January 31 UAE 1000 Guineas. A smashing debut winner at Chelmsford in her only prior start, Divine Image was expected to move forward in this second Meydan appearance. The chestnut showed during the preliminaries that she still has some work to do mentally, but she broke much better and put herself in a tactically more reasonable position for William Buick.

Up front, Saeed bin Suroor’s Swift Rose showed speed for the first time in her third Carnival try. Presumably galvanized by cheek-pieces, she nearly stole it under a well-judged ride by Hayley Turner. Silva attended the leader but could not duplicate her breakout performance in the Guineas, giving way turning into the stretch.

Divine Image had been nestled just behind them in the pocket, but dropped back a bit before angling out wide down the lane. Inside the final furlong, she gained ground relentlessly and nabbed Swift Rose by a neck at the wire. Her time of 2:01.76 for about 1 3/16 miles, however, indicates that she’ll need to step up again to set her sights on the UAE Derby (G2) or use her 50 points toward the Kentucky Oaks.

“She was perfect away and I obviously asked her to get her position early,” Buick recapped. “Coming into the first turn it is a short run, so I just took her back. She was bit green in stages, but when I pulled her, she picked up really good, which is not easy on this surface.

“She has a big stride and I just wanted to get her out running. There wasn’t anywhere else to go, really. Once I pulled her out, I was confident I was always going to get there.

“She is edgy, but she is a typical kind of horse. She is fiery and that is probably what makes her the filly she is. You don’t want to fiddle too much with them and she is very game and tough when it matters. It is only her third run tonight and she is bound to improve on experience on every level. Things have happened quick and fast for her these past few months and we look forward to it.”

Appleby also noted that Divine Image has the ability if not yet the polished racing manners.

“She’s a filly who’s definitely got the talent,” her trainer said. “We just need to make sure we take it in the right direction. The (UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night) is certainly under consideration. She has experience on this (distance) and surface and it’ll definitely be something that’s put in the melting pot. I’d say she’s not flashy in what she does, but you can’t fault the way she gallops out there. She’s taken plenty of dirt on both occasions and she seems to face it well.

“I have to say, turning in, I thought Hayley had rode a nice race (on Swift Rose), and I thought she would skip away from the field, but once William got our filly leveled out, I was confident in the last furlong because she’d be running along strongly.”

Turner herself thought that Swift Rose might have slipped the field.

“I was getting so excited half a furlong out. She’s ran a blinder,” Turner said of the runner-up. “I’ve ridden her once before. I won on her and I was aware she had a bit of ability. She’s been a bit disappointing on her last two runs, but I think she’s just been finding her feet over here and settling in. She’s been going better at home. It’s a good advantage if you can get a good draw and get out well on the dirt.”

Swift Rose earned 20 Oaks points for completing the Godolphin exacta. The Doug Watson duo of Razeena and Habah received 10 and 5 points, respectively, for third and fourth, and both ran better than the bare result implies. Razeena covered more than 52 feet extra from post 11, yet was beaten only 3 1/2 lengths.

“She ran well,” jockey Pat Dobbs said. “She was drawn wide and I was four-wide all the way, so I gave up a lot of ground. She is learning and she is getting better with every run. She had no kickback tonight, which helped. I am not sure there are many races for her here, so she might be shipping back to America, most likely.”

Habah had trouble when Dubai Beauty, the mount of Christophe Soumillon, commenced a quick retreat.

“To be fair, I got a horrible trip down the back,” her rider Sam Hitchcott said. “I got sort of stopped as we turned out of the back straight. Obviously, Christophe’s horse stopped very quickly in behind and we had to switch off her heels. It probably cost her a length or a length and a half. It was a very good run. She’s a filly who is improving every time. If she got a clear run around today, possibly with a nice draw, she would have been third.”

Bred by the late Peter Magnier in Kentucky, Divine Image is out of the multiple stakes-placed Ishiguru mare Sure Route, from the family of Grade 3 winners Motor City and Satulagi. She RNA’d for $195,000 as a Keeneland September yearling and proved a terrific pick-up by Yeomanstown Stud for $125,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October. As a two-year-old in training at Arqana last May, she commanded €360,000 ($430,020).

