Every horse in the Maktoum Challenge – Round 2 (G2) was based locally in the UAE, either from a past season or imported with a locally-based trainer. Needless to say, the Dubai World Cup will likely look much different than this, but we got a legitimate two-turn test of the local runners.
Salem bin Ghadayer’s yard earned a first true Carnival win after only annexing a pair of races for local horses, preparing FRANKYFOURFINGERS to the win. After being a bit slow into stride, Mickael Barzalona wasted no time in sending the son of Sunday Break to the lead and it was race over at that point. Ignored at 38-1 first-up, the public engaged on the international tote did not let him get away this time, sent off the 5-1 third choice.
There have been eight races at 1,900 meters over the Meydan dirt, and every sectional from this race, all set by Frankyfourfingers, was the fastest recorded yet. The final time of 1:58.24 was 0.80 seconds quicker than the previous next-fastest race, which was established by I’m Back in a Carnival handicap on January 8. The dirt was not playing particularly quick, although there was only one other race to compare it to on the night, LOCAL TIME’s UAE 1,000 Guineas Trial win. That race was the slowest of any Carnival race over 1,600 meters.
PRINCE BISHOP’s run, naturally, will draw plenty of attention, soaring home to nab second and looking plenty competent over a longer dirt trip. AFRICAN STORY, on the other hand, did not seem that keen on the dirt. SURFER did not get the cozy rail run he enjoyed for his first two runs of the campaign. He got to the rail in the straight and truly just stayed-on for fourth. LE BERNARDIN punched the breeze three-wide throughout and hung for third, another credible run for the son of Bernardini.
Where was COOPTADO? The early-race punch he showed in the Entisar, defeating Storm Belt and friends back on December 18, just didn’t go the early gallop and never responded. Our selection, EMIRATES FLYER, never really did a lick of running – so much for getting fancy.
When MASTERMIND won the Meydan Classic Trial, he became the first horse to win a Carnival turf race that included at least one turn since, according to our records, Navajo Chief won a handicap on February 24, 2011. Interestingly enough, that was Harry Bentley’s first Carnival winner as a jockey, doing the job for Alan Jarvis. Only one horse has made all on the grass since then at the Carnival, but that was Amber Sky’s win down the straight in the Al Quoz Sprint. While it has happened in the local turf races at Meydan, this hollow accomplishment does go to show the wild competitiveness of the Carnival turf races.
VOLATILE was the last horse away in this race and needed a few reminders to get up and engage, and he soon rattled himself along the rail to track Mastermind and was very headstrong through most of the turn. Guided off the rail to attack, he ran on well and seems as progressive as we thought him to be in the preseason. TOSCANELLI ran particularly good race, providing a bit of a surprise for the de Kock camp, which suggested he wasn’t showing much in his work. Rune Haugen trainee QUARTERBACK ran the fastest final 400 of the race, while the quickest last 200 went to the debuting Romosh, a bit of a surprise out of the Rashed Bouresly yard.
Mastermind was put up to a 101 rating for this effort, and as he is a gelding, we could see him around for a LONG time to come. The quality run by Volatile provided a slight boost to the form from MUBTAAHIJ, as that wide-spaced winner of the UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial is due back next week.
DARK EMERALD got Brendan Powell on the board as winning Carnival conditioner. Over a distance that many doing the form viewed as too short, Dark Emerald slalomed through the field, had no rail trouble as he did last time out, and won going away. A trainer recently told us they thought the straight five at Meydan required a horse really strong at six furlongs and the straight six required a good seven furlong horse. This result would support that philosophy, surely.
In a nice spare ride for Richard Mullen, Dark Emerald beat 15 rivals and while he didn’t win first-up, has found himself in front of 29 horses in two races thus far. Mullen is now the leading non-Godolphin-based jockey for the Carnival, still three wins behind James Doyle. Overall for the season in the UAE, though, Mullen is well clear, six in front of Silvestre De Sousa.
There was marked improvement from FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH, and he could have more in reserve for another step forward as the Carnival progresses.
LOCAL TIME moved forward from her Carnival opener to take the UAE 1,000 Guineas. As there is little beyond the UAE Oaks (G3) for this gaggle, field sizes have generally been light in recent years, and this race saw three Godolphin runners, two for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and just one European shipper. As most have likely heard by now, AD IDEM bled after leading early, and Local Time moved beyond her with ease. GOOD PLACE ran on well after having been a bit slow from the stalls yet again and claimed second. Not much more to report from that one.
FAMOUS KID was no surprise landing the stayers’ handicap over 2,810 meters. Getting in at just 53 kilograms, it was a solid drop in the weights and his return to grass was taken well in stride. Perhaps most impressive, though, was his ability to sustain the four-wide trip throughout both the long sweeping turns, surely giving his backers some extra heartburn. AHZEEMAH was far from disrespected in third and MEANDRE gave Doug Watson another quality Carnival placing – both of those having toted the race-high 60 kilograms.
The eye-catcher, though, was MICKDAAM, still winless since the Chester Vase score in 2012. He actually beat Surfer back in the Al Bastakiya from that year, but has been anything by sound from the looks of it, and might have found the right spot. This guy was beaten four lengths by Vercingetorix in a handicap in 2014, but this was his first try back on the grass and Wayne Smith had him motoring at the end.
While the pace may have looked dawdling early, the 800-meter split was 54.39 seconds, pretty much bang on standard for the previous seven races run over course and distance.
In a race where many seemed to have chances, we were a bit surprised that STAR EMPIRE was as short as 7-5 on the international tote.
SAMURAI SWORD ran on with a clear passage and a solid Adrie de Vries ride to upset the last race, besting the late-starting SHORT SQUEEZE, who also ran on with essentially little friction coming from off the pace. The first 800 meters of this race was about a second inside of standard, which certainly aided the come-from-behinders. If you pressed us to say who was most impressive here – how about SLUMDOGMILLIONAIRE. Granted, he had the rail throughout, but pressed the pace and still hung in there, even re-rallying after being headed in the lane. He looks to be on the right track after a pop-and-stop first-up effort that was much needed.
Up next week we have what should be another exciting edition of the UAE 2,000 Guineas (G3), and the local sprinters try to sort themselves out more with the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3), then the always revealing Firebreak (G3) for the milers. It’s a dirt stakes-laden card that should be a fun one.
Notebook horses: Volatile, Mickdaam, Prince Bishop, Slumdogmillionaire
Tipping performance: Our best of the night, Mastermind, obliged, but tough sledding beyond that. 35 races – 8 first, 8 second, 0 third (US$2 ROI = $2.35)