On a mostly formful Super Saturday at Meydan, the biggest upset was furnished in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), where Sultan Ali’s Capezzano overturned Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow.
It wasn’t so much a surprise that Thunder Snow settled for second, considering this was his comeback designed to bring him on for the March 30 World Cup. Less expected was the ability of Capezzano to bag the lead and the rail after breaking from post 9, and to hold sway for the duration of the about 1 1/4-mile trip that had been too far for him in the past.
From the yard of Salem bin Ghadayer, who just returned from a year-long suspension, Capezzano was on the upswing for assistant Sandeep Jadhav. The Bernardini gelding had won two straight since donning a hood, but over the metric mile.
Although drawn outside of fellow pace factor Cosmo Charlie, Capezzano outhustled him early and angled over in a heady move by Mickael Barzalona. Thunder Snow drafted just behind him and traveled well much of the way, but fitness told as Capezzano spurted clear down the stretch. He widened his advantage to 9 1/2 lengths, a stakes record at this distance, in a final time of 2:05.02. (The only bigger margin, 10 lengths, was posted by Dover Straits in 1995, when Round 3 was held at about 1 1/2 miles).
Thunder Snow, runner-up in Round 3 for the second straight year, had just a neck to spare over the rallying Dolkong. New Trails was one-paced in fourth, but Gronkowski, making his first start for bin Ghadayer, finished with interest to grab fifth. Cosmo Charlie gave way badly in a long-way last.
“He does it very well,” Barzalona said. “I wasn’t very confident about the longer trip, but Salem told me to try it. I made a strong effort to lead the race and I was lucky (because) he was breathing well in the (middle) of the race. Just before I asked him to go, the last three furlongs, he really picked up nicely.”
Bin Ghadayer explained his rationale for giving Capezzano, who was seventh in last year’s running, another chance in the World Cup prep.
“He’s an honest horse. Even when he won over a mile, he ran an amazing race. We thought why not try him over 10 furlongs,” the trainer said. “If you go back, when he was three and ran (third) in the Al Bastakiya, and there were signs in his pedigree. This horse really is amazing when he decides to run. His problem is he’s a little bit tricky of a horse and he needs to keep calm and relax. He has a big future.”
Capezzano, with Godolphin early in his career, was also third to Thunder Snow and Bee Jersey in the 2017 UAE 2000 Guineas (G3).
Thunder Snow’s team was pleased with a tightener that achieved its objective.
“I’m very happy with that second place,” jockey Christophe Soumillon said. “The winner, I knew before the race that he would be tough if he got to the lead with a steady pace and that’s exactly what he did. I’m very happy with Thunder. He always improves from his runs. If you look at last year, at the same period of the season, (this effort) was even better than then. I’m very confident with him.”
“He got tired, just like we said (he would) before the race,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor said. “He will improve from the race and will be ready for World Cup night. He’ll be fine.”
Bin Suroor and Soumillon gained quick compensation with favored Dream Castle in the Jebel Hatta (G1). Perfect since being gelded, the son of Frankel completed a course-and-distance hat trick following the Singspiel (G3) and Al Rashidiya (G2), and confirmed his status as the top local for the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night.
Dream Castle was confidently handled, allowed to settle well off the pace carved out by First Contact. The outsider of the Godolphin quintet in the Jebel Hatta, the Charlie Appleby-trained First Contact kept on better than forecast, edging away from Century Dream and Loxley in upper stretch. About a furlong out, however, Dream Castle and Wootton swooped, with the favorite kicking 1 1/4 lengths clear. Wootton picked up smartly himself to pull 2 3/4 lengths ahead of First Contact in the all-Godolphin trifecta.
Simon Crisford’s Century Dream, who raced too keenly again in the initial stages, flattened out in fourth. Loxley, a neck away from making it a Godolphin superfecta, shaped like one wanting further. Defending champion Blair House never got involved after blowing the start and trailed in last of 10.
“The last two runs were quite impressive,” Soumillon said. “I was really confident with him today, even with that draw (post 9). The race went well for us. We had a nice pace. When I saw I was behind Wootton, I was very confident, because I knew he was going to take me quite far. When I asked him to go, he really quickened sharply. When I hit the front, he was looking around for a while. He’s a really different horse compared to last year, when he was a colt.”
Bin Suroor believes that the step up to about nine furlongs, in addition to the gelding, has made the difference.
