Since the passing of Khalid Abdullah on Tuesday, tributes to the Juddmonte impresario have poured forth, and memories revived of his brightest stars. Yet the Thoroughbred racing and bloodstock world will remain in his debt for as long as the breed endures, and we’ll have innumerable occasions to celebrate the Juddmonte legacy.
Thursday’s highlight at Meydan furnishes an instant example. Godolphin’s promising sophomore Rebel’s Romance extended his record to 3-for-3 in the conditions race billed as the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, putting himself on the UAE Derby (G2) trail. Although the homebred is a true-blue Godolphin top and bottom – as a son of Dubawi and the Street Cry mare Minidress – a building block of his pedigree is the Juddmonte matron Slightly Dangerous. She appears twice, giving Rebel’s Romance the Rasmussen Factor of doubling up on elite females.
One of Abdullah’s key acquisitions, Slightly Dangerous proved her merit on the racecourse when runner-up in the 1982 Oaks (G1) at Epsom. But she became a broodmare of lasting significance when producing several high-class runners. Her daughters include 1997 Irish Oaks (G1) runner-up Yashmak, winner of the Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot and the Flower Bowl Invitational (G1) (and dam of Group 1 scorer Full Mast); and Group 1-placed stakes victress Jibe, ancestress of Taraz.
The leading sons of Slightly Dangerous were even better – multiple champion Warning (by Juddmonte’s first classic winner, Known Fact), a star miler who helped extend the Man o’ War sire line; Commander in Chief (by Juddmonte’s first all-time great, Dancing Brave), who turned the 1993 Epsom/Irish Derby (G1) double in a limited career of untapped potential; Dushyantor (by Sadler’s Wells), the 1996 Derby runner-up who also placed in the St Leger (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1); and Deploy (by Shirley Heights), second in the 1990 Irish Derby.
Warning and Deploy are the vectors of Slightly Dangerous in the pedigree of Rebel’s Romance.
Warning’s top son, Sheikh Mohammed’s homebred Diktat, factors on Rebel’s Romance’s maternal side. His dam, English stakes-placed Minidress, is out of the Diktat mare Short Skirt, who captured the 2006 Musidora (G3) and defeated older males in the St Simon (G3). Short Skirt was also second in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) and third at Epsom.
Deploy is in the top of the pedigree courtesy of his outstanding daughter, Zomaradah, herself out of a Dancing Brave mare. Heroine of the 1998 Oaks d’Italia (G1) and E.P. Taylor (G2), and third in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), Zomaradah visited ill-fated Dubai Millennium in his lone season at stud. Their union produced Dubawi, who not only preserved his late sire’s precarious line, but amplified it.
Rebel’s Romance can’t further that project as a gelding. For that very reason, however, trainer Charlie Appleby hopes that he becomes a standard-bearer for the yard over the long haul.
“He is a big, scopey son of Dubawi who was a bit of a boy in the early part of his career,” Appleby said according to godolphin.com. “He was a bit late coming to hand and learned plenty on the job when winning nicely on his debut (Oct. 26) at Newcastle. He then won with a penalty around Kempton, which put himself on the flight here as a contender for the UAE (2000) Guineas (G3).”
That four-length romp under top weight of 135 pounds at Kempton Nov. 18 also made him the heavy favorite in this first assignment at Meydan. Rebel’s Romance proved just as effective on the Dubai dirt as on the British all-weather, despite racing off the pace.
Under good handling by William Buick, Rebel’s Romance was given time to find his rhythm amid the pack as Talo and Chosen Mark duked it out early. The stalking Zhou Storm launched his bid turning into the stretch, and Rebel’s Romance covered his move on the outside.
Readily overtaking Zhou Storm, Rebel’s Romance suddenly found a threat spearing through to his inside from Mouheeb. The debut winner from Jebel Ali was giving the favorite plenty to handle. (Mouheeb has a Juddmonte angle himself, with his broodmare sire being Eltish.)
Buick believed he had Mouheeb’s measure, so did no more urging than necessary to keep Rebel’s Romance in front. The margin was only a head in a final time of 1:37.55 for the metric mile. The top two pulled seven lengths clear of Zhou Storm, hitherto 2-for-2 in sprints, and first-time starter Sharp Spun who closed to force a dead-heat for third.
“Our concern with Rebel’s Romance coming into this race was always his gate speed and how far back we would get,” Appleby said. “He was slowly away but William got him into a nice pitch and was traveling well. Once he angled Rebel’s Romance out, I was as confident as you could be around here.
“Rebel’s Romance galloped well to the line and William looked after him, giving him a nice education. It looked a bit tight on TV for the last 200 yards but it was hands and heels from William, who was just keeping him up to his work.”
Buick said that Rebel’s Romance idled a bit before Mouheeb’s challenge:
“I was very pleased with Rebel’s Romance, who adapted well to the dirt. Although his two previous wins had come on an artificial surface (Newcastle’s Tapeta and Kempton’s Polytrack), running on a dirt track is still different. I thought he showed his class today and was always going to come on for the run, so it was a very pleasing performance overall.
“I could feel my horse getting a bit lonely in front but then he responded when the second came to him. He had something left in the tank and Mouheeb looked a good horse first time out at Jebel Ali. I think the first two set a good standard.
“He will potentially get further and it will be interesting to see what route they take with him – whether he will go for the Guineas (worth $125,000 at this track and trip Feb. 4) or to Saudi Arabia for the Derby there (worth $1.5 million on Saudi Cup Day Feb. 20). I guess all options are open but he had to take this step today to prove that he was effective on dirt.”
Bred to go further than a mile, Rebel’s Romance has every right to improve with maturity as the progeny of Dubawi often do.
“Whatever he does as a 3-year-old is going to be a bonus,” Appleby said, “and I think he is a horse who, if we mind him the right way, we can hopefully have some fun here for years to come.”
In his postrace comments to Dubai Racing Channel’s Laura King, Appleby put in a good word for another Dubawi gelding, 4-year-old Lazuli, who “could light up the sprint division.”
Lazuli himself has a Juddmonte angle to his ancestry beyond the abiding presence of Deploy (and Dancing Brave) in Dubawi. His second dam, Zaeema, is by the brilliant Zafonic.
Thus a regular Thursday in Dubai reminded us of a long self-evident truth – Khalid Abdullah’s impact far transcends the confines of his Juddmonte operation.