The second biggest meeting of the season and the penultimate fixture at Meydan this campaign, Super Saturday promises to live up to the billing with a host of equine stars on show, including all three winners of the featured Group One races on the card from 12 months ago.
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The official highlight, the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge III, over the same 2,000m dirt course and distance as the world’s richest horse race, the $10 million (Dh36.7m)Dubai World Cup in three weeks’ time, has attracted 11 declarations.
These include last year’s winner Prince Bishop and African Story, only eighth in this 12 months ago but subsequently successful in the World Cup itself.
Both are trained by Saeed bin Suroor who is seeking an 11th victory in the race first run in 1994 with Godolphin trainers seeking to win the race for a 14th occasion (Hilal Ibrahim twice, Mahmood Al Zarooni once).
Prince Bishop was second in Al Maktoum Challenge II with African Story well beaten in seventh but, perhaps significantly, stable jockey James Doyle remains loyal to the latter with William Buick again on the stable companion.
Bin Suroor said: “I was certainly disappointed with African Story but he did not seem to face the kickback early on so hopefully he can get in a good position early on this time.”
Prince Bishop chased home the Salem bin Ghadayer-trained Frankyfourfingers in the middle round and looks a big threat under Mickael Barzalona.
Toolain, trained by Satish Seemar and the Doug Watson pair of Storm Belt and Henry Clay, are all course and distance winners stepping up in class.
The race was contested on the synthetic Tapeta surface last year, as was the Group 1 Purebred Arabian equivalent over the same 2,000m, whereas this time the racing is on the new dirt surface.
The first three from 12 months ago, headed by the Majed Al Jahouri-trained Raaziq, clash again.
He was chased home by Versac PY on that occasion with AF Lafeh third.
Bin Suroor and South African Mike De Kock are both seeking a fifth win in the concluding Group 1 Jebel Hatta, over the same 1,800m turf trip as the renamed Dubai Turf (was Dubai Duty Free).
Hunter’s Light, a dual Group One winner, is Bin Suroor’s sole representative.
Bin Suroor said: “He has been in great form this season and should run another big race.”
He faces 11 rivals, of whom no less than six will be saddled by De Kock, headed by last year’s winner Vercingetorix.
De Kock explained: “For some of these it is their last chance to run at the Carnival unless they excel and gain an invitation for World Cup night.”
Anyone thinking of attending should note the early start time with the first race scheduled to start at 16:00.
It is another busy weekend of racing with today’s (Thursday) Al Ain meeting the first of four consecutive days of racing, highlighted by the rearranged Al Ain Mile Prep with nine set to face the starter, including RB Smokin Rich.
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The choice of Tadhg O’Shea, he is one of three in the race for trainer Salem Al Ketbi who also saddles Burj Khalifa, to be ridden by Richard Mullen and Najm Alemarat under Shane Karlsson.
Speaking from Dubai Airport yesterday, on his way to ride in Qatar, O’Shea said: “They are three nice horses and a case could be made for each of them.
"RB Smokin Rich was impressive when winning over 1,400m at Al Ain last November and has won twice over 1,600m on turf at Abu Dhabi.
“On dirt, 1,600m is probably at the top end of his stamina scale but he worked well the other day.”
Should the Al Ketbi trio fail to fire, Ghadeer, to be ridden by Dane O’Neill for Ali Rashid Al Raihe, Its Far From Over, trained by Omar Daraj and the mount of Pat Dobbs, and Silvestre De Sousa’s mount, the Majed Al Jahouri-trained Haajeb, look the most likely to take advantage.
The action then moves to Jebel Ali on Friday for their third and final feature race of the season, the 1,000m Listed Jebel Ali Sprint.
Eight have been declared with the majority of the focus squarely on Muarrab, trained by Musabah Al Muhairi for Sheikh Hamdan.
Unsurprisingly, the owner’s first jockey Paul Hanagan chooses him over stable companion Fityaan, the mount of Dane O’Neill, also retained by the owner.
Hanagan’s mount has raced seven times at Jebel Ali, suffering his only defeat at the track on his first visit, over 1,400m.
He has since won four times over 1,200m and twice over the 1,000m course and distance of this race, including when leading all the way in the official prep race a fortnight ago.
Hanagan said: “He just loves it at Jebel Ali and produces his very best there.
He has won both his outings at 1,000m and was very impressive in the prep two weeks ago.
“Hopefully, he is the one they all have to beat.”
That would certainly appear to be the case considering he was conceding weight to his nine rivals on that occasion and meets his rivals here on level weights.
Fityaan was second in this race in both 2012 and last year. It would not be the biggest surprise were he to fill the same spot again.
He chased home Take Ten last year, one of two previous winners of the race to be saddled by Satish Seemar, who also has the 2011 victor, Spin Cycle, in this year’s renewal.
The Doug Watson-trained Kilt Rock is another horse who has been second in this race, in 2013, as well as finishing third in 2012 and fourth last year.
He has been off since the middle of January and has had a wind (breathing) operation since.
Morawij, trained on the track by Dhruba Selvaratnam for racecourse patron Sheikh Ahmed, chased him home in the prep, without ever really threatening to beat him.
Stable jockey Oisin Murphy again rides and said: “Obviously, Muarrab is the one we all have to beat but my fellow has been running well and the yard are in good form.
“Hopefully, something will take Muarrab on for the lead and give us something to aim at in the closing stages.”
Zedan Polo Team won today´s match against UAE Polo and will also join Julius Bär Team by Habtoor Polo and Bin Drai in the semifinals of the Julius Bär Gold Cup 2015.
Zedan defeated UAE Polo by 11 goals to 10 in one of the most exciting matches of the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series 2015 and with 3 victories on a row is the top ranked team in the Group B.
In the same group, Abu Dhabi, (that won today´s match against Desert Palm I 13 -8), UAE Polo and Desert Palm II will fight till the end of the qualifying stage for the last place in the semifinals.
Day 8 of action at the Julius Bär Gold Cup started with Abu Dhabi´s Team victory against Desert Palm I by 13 goals to 8.
Faris Al Yabhouni´s team had a great performance and achieved a much needed victory to keep on with chances to qualify for the semifinals.
Abu Dhabi: 1-1/ 6-1/ 8-4/ 9-6/ 13-8
The best was yet to come on the second match of the day with the exciting victory by Zedan against UAE Polo 11 goals to 10.
A great polo game was seen on field 1 of the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club with amazing players Pablo MacDonough and Lucas Monteverde showing all their best.
Actions and scoreboard change from side to side in the five chukkas of the match. First was UAE on the lead by two goals (5-3) in the second chukka and reaction by Zedan came on the third for a 8-6 lead.
In the final 3 minutes of the match best actions occur with, first UAE putting the score 9 goals a piece and then taking the lead by one (10-9) with 60 seconds on the clock.
Pablo Mac Donough emerge in his best polo version to tie the match in 10 goals and score the winning goal in the last 30 seconds for Zedan´s victory by 11-10.
Zedan: 2-2/ 3-5/ 8-6/ 9-8/ 11-10
The Julius Bär Gold Cup will continue next Friday at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club with the last qualyfing
games of Group A.
At 2 pm Julius Bär by Habtoor Polo will face Bin Drai followed by Ghantoot against Mahra.