“The trip really helped him,” his trainer said. “Last year, we thought maybe he could be a sprinter, but I believe he’s a nine furlongs-plus horse. This year he has shown he’s a class, Group 1 horse.”
Dream Castle was capping a four-win day for Godolphin, including a sweep of the three turf preps. Appleby scored a treble on the card, and his Blue Point stamped himself as the one to beat in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) by readily obliging in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3).
The class of the field as the winner of last summer’s King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot, Blue Point dominated the February 14 Meydan Sprint (G2) in his reappearance. Jockey William Buick had only to give him his cue at the right time, and Blue Point took off to blitz them in 1:10.15 for about six furlongs. Rapid improver Ekhtiyaar did well as the only rival able to go with him before succumbing by three lengths. There was another 2 3/4-length gap back to Mazzini, who prevailed in a photo with Riflescope for third.
“He felt great,” Buick said of the Shamardal five-year-old. “He’s just a lot more professional now. This was another stepping stone to the Al Quoz. It was just lovely that he’s channeling all his ability and strengths. The team has done a fantastic job with him. He’s always been an exciting horse. His confidence has grown. He knows how good he is.”
Appleby’s favored Old Persian offered more suspense in a last-gasp victory in the Dubai City of Gold (G2), the stepping stone to the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). Unraced since retreating to fifth in the St Leger (G1), the son of Dubawi was reverting to the about 1 1/2-mile distance of his marquee wins in the King Edward VII (G2) and Great Voltigeur (G2). Bin Suroor’s Racing History nearly managed the wire job, but Buick extricated Old Persian from traffic in the nick of time, and he quickened to mug his elder on the line.
Canadian International (G1) hero Desert Encounter, who cruised up looking like the winner turning for home, tired inside the final furlong. Three lengths adrift of the Godolphin exacta in third, David Simcock’s veteran can build on this solid tune-up. The same point goes for fourth-placer Prince of Arran, now bound to stretch out for the Dubai Gold Cup (G2). Surprisingly Spotify never went for the lead and wound up seventh.
“I can’t imagine it was pretty watching it from here,” Buick said of the nail-biter, “but I had so much horse underneath of me. The way the race developed, it was funny stage. Halfway around the turn, everyone starting to move. I started to make my move and got stuck behind a wall of horses. Once he got in the clear, he really picked up well. It was a lovely performance.”
“He’s a horse who’s got a bright future ahead of him,” Appleby said. “He’s a multiple Group 2 winner now and won at Royal Ascot. He beat Cross Counter (in the Great Voltigeur) and we know what he went on to do (win the Melbourne Cup [G1]). Coming into this evening, we were pleased with his preparation, but we firmly have our eyes set on the Sheema Classic. There’s a little bit of improvement still there to come.”
Soumillon, aboard Racing History, was ruing that early moves by Prince of Arran and Desert Encounter forced his hand.
“He ran a great race,” the Belgian ace said. “Unfortunately, we did the most difficult part to go to the front with a steady pace and the jockeys came to my outside very early. The made me start (our run) at the 600 meters. If that would have happened in the straight, I think I could have won it. Anyway, it was a great run and I’m very happy with him.”
Appleby also celebrated a resounding winner on the dirt in Divine Image, the UAE Oaks (G3) heroine who bossed the boys in the Al Bastakiya. Although the UAE Derby (G2) is the next logical spot, the Scat Daddy filly could prefer to concentrate on the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Divine Image was sensational on debut at Chelmsford in December, but a work in progress at the Carnival. Losing all chance with a bad start in the UAE 1000 Guineas, she showed her raw talent by closing for second. Divine Image broke satisfactorily in the UAE Oaks, only to back up a bit on the far turn before regrouping to get up late.
In the Al Bastakiya, Divine Image put it all together. With jockey Brett Doyle in the saddle to take advantage of her light 117-pound impost, the chestnut advanced into a stalking spot on the fence. This time she bravely maintained her position, facing the kickback, and accordingly stayed within close striking range of the leaders.
After Superior and Manguzi took over from the fading The Song of John, Divine Image angled out, rolled past them, and drew off by 7 1/4 lengths. She clocked about 1 3/16 miles in 1:59.07, a rough indication of her progress since needing 2:01.76 in the Oaks.
Superior repelled Manguzi by a length for runner-up honors, but Manguzi deserves extra credit for all the ground loss endured from post 12. Bin Suroor’s Estihdaaf, however, could not cope from post 13. Unable to replicate the ground-saving trip of his UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) victory, he trudged home a remote 13th of 14.
