88% sand, 12% silt and clay. Between now and the end of March, races with prize money in excess of $20 million will be contested over the surface.
And while the Carnival might be the first time you paid attention to the racing in Dubai this season, there have been five meetings and 28 Thoroughbred races over the new footing. Surely, it’s early, but some trends have presented themselves. Below, take note of the two graphs. The first shows the running styles of winners in races run on the dirt between 1,200 and 1,600 meters, while the second shows two-turn races, from 1,900 to 2,200. We segment the winners’ running styles into four categories – horses who “made all” (or virtually all of the running), horses who ran forward and settled just behind the main speed, horses who settled and ran on from mid pack, and horses that closed from the tail of the field.
Needless to say, as the numbers indicate – being forward has been a massive help. 20 of 28 winners, representing 71% of all races this season, have been won by horses either making all the running or being forwardly-placed. Of the horses who won as “closers,” two were the same – Satish Seemar trained FILFIL, a former Godolphin runner who was fifth behind Soft Falling Rain in the 2013 UAE Guineas Trial (G3). Watch his two winning efforts, one from December 4, the other from December 31, below.
Note the dirt present on jockey Richard Mullen, coming home on Filfil from his New Year’s Eve victory.
That win was particularly noteworthy, as it came over MUHTARAM, a Musabah Al Muhairi-trained gelding who started the season with two wins on the Meydan dirt. The third home on December 31 was a handy maiden winner earlier in the season, Doug Watson’s ONE MAN BAND. When winning his maiden at Meydan on December 4, One Man Band defeated SILVER GALAXY (Al Muhairi) by six lengths, and he’s come back to win two in stylish fashion, and is rated an eye-popping 97.
So what’s the point? Filfil’s wins have been impressive, and incredibly rare. The only other “closer” was another impressive performer in FAULKNER (Watson), who is now unbeaten in two starts, both lifetime and on the dirt in the UAE, and did so against winners in his first try there. Faulkner was also given a Carnival-eligible rating of 97 after this race (watch it below).
It’s easier to legitimately digest three races – these are the outliers, the rarities. For our money, Faulkner’s win shown above was the single most impressive performance of the five local meetings. The second placer, SATWA STORY (Seemar) was a winner early in the Carnival and has come back with a third on December 31, giving him a tick in each of the placing boxes for the early part of the season.
There have been quite a few races where the front-running style of the winner seemed to be a massive boost to chances. Unlike the typical American style of dirt racing, where horses are typically allowed to run loose until being asked in the final 400 meters, the international collection of jockeys riding at Meydan often seem to get into their mounts very early.
It is possible to win from well off the pace, though only two horses have done so through 28 Thoroughbred races thus far. In our opinion, the rarity of the off-the-pace successes makes the runs of Faulkner and Filfil seem even better. We promote them in our mind, at least, knowing how the track has seemed to play. It isn’t, however, the only “promoting” that has gone on in the UAE this season.
Remember, qualifying for a Carnival handicap requires a minimum official rating of 95. In what we view as an effort to make more local horses eligible to fill Carnival dirt races, it seems some ratings inflation has occurred. Make no mistake – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact, it could provide some interesting opportunities. Our belief, though, is that some horses may be, literally, overrated in order to qualify for the bigger races. The question the observers, pundits, and punters will have to ask themselves is whether or not the ratings are warranted.
Handicapping, in the international sense of the word – rating horses based on past performance – is a thankless task – sometimes spot-on, sometimes not. PRICE IS TRUTH was an incredibly expensive yearling who never panned-out for Godolphin. The son of Distorted Humor out of a Storm Cat mare, Price is Truth started the season a maiden, rated 60. In his first-up run at Sharjah, Price is Truth won a 0-75 rated handicap by 13 lengths, and was promoted to a rating of 77. Twelve days later, at Meydan, he won by a deceptively short margin of 2.5 lengths in a 75-85 rated handicap. Watch the race below.
The handicapper boosted Price is Truth to a rating of 98 – up 38 pounds, or points, in 12 days time. Whatever the reason for the improvement, here is a currently Carnival-eligible horse who was seemingly hopeless otherwise. In seven UAE starts from the 2013-2014 season, Price is Truth was beaten more than 60 lengths, combined, and never closer to the winner than five lengths in any of his starts. These puzzles remain in place for the Carnival, and it is your task (and ours) to work through them.
Be prepared! It’s going to be fun!