Charlie Appleby zipped down the slopes of Megeve in the French Alps earlier this month as the three-time International Trainer of the Year enjoyed a richly deserved break.
The cold air in the Alps may be a far cry from the rain and wind of Suffolk, but the silence and space in the mountains provided the Englishman with a chance to reflect on his memorable year.
The 43-year-old saddled 12 of Godolphin’s 30 international Group 1 winners in 2018, including historic victories at the Epsom Derby and Melbourne Cup, as well as the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
Just one of those 12 victories would be the realisation of a dream for any trainer. But Appleby is different. He’s engaging, clever, a superb communicator and leader, and has a strong team around him to help train some of the best horses in the world.
For all the highs and glory of 2018, the Newmarket-based handler is relishing the prospect of carrying his success through the new season.
“It was a year that started off here on Dubai World Cup night with the two winners and seemed to rollercoaster from there,” said Appleby. “We had six winners at Craven, had five at Guineas Meeting, won the Epsom Derby and had a few winners at Ascot. It just went on from there.
“It was one of those seasons that you didn’t want to end. Unfortunately it does and we all have to start on zero again.
“I said to the team to keep the consistency going. As long as we are competing at the top end, then I feel we are doing our job. Getting horses to G1 events is not easy and you have to take some satisfaction. But if you can bag a winner, then that’s the icing on the cake.”
Dubai World Cup day will be a different prospect for him this time around. In 2018, Appleby saddled his first two winners with Jungle Cat in the Al Quoz Sprint and Hawkbill in the Dubai Sheema Classic.
A significant night for him, but a surprise also in that it had not come sooner, given the dominance he has held on the international stage over the years.
“I never had a winner until last year. Jungle Cat and Hawkbill were my first two. They are fond memories and I’ve been so lucky to be associated with Godolphin for so many years,” said Appleby, who was appointed as a Godolphin trainer in 2013.
“There have been many horses trained by Saeed (bin Suroor) that have won so it’s always been exciting for us at this time of year.”
This time around, however, Appleby has seven runners and four who look highly likely to secure victory come Saturday evening.
Blue Point is the name pursed on most people’s lips after his devastating form during the Dubai World Cup Carnival.
The sire of Shamardal sealed victories in the Meydan Sprint in February and the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint earlier this month.
His long-term target is the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, and a win this weekend will move him closer to achieving that primary target for 2019.
“It was two great performances by him. I’m pleased I gave him a second one. Originally we were going to go straight from the Meydan Sprint to the Al Quoz. He came out of it so well. He’s showing lots of sharpness,” said Appleby.
“If he turns up with his A game then he will be hard to beat.”
Cross Counter is an exciting prospect for Appleby after his devastating triumph at the Melbourne Cup in November. Although he has not raced in the last four months, rest and recovery has set the four-year-old in promising stead for what will be a long season.
“Physically he looks great. We have a long year ahead. He’s back on his A game the last 10 days. We’re delighted with him. He looks in great nick,” said Appleby.
Old Persian hummed in his sole start this year, producing a late burst to beat Racing History in the Dubai City of Gold on March 9.
Fresh and focused, the Duwabi colt will enter the Dubai Sheema Classic as firm favourite to bag his third win in four races.
“If he was to go and win on Saturday, he’d come back and target some European races. If he’s competitive and we don’t quite meet the mark, the we’ll look at an international campaign,” he said.
Divine Image is another horse speckled with class. The sire of Scat Daddy is aiming to complete a rare UAE triple crown this weekend, after already sealing wins in the UAE Oaks and Al Bastakiya over the last two months.
“The key thing about her is the last furlong, how she can grind it out well. She’ll be a strong player on Saturday evening,” he said.
Although most of the attention will centre on the Dubai World Cup itself, another portion of it will fall into Appleby’s path. The modest Southampton man has been in tremendous form during the Carnival, clinching back-to-back hat-tricks as well as an array of other victories over the past few months at Meydan.
And with the class of his runners in action this weekend, he looks set to cement his status again as one of the greatest trainers around.
Godolphin star Thunder Snow will again have to overcome a wide draw if he is to successfully defend his crown Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Saturday.
The five-year-old provided trainer Saeed bin Suroor with a record eighth victory in the Emirates Airline-sponsored showpiece 12 months ago, before going on to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
He will be expected to strip fitter for his comeback run when second in round three of the Al Maktoum Challenge and bids to become the first horse in history to win the Dubai World Cup more than once.
Christophe Soumillon’s mount does not Appear ideally placed after drawing stall 12 of 13 – but he was widest of all in gate 10 last year.
Other leading fancies Capezzano and North America will break from stalls two and three respectively.
North America trainer Satish Seemar said: “This year we have gone up a little bit but three is a safe draw for him, and we were hoping like to get three to five for him, or even six.
“He’s done nothing wrong this season. He’s very good and fresh, just like we saw in leg one of the Al Maktoum Challenge. He’s a very impressive horse.
“He likes to be fresh and worked out perfectly.”
The Charlie Appleby-trained Old Persian is the likely favourite for the Dubai Sheema Classic under William Buick – and has drawn stall two.
Bin Suroor’s Racing History (four) also carries the Godolphin colours, while Aidan O’Brien saddles Magic Wand (three) and Hunting Horn (five).
David Simcock’s Desert Encounter drew the highest stall in eight.
Almond Eye is very much the star attraction in the DP World-sponsored Dubai Turf and is drawn in the middle in stall seven.
Sakae Kunieda’s four-year-old is unbeaten in five starts including top-level triumphs in the Japanese 1000 Guineas, the Japanese Oaks and the Shuka Sho, before beating the boys in November’s Japan Cup.
Connections have already identified this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp as her long-term objective – setting up a potentially mouth-watering clash with John Gosden’s dual Arc heroine Enable.
However, racegoers may not have to wait until October to see the star fillies lock horns, with Kunieda on Wednesday raising the possibility of Almond Eye first travelling to York this summer.
He said: “I hope to continue in international races – the Arc de Triomphe is the target.”
Almond Eye will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire, who said: “What she did last year – what she accomplished – was nearly perfect. I can’t find a weak point for her.
“She’s got the potential for that (Arc). She’s got stamina and she’s an easy ride.
“There’s a good programme for her in Europe and to challenge in the Arc. Running against horses like Enable and Sea Of Class would be a great challenge.”
Almond Eye’s 12 rivals on Saturday include Bin Suroor’s Dream Castle (stall two), O’Brien’s I Can Fly (eight) and the John Gosden-trained Without Parole (12).
Appleby’s Divine Image (six), O’Brien’s Van Beethoven (11) and Jahbath (two) from William Haggas’ yard all feature in the UAE Derby, while Appleby’s Blue Point (eight) is the long odds-on favourite for the Al Quoz Sprint – in which he will face O’Brien’s Lost Treasure (three) and Richard Fahey’s star sprinter Sands Of Mali (two).
Appleby has a particularly strong hand in the Dubai Gold Cup, with Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter (nine) joined by stablemate Ispolini (six).
Charlie Appleby has the chance to secure another hat-trick at Meydan this weekend with Blue Point, Divine Image and Old Persian all favourites for their respective races on Dubai World Cup day.
The Newmarket trainer took his tally of winners to 26 in Dubai over the last 12 months after three victories at Meydan on March 9.
Although Old Persian capped an outstanding night for Appleby, it was Blue Point who shone brightest under the lights three weeks ago.
The sire of Shamardal cemented his position as the frontrunner for the Al Quoz Sprint with a stunning victory in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