“That’s what we’ve seen from her,” Appleby said. “She’s a great finisher. Full credit to the team. She’s been tricky, but Brett’s been riding her the last two weeks since we knew William (Buick) couldn’t do the weight. I’m delighted for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed who is here this evening to see her. She’s a very talented filly, but she’s learning on the job and this was a team effort tonight. Before the race we had the discussion of if she were to win, we wouldn’t rush into (making a decision about the UAE Derby). It’s definitely on the cards, but we also have the Kentucky Oaks to take into consideration.”
“It’s great to see it work all around,” Doyle said. “All through the winter, Charlie has done a great job with her. I’ve had the pleasure of her the last week or so. She’s an improving filly. She’s lovely and won it very well. She’s a filly who likes to get on with it. She’ll get better as she goes along, like she showed today.”
Trainer Doug Watson captured the other two dirt races, including the track record-setting romp by Muntazah in the Burj Nahaar (G3). By Dubawi like Old Persian, Muntazah laid down the benchmark for his challengers in the Godolphin Mile (G2) on World Cup night.
Sheikh Hamdan’s homebred was the one to beat off a convincing success in the Firebreak (G3), yet faced a possible tactical issue from post 1. The complexion of the race changed right out of the gate when expected pacesetter Heavy Metal, the reigning Godolphin Mile winner, missed the break. Simultaneously, Muntazah summoned the early speed he hadn’t shown since his old days on the European turf, and went on to outclass them. Turning the metric mile affair into a rout by a stakes-record 10 lengths, he lowered the track mark to 1:34.99.
Heavy Metal ran heroically to get up for fourth, not beaten much by runner-up Good Curry and third Musawaat. Axelrod didn’t fire first out for bin Ghadayer, eventually crossing the wire 10th of 11.
“He kept on improving,” winning rider Jim Crowley said, “and he’s a horse who really comes to himself this time of year. Every time he’s ran, he’s stepped forward. He keeps improving and he showed that tonight. Plan A was to go forward and Doug didn’t want me to give the rail up. He’s a big horse, but he breaks fast. He doesn’t have to lead, he’s just a big long-striding horse who has to get in his rhythm. To finish second in his first run on dirt was a great run in the Godolphin Mile last year. And, like I said, this year he has continued to improve. It looks the obvious race for him now.”
“I thought we were the best horse in the race,” Watson said. “I told Jim, ‘if you break well, go.’ He got out there and set a nice pace. When he was turning in, I thought we were in good shape. He’s a very good horse. He’s a big horse who needs his racing and he’s doing it well. He was able to dictate and get into his stride. He’s a miler.
“Maybe next year, if we get a chance to stretch him out, we could go the World Cup route. One Man Band (Watson’s 2016 Godolphin Mile winner who held the old record of 1:35.21) on his day was pretty smart. This guy is right there with him.”
Stablemate Drafted employed his customary closing style to great effect in the Mahab al Shimaal (G3). By adding to his score in the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3), the Misty Hollow Farm colorbearer ranks as the leading local player for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1).
The early pace was hot, with Switzerland and Lavaspin duking it out as I Kirk chased out wide. Switzerland won the battle to edge clear in the stretch, only to lose the war late. Longshot Nine Below Zero pounced, and Tato Key, but Drafted cut them both down beneath stable rider Pat Dobbs.
Appleby’s Comicas was an eye-catching fourth in his reappearance. Switzerland folded to fifth, I Kirk reported home sixth, and Lavaspin was a tailed-off last of 10.
“He really finishes and tries,” Watson said. “I thought he was hanging a little and not switching leads, but then he came on nicely. He likes to run and likes to win. He knows where he’s going. It’s great for the owners. He’s been a great purchase. Last year we tried to step him up in trip, but he’s a closing sprinter and they can make it exciting for you, but it’s fun when they get home.”
“The first two furlongs, you don’t feel confident,” Dobbs recapped. “Then, when you hit the bend, you feel confident and he knows what it’s all about. I was following (Tato Key) and he gave me a nice lead up the straight. He jumped better today and he got squashed out a bit, but with his style, it doesn’t bother him. He is starting to get clever and is getting better. He idled his way home the last part, saving a little bit, but he’ll need that. He’s a different horse this year physically.”