Mythical Magic and jockey William Buick win the Zabeel Mile (G2) on February 21, 2019, at Meydan (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

Buick made it a double aboard the progressive Mythical Magic in the Zabeel Mile on turf. Second to stablemate D’Bai in his Carnival premiere in the January 24 Al Fahidi Fort (G2), the four-year-old gelding improved with that run under his belt, and appreciated the extra panel of the metric mile.

The Simon Crisford-trained Century Dream, last seen finishing third to Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day, chased Top Score early and struck the front a long way out. Between his usual effervescence and the layoff, Century Dream did well to stick to his task, but he could not resist Mythical Magic. Pouncing in the stretch, the son of Iffraaj stretched three lengths clear in 1:36.39.

“It was an excellent performance,” Buick recapped. “He’s a beautiful, imposing horse and he’s getting things together now. His last run over seven furlongs in the Al Fahidi Fort was obviously an eye-catching run. Up to the mile tonight, things really came together for him and he put in a good performance. He did the job well. Century Dream was the horse to beat without a question, but I think Mythical Magic had a fitness edge with a run under his belt.”

“I thought he would come forward,” Appleby said. “He went to his girth there and stayed on nicely in the Al Fahidi Fort and we thought the step up in trip was going to suit. We’ll have a chat (about the Dubai Turf [G1] on World Cup night).

“He could maybe go to Australia for the Doncaster (G1), but obviously we’ll get back and regroup and see where we are. Very pleasing night. He’s always been a bit tricky and he’s in great nick now. It’s been worth persevering with. When you’re on the kind of roll that we’re on now, the confidence certainly flows throughout the stable.”

Mythical Magic, as a descendant of Zabeel, was scoring an apropos first Group victory. The 140,000 guineas ($221,029) Tattersalls December weanling was produced by the winning Mythie, a daughter of Zabeel’s great son Octagonal. Mythie is also responsible for Group 3 scorer Esentepe. Mythical Magic’s previous stakes coup came in the 2017 Prix Francois Boutin, and his other juvenile stakes credits were placings in the Champagne (G2) and Horris Hill (G3). Sidelined for most of his sophomore season, he finished second in last fall’s Prix Millkom and Prix Matchem.

Century Dream’s rider, Oisin Murphy, was pleased with his comeback, a fine second that thwarted an Appleby superfecta.

“He jumped well and he relaxed the first three furlongs,” Murphy said. “I got a nice tow off Top Score. Christophe (Soumillon) tried to slow the pace and (Century Dream) got a little bit keen. He did enough work to make the race, but he paid the price for it up the straight. It wasn’t a bad run. He’s a genuine Group 1 performer, so that’s where we are with him.”

Appleby’s First Contact was third, with just a head to spare from stablemate Wootton who got going too late.

“It was a disaster, really,” jockey James Doyle said of his passage aboard Wootton. “I ended up at the back and we went a good pace, but unfortunately, I was following horses that didn’t have much of a chance on straightening and I had a very troubled passage through. I’m not saying he would’ve won, but he should’ve finished a lot closer.”

Marinaresco launched a rally into the stretch before finding himself outpaced in fifth, but it was a useful effort second up for the Mike de Kock pupil. Although stablemate and defending champion Janoobi is still searching for last year’s form, he showed more signs of life in sixth here. Chris Waller’s Comin’ Through was seventh, followed by 2017 winner Championship and Top Score.

Spotify and jockey James Doyle (black cap) capture the Dubai Millennium Stakes (G3) at Meydan on February 21, 2019 (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

Doyle had a much happier trip when guiding Spotify to a wire-to-wire coup in the Dubai Millennium, giving Appleby his third winner in the last four runnings. Tryster (2016) and Folkswood (2018) also landed the about 1 1/4-mile turf test, but in much faster time than Spotify’s leisurely 2:05.55.

Now two-for-two since his acquisition by Godolphin, the Wertheimer-bred was reverting in distance from an about 1 1/2-mile handicap. The same tactics worked in both, thanks as much to Spotify’s attitude as his tactical speed. This time he dug in to hold off the hard-trying Racing History by a short head.

