Introduced in 2003 as a dress rehearsal for the Dubai World Cup card three weeks later, all seven races are mirror images of the races to be contested on that ultra-valuable occasion.
Three horses have won the Group 1 US$400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 before following up in the $10 million Dubai World Cup and North America will try and emulate them after a smooth success in the big race of the day on dirt.
Drawn six in a field of 12, Richard Mullen’s mount was well away and ridden positively to get to the lead.
Two-time Group 1 winner Thunder Snow, last year’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and UAE Derby (G2) winner, was among those tracking him throughout and challenged as the two turned for home, ultimately failing to close in on his rival.
In the end, North America was a 5¼ lengths winner to Thunder Snow with multiple G1-winning mare Furia Cruzada finishing a game third, 3¾ lengths farther back.
“Last time, when second to Thunder Snow (in Round 2), was probably a career-best and he has built on that again tonight,” said Mullen of North America.
“I just wanted to get him into a rhythm; not necessarily to lead, but we broke so well, I was able to get to the front and he was then always happy. Obviously the Dubai World Cup is going to be a stronger race, but he deserves his chance.”
In the main turf race, the 1800m Group 1 $300,000 Jebel Hatta, race-goers were treated to a thrilling finish as the lead change hands at least six times in the final 400m.
The telling challenge, though, came from Godolphin’s Blair House, who pounced inside the final 150m under James Doyle, riding for Charlie Appleby.
Saeed bin Suroor-trained Benbatl was a close second, with Mike de Kock-conditioned Janoobi a head astern in third.
Runner-up on his first two Carnival outings this year, Blair House had landed a handicap over this course and distance three weeks ago. The Group 1 $6 million Dubai Turf is the equivalent race on the big day.
Appleby, who won the 2016 Jebel Hatta with Tryster, said: “We knew this horse arrived here in good form and it looked a wide open race, as it transpired to be. I am sure we will have to come back with him in three weeks in what will be a stronger race but he owes us nothing now.”
Dubai World Cup-winning jockey William Buick is relishing the prospect of being teamed with the brilliant Hawkbill at Meydan on Super Saturday, the dress rehearsal to the Dubai World Cup on March 31.
The Godolphin jockey, who sealed the 2015 World Cup on Prince Bishop, has just recovered from a compression fracture to his T12 vertebrae after falling from Permian at the Secretariat Stakes in August.
Although he didn’t require surgery, the Norway-born rider was ruled out of action until late October – when he returned for the John Guest Bengough Stakes at Ascot.
And the 29-year-old will be hoping to produce something special on Hawkbill on Saturday in the Group Two Dubai City of Gold over a mile-and-a-half.
The Charlie Appleby-trained horse will go into Super Saturday as the favourite – after finishing three-quarters of a length in front of stablemate Frontiersman in Newmarket back in July.
“He looks like he’s wintered very well. He’s done well for the winter in the UAE. In an ideal world this is a preparation race for the Sheema Classic. He brings a lot of class to the race. He’ll be the horse they all have to beat,” Buick said.
“He’s physically done well. Mentally he’s great. He’s a very energetic horse and expresses himself. All the signs of his well-being, he’s showed all of them. The main aim is March 31 and he looks like he’s he’s on an upward curve.”
Buick is no stranger to the grand stage and despite being sidelined due to injury at the back end of 2017, he goes into Saturday’s meet on a formidable 11 winners – four more than the venerable Chris Soumillon of Belgium.
Having committed to six rides in the seven-race card, the Newmarket-resident looks in firm control to win the carnival’s Champion Jockey title.
He added: “It’s an important race day, every race day is important for various reasons but we go out with the aim to win every race we’ve entered, and that makes every race important.
“I’ll approach Saturday, the World Cup or any race in a similar way. The bigger the race day the more coverage you get, but in professional sport you take it as what it is.”
Buick will ride Folkswood and Boynton in the Jebel Hatta and Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 respectively.
He will then be aboard Masar in the Listed Al Bastakiya, Comicas in the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal and Jungle Cat in the third race.
The Godolphin jockey will then partner the impressive Hawkbill in the concluding race.
Mickael Barzalona insists he was pleased with the performance of Cloth of Stars despite being beaten by stablemate Talismanic in preparation for Super Saturday at Chantilly during the week.
The French-based Godolphin jockey rode the Andre Fabre-trained horse to second place – and will be aiming to have the five-year old in fine fettle for the Sheema Classic on March 31.
“It was a very good performance by Talismanic, but the plan was to give (Cloth Of Stars) a good race and just not be too hard,” Barzalona said.
“He’s travelling beautifully at the moment and he picked up very well to the line. I was a length behind Talismanic and I stayed a length behind him so I’m very pleased with that.
“It was a target for Cloth Of Stars after the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to run in the Sheema Classic and we all know how good Andre Fabre is to make a horse ready for the big days so I am sure he will be 100 per cent. He looks like he is going to be very competitive.”
The 26-year-old is still unsure whether he will be riding either Cloth of Stars or Talismanic on Dubai World Cup night, but either way both horses are serious favourites to win in three weeks‘ time.
As for Heavy Metal’s prospects in the Group Three Burj Nahaar – with two wins this year in Meydan – Barzalona is excited by the thought of racing the eight-year-old front-runner despite being drawn in the unfavourable stall 13.
“He loves the dirt at Meydan, he is very fast from the gate, he’s in great shape,” said the Avignon native. “He’s in great condition. Hopefully we will be able to get the lead and he will win the race.
“The horse looks in good condition and I’m aiming to have some luck and hopefully it goes well.”