With the 2016 Dubai World Cup Carnival drawing towards its conclusion, Thursday evening’s meeting and Super Saturday, provide connections final opportunities to prove their horses worthy of an invitation to run on Dubai World Cup night.
Godolphin’s Very Special falls into that category and she faces six rivals in this evening’s official feature, the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes.
Restricted to fillies and mares, the 1800m turf highlight is a race trainer Saeed Bin Suroor has won twice before, most recently with Sajjhaa. She won this, under a penalty, in 2013 having already claimed the Group 2 Cape Verdi, over 1600m, as did Very Special four weeks ago and she is penalised accordingly.
Sajjhaa went on to win both Super Saturday’s Group 1 Jebel Hatta and Group 1 Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night. A restructuring of the fixture list makes that impossible, with the Jebel Hatta being run less than 24 hours later this year, but the World Cup night feature, now called the Dubai Turf, will be a viable target if she wins well on Thursday night.
Bin Suroor said: “She has thrived since arriving in Dubai and won the Cape Verdi well. The extra 200m will suit but the penalty does make it a tougher task.”
Very Special, 4yo f by Lope de Vega (Shamardal) o/o Danehill mare Danielli, won Cape Verdi S at Meydan for Godolphin; sire’s newest SW— Tom Hall (@lordatwar) February 4, 2016
Of her six rivals tonight, five were well beaten in the Cape Verdi with Marco Botti-trained Euro Charline the only ‘fresh blood’ in the race.
A Group One winner, she was fourth in last year’s Dubai Turf – her main UAE target again – so it is unlikely Botti will have her fully wound up with three weeks for that race.
Bin Suroor also has a good record in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy, also on turf but over 2810m. The race has been contested six times, with the Godolphin handler responsible for half of the winners.
His Famous Kid faces 13 rivals in a wide open renewal which features a clash between the first five home in a course and distance handicap staged a month ago. Bin Suroor’s horse was third on that occasion but is weighted to reverse form with both the winner, Battersea, and runner-up, Paene Magnus.
Bin Suroor said: “This has been a target for him since the outset of this year’s Carnival. He stays well and is in good form at home. “Course and distance suit him and he should be very competitive in an open race.”
Trained by Roger Varian, Battersea was receiving weight from those around him in that handicap, with Star Empire, fifth for Mike de Kock, another certainly likely to finish closer on the revised terms.
Only three have been declared for the Group 3 UAE Oaks, over 1900m on dirt, with De Kock introducing Vale Dori for a belated UAE debut.
A Group One winner in her native Argentina, she was injured early in the year and has missed the first eight weeks of the Carnival.
She will need to be at her very best though to lower the colours of UAE 1000 Guineas heroine Polar River, unbeaten after three starts for Doug Watson. Her three wins have been achieved with a staggering aggregate of just over 31 lengths.
Watson said: “She is in great form and a really exciting filly to have in the yard. Fingers crossed she can win this and then go to the UAE Derby.”
The meeting opens with the Group 1 Purebred Arabian Maktoum Challenge III, over 2000m. The 2200m round II victor, Haajeb, should be thereabouts with Wayne Smith again riding for Nacer Samiri.
Trained by Doug Watson for Sheikh Hamdan, Marching Time has been with the trainer since 2010, winning just once, on turf in November 2011. However, he has run some great races in defeat and has been placed five times on dirt.
He is dropping in class here, facing his easiest task for a very long time but will be ridden by Dane O’Neill, the owner’s second jockey, with Paul Hanagan choosing to ride Moosir, also trained by Watson.
Hanagan’s mount will be having only his fifth UAE outing and is making a belated seasonal debut. When last seen, in March last year, he was an excellent second in a 1,600m handicap on the dirt at Al Ain.
Watson said: “Marching Time is a real favourite in the yard and always gives his best. This looks a realistic opportunity for him.
“Moosir is a nice horse but his return has been delayed. The flat nature of the track should suit him.
“Both are in good form at home and hopefully will be competitive in an open race.”
With Richard Mullen riding at the big international meeting in Qatar, stable apprentice Hector Crouch partners the Satish Seemar-trained Sky Jockey.
A 1,400m winner at Meydan in December, he has not been disgraced since and should not be far away.
Crouch said: “This trip could prove ideal for him and we are expecting a bold showing.”
Erwan Charpy saddles two with stable jockey, David Probert electing to ride Fa’Iz, leaving apprentice Marc Monaghan a nice spare ride aboard stable companion, Tadmir.
The best of the Purebred Arabian action is a 2,000m handicap and 13 have been declared, headed by the Ernst Oertel-trained Madjanthis.
A fascinating eighth meeting of the Carnival at Meydan takes place on Thursday evening with California Chrome aiming to advertise his Dubai World Cup claims and Safety Check bidding to become the first back-toback winner of the Zabeel Mile.
The official highlight is the Group 2 Zabeel Mile with Godolphin’s Safety Check, winner of the 1600m turf feature last year, trying to overcome a penalty for winning the 1400m Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort – a burden he managed to carry successfully last season having won the same race.
William Buick again rides for Charlie Appleby, who said: “He just loves it at Meydan where the style of racing really suits him.
“He only just stays 1600m but gets away with it at Meydan. He is in great form and seems better than this time last year. Hopefully he will hard to beat.”
South Africa and the UK supply three of his nine opponents apiece and it is Harry’s Son, trained by former South African professional footballer, Paul Lafferty, who looks the main danger.
Making his local debut, he was second to Safety Check in the Al Fahidi Fort but, with the run under his belt, over an extra 200m and receiving weight this time, should make a bold attempt to reverse the form.
South African compatriot Mike de Kock has a record three wins to his name in the race and saddles two. Stable jockey, Christophe Soumillon chooses Johann Strauss with Wayne Smith aboard Zahee.
Also expected to shine and go straight to the big night is California Chrome, runner-up in last year’s Dubai World Cup and currently favourite for this year’s renewal.
He faces seven rivals in a handicap over the same 2000m dirt course and distance as the world’s richest horse race and it will be a major shock were he to not win.
The Doug Watson-trained Storm Belt and Godolphin’s Good Contact look the pair most likely to chase him home.