Godolphin sent out six of the eight runners, including the first five. Bin Suroor’s Racing History was stretching out after placing to Dream Castle in the Al Rashidiya (G2) and Singspiel (G3). Appleby’s First Nation edged another bin Suroor pupil, Team Talk, for third, and stablemate Oasis Charm rounded out the “high five.”

“I could feel him physically lower down and stick his head out when the second horse joined me,” Doyle said of Spotify. “So, full credit to the horse. It was a race that looked like there would be a lack of speed and we knew this fellow won here from a mile and a half stage and all the way around. We knew he would keep going.

“We got the soft end and we got some soft fractions down the back and then stretched in the straight and I think that won it for him. He will have to raise his game a bit to get into something on Super Saturday. There will be plenty of nice races for him in Europe in the summer. So, I think that was what Charlie was aiming for. He showed a nice burst in the straight and he is quite versatile, the mile and a half would not be a problem for him.”

Appleby sounded inclined to call it a Carnival for Spotify and look ahead to European targets for the son of Redoute’s Choice, a €250,000 purchase at Arqana’s Arc Sale.

“First, it was a great ride by James on the front end. He got him into a nice rhythm. The horse digs deep when they come to him. Full credit to him. We thought he came forward from that last start and coming back in trip would suit. Good performance and delighted for the team.

“That might be his Carnival wrapped up for him. We will point him to a European campaign. As always, we’ll get them back and see how they are and regroup. We had a strong team of horses in there and it was always going to be a tactical race and James got his fractions right on the front end.”

Bin Suroor got on the board, and capped Godolphin’s four-win night, courtesy of Major Partnership in the nightcap. Sporting first-time cheek-pieces after a pair of unplaced runs so far at the Carnival, the gray wore down a game Above N Beyond by a neck. Major Partnership clocked the grassy mile in 1:37.19, a bit off the time posted by Mythical Magic in the Zabeel Mile, but fast enough to give their sire Iffraaj a double.

“This horse shows so much speed at home, we even tried him over 1200 meters,” winning rider Kevin Stott said, “but we put cheek-pieces on today over this longer trip and they really helped. Basically, he is a horse who just does enough, so the headgear helped, but he probably still kept him a bit for himself, so there could be more to come.”

Sheikh Hamdan’s Ekhtiyaar posted the evening’s biggest winning margin, and announced his presence on the turf sprint scene, with a 5 1/4-length romp. Trained by Watson and ridden by Jim Crowley, the Bated Breath gelding traveled strongly just off the speed, and the rest were all off the bridle as he surged ahead. In his wake was a series of winners during the current UAE season – Riflescope, Dream Today, Legendary Lunch, and Another Batt.

Ekhtiyaar was coming off a third to Another Batt at about seven furlongs on opening night of the Carnival, his Meydan debut. Shortening up to about six made the British handicapper, formerly with Roger Varian, a revelation in 1:10.18.

“We were drawn (in post) 2 which was a bit of a concern,” Watson said, “especially dropping back in trip with him because we know he stays further, but everything worked out. Credit to Jim who has given him a great ride and managed to find some company to race with, so we will have to talk to the owner before making plans. We dropped him back from 1400 meters because there are no races over that trip on Super Saturday or Dubai World Cup night, so it is exciting to see him win like that.”

Ekhtiyaar has earned himself a crack at stakes company in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) on March 9 Super Saturday.

In the opening dirt handicap, Abdullah Saeed al Naboodah’s Rodaini prevailed with an assist from a well-timed ride by Connor Beasley. The Ahmad bin Harmash trainee was on the premises to reel in the tiring pacesetter Almanaara, then held the deep-closing Moqarrab.

“We think 1400 meters is probably his best trip, but when we tried him the last time over the distance, he was basically disappointing in HH The President Cup,” bin Harmash said. “That was a listed race on the Abu Dhabi turf, and back in class on dirt he has delivered tonight at the carnival. Connor has probably hit the front as early as we would want because the horse does not seem to like headgear, but was almost waiting for the others in the final stages.”