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2015 Dubai Racing Comprehensive: South American imports – boom or bust?

Happy Boy was trained by Pedro Nickel Filho in Brazil, and came to the 2008 Dubai World Cup Carnival under the care of his original Brazilian connections. The son of Ski Champ had five wins from nine starts in his native country, with four of the five wins on dirt, the last coming November 10, 2007. His average margin of victory was just more than 2 ½ lengths in those five scores, with a total margin of victory of 13 lengths. Happy Boy was shipped to the UAE after that November win and debuted first off the plane in the Maktoum Challenge Round 1 on January 17, 2008, winning by nine lengths, defeating eventual 2010 Dubai World Cup winner Gloria De Campeao (who was also making his UAE debut).

Ignored by the punters on the international tote at 18-1, Happy Boy was drawn on the rail and slammed at the start, he saved ground throughout, shot through an opening at the top of the stretch while jockey Jose Da Silva sat like a statue as the margin increased. In fact, the only moving Da Silva did was to look back and see check on the distance back to the competition.

Finishing seventh in the 2008 Maktoum Challenge was Imperialista, another Brazilian-bred who had won this race a year earlier, on January 14, 2007. That race at Nad Al Sheba was also his first following his last Brazilian start, on October 22, 2006 at Gavea. He was sold to Maktoum family interests after that race.

What did both horses have in common other than winning the Maktoum Challenge Round 1, first off the plane following a quick transfer from South American racing into the UAE?

Both never won a race again.

Imperialista made six more starts in the UAE and was beaten an average of 13 ½ lengths. His best results were two third placings in handicaps at the 2008 Carnival. Happy Boy made nine more starts, and was beaten in all of them. His final start was a “distanced” seventh in the 2009 Dubai World Cup behind Well Armed. He ran close seconds behind Asiatic Boy in both the second and third rounds of the Maktoum Challenge that year, his only placings following that devastating, “out of nowhere” demolition before being sold.

On the 3-year-old front, fillies Sos Brillante and India Tiberina both were purchased after dominating wins in their first career starts. Sos Brillante was an 11 ¾ length winner on March 22, 2008 while India Tiberina landed a maiden race by 10 ¾ lengths on March 29, 2008 – at the same track in Chile. They ran first and second in the 1,000 Guineas Trial for their new connections on January 15, 2009 – and never got closer than that the rest of their careers.

Let’s turn to the optimists.

For every Happy Boy and Imperialista, there are success stories. Mike de Kock turned Asiatic Boy and Honour Devil into champions. Asiatic Boy had a win and two seconds in Argentina before winning four straight at the 2007 Carnival, topped by the UAE Derby. Honour Devil had a single win in Argentina before landing three of four in his 3-year-old season, also adding a UAE Derby to his ledger (watch that race below).

There was My Indy, who finished behind Honour Devil after two Argentine starts, but later won two rounds of the 2009 Maktoum Challenge.

When it comes to judging the dirt-bound South American imports, the old history at Nad Al Sheba was a mix of feast and famine. Dirt at Meydan got the cycle of importing from South America back in style and quite a few are expected to get a run at the 2015 Carnival, and naturally, big things are expected.

Undefeated, the winner of the Uruguayan Triple Crown, and a much ballyhooed private purchase report from November, SIR FEVER hopes to accomplish just some of what Invasor did. He is going to be hot on the three-year-old trail if all goes well, and then there was discussion of possibly even trying the Dubai World Cup. Below, take a look at the three legs of the Triple Crown annexed by Sir Fever. It is expected he is joining Saeed bin Suroor, though no specific confirmation has been received.

Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos (G1) – September 7, 2014

Gran Premio Jockey Club (G1) – October 5, 2014

Gran Premio Nacional (G1) – November 9, 2014

HIGH BLADE is another acceptor for the Carnival, having been with Richard Colombo in Uruguay. His debut race was a 12-length demolition, running on the front-end.

Since then, he won two conditions events, then two listed stakes, and remains unbeaten should he enter races at the Carnival. His wins have come from 1,100 metres up to 1,500.

Dhruba Selvaratnam took charge of GRAND SALUTE after his private purchase last year. The son of Salute the Sarge made his UAE debut on December 18, running sixth beaten eight lengths behind Surfer in the listed Dubai Creek Mile. Watch the race below (Grand Salute carried the yellow silks with black epaulets of Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum).

Later on the same December 18 card was the listed Entisar, won by COOPTADO, making his second start in the UAE. A winner of the Argentine Derby (Gran Premio Nacional – G1) in 2013, he ran fifth behind Toast of New York in the UAE Derby. Given the offseason to mature, he made his first start against elders in the Entisar and just narrowly held.

Cooptado’s first-up run, followed by a break, followed by a gritty win in listed company and progressing on to the Carnival is a rare occurrence for a South American shipper to the UAE. Many either appear fresh off a long break, others come in-form and are sent right into top competition. Trainer Doug Watson seems to have managed him incredibly well in the offseason and an exciting Carnival looms.

Japanese trainer Takashi Kodama, based in Ireland, brings a string to the UAE for the first time, and among the expected runners is SOCIOLOGA INC, a five-time Group-level winning filly from Argentina, including twice in Group 1 company. Below, watch Sociologa Inc land the Gran Premio Criodores (G1) on dirt at Palermo. She begins the Carnival rated 109 on both surfaces.

The aptly named EMIRATE’S GIRL is another filly purchased out of South America for Kodama’s Carnival contingent. A winner of the Gran Premio Eliseo Ramirez (G1) in 2013, the filly by Lizard Island is mostly raced on grass, though she does have a single start on dirt, when third in her second career start. Given her career has been limited to middle-distance races, she seems a prospect for the Cape Verdi and Balanchine. She was given one start in France in October when dull in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein (G2). Watch the 2013 Eliseo Ramirez win below.

Kodama also brings AYAHUASCA, a Peruvian-raced, American-bred son of Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Johar. He’s a seven-time winner, including four times at group level, racing exclusively on grass. Peruvian form is incredibly rare for the UAE, and should be an interesting test, especially on the turf course. He is rated at 108, a seemingly gaudy number for what appears second-tier South American turf form, and will be incredibly interesting to follow. Watch his most recent win, the Clasico Santorin (G3) from Monterrico in Lima, Peru from August 2014.

How should you handle South American form? Our suggestion is to wait until that South American form turns into local UAE form. Blanket recommendations are difficult, but recognizing the hazy surroundings of their entrée into the UAE, and fully aware of past, with its boom and/or bust, all-or-nothing history, waiting is not the worst thing. Horses with new connections might take a while to come around. Horses with their past South American connections might be tightly wound in the hopes of a big sale. Proceed with caution.

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