September 28, 2023

True Self topples Channel Maker in Neom Turf Cup

True Self
True Self wins the Neom Turf Cup (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Neville Hopwood)

Foiled by a couple of Irish distaffers in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), champion Channel Maker must have had a sense of déjà vu when another Irish mare – True Self – upstaged him in Saturday’s $1 million Neom Turf Cup. Willie Mullins’ ex-hurdler showed she had plenty of gears on the cutback to about 1 5/16 miles, and the 6-1 shot overhauled the 4-5 favorite in the Saudi Cup Day opener.

Godolphin swept the two ensuing turf races. The 1-2 favorite Space Blues was the eminently logical winner of the $1 million 1351 Turf Sprint, but Gifts of Gold sprang a 45-1 shock in the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf H. Both put themselves in line for targets on Dubai World Cup night Mar. 27.

Neom Turf Cup

Channel Maker didn’t get to the early lead, thanks to For the Top who was intent on setting the pace as he did last year. Instead, the American hope settled into a stalking spot, advanced to ratchet up the pressure, put For the Top away, and looked nearly home free down the lane.

The only danger to emerge late was True Self. Patiently handled by Hollie Doyle, the eight-year-old daughter of National Hunt sire Oscar took off and hunted down Channel Maker. True Self won going away by 1 1/4 lengths in 2:10.57 on a course still good-to-firm, with a bit of rain in Riyadh.

Another 4 1/2 lengths back came locally based Emirates Knight in third. Saltonstall checked in fourth to give Ireland bookends in the superfecta. British shipper Tilsit was a disappointing fifth, followed by Gronkowski, Kuwait Currency, Star of Wins, Four White Socks, For the Top, Al Hamdany, and Staunch.

Although True Self was a distant fourth to Magical in last summer’s Pretty Polly (G1), most of her form was over further. Three Mile House and OTI Partnership’s mare had scored her signature wins in the past two runnings of the 1 5/8-mile Queen Elizabeth H. (G3) at Flemington, and her Group placings were in the 2019 Pinnacle (G3) and Geelong Cup (G3).

“It was a fantastic ride by Hollie and the team have done a great job out there,” Mullins said. “We bought her originally as a mare to go hurdling with but she just has a huge amount of speed and all the jockeys who rode her said a mile and a quarter would suit her. It didn’t always work out but it was great to come for a big prize like this.

“The two plans this year were here and Australia at the end of the year. I’ll have to talk to the owners, OTI Racing, to decide what else we do.”

1351 Turf Sprint

The Charlie Appleby-trained Space Blues had to work a bit to extend his winning streak to five, understandable for a horse not seen since August. The son of Dubawi had been on a tear over the summer, from Haydock’s Spring Trophy (postponed due to the pandemic) and the Prix de la Porte Maillot (G3) to the Lennox (G2) at Glorious Goodwood and finally the Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1). That was a deserved Group 1 breakthrough for Space Blues, who’d placed third in the same race in 2019 after a runner-up effort to Too Darn Hot in the Prix Jean Prat (G1).

Space Blues ran up to his resume in this seasonal reappearance. Securing position from post 2 with William Buick, the chestnut was always within striking range of pacesetting Krispen. The prompting Urban Icon was the first to strike, only to have defending champion Dark Power accost him. As they dueled in the stretch, Space Blues angled out and got up by three-quarters of a length. His final time for the 1351 meters (about 6 3/4 furlongs) was 1:20.03.

Dark Power prevailed over Urban Icon by a neck for second. Space Blues’ stablemate Glorious Journey, third a year ago, settled for fourth. Land of Legends, Momkin, Avalina, Larchmont Lad, Krispen, and Royal Dornoch. Captain Von Trapp was pulled up.

“Absolutely delighted with that,” Appleby said. “We knew he was a class horse coming into the race and he had a lovely draw. I could see (the ground) was a bit loose for him and our concern was that he might just spin a bit on it, but he’s come back on the bridle turning in like a class horse and put the race to bed at the right time.”

The Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night could be next for Space Blues, while at the opposite end of the distance spectrum, the surprising Gifts of Gold ran himself straight into the Dubai Gold Cup (G2).

Red Sea Turf Handicap

Saeed bin Suroor masterminded the Red Sea Turf upset by Gifts of Gold, whose credentials appeared thin on paper. Well beaten in his only other try at a marathon trip, and in his rare forays in Group company, the Invincible Spirit gelding was coming off a long-way last in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) on the Meydan dirt. In a field of accomplished stayers, Gifts of Gold shaped as more of an experimenter than one poised for a breakout performance, but he delivered in the hands of Pat Cosgrave.

Defending champion and 2-1 favorite Call the Wind, lugging top weight of 137 pounds this time, opted to set the pace rather than let Mildenberger do the job, and ended up folding by the final turn. Spanish Mission, meanwhile, was creeping up steadily on the inside before switching out in the straight.

Yet it was Gifts of Gold, prominent himself early, who found the strongest change of gear. Driving 1 1/4 lengths clear of the pack, the six-year-old negotiated about 1 7/8 miles in 3:14.24.

Spanish Mission stayed on to hold second by a neck from Appleby’s closing Secret Advisor, thus preventing a Godolphin exacta. British shipper Red Verdon got up for fourth. Making Miracles, Mildenberger, U.S.-based Argentinean Mirinaque, New Show, the slow-starting duo of Prince of Arran and Mekong, Call the Wind, Barbados, and Arctic Sound concluded the order under the wire.

Call the Wind’s rider, Olivier Peslier, could tell things were off kilter from the beginning.

“He was leaning heavily on me during the entire race,” Peslier said. “He leaned to the right and that is not what he usually does. This is not the horse as we know him.”

Gifts of Gold’s lone stakes credit was a third in the Dubai Racing Club Classic early in the 2020 Carnival. During the British phase of his campaign, he romped in a 1 1/4-mile handicap over Chelmsford’s Polytrack and trailed a four-horse field in Newbury’s Legacy Cup (formerly the Arc Trial) (G3).

“This was the plan since January when racing started in Dubai,” bin Suroor said. “I thought he would be the perfect horse. He’s a big strong horse and he ran well. The pace of the race wasn’t that fast and that suited him and he finished the race off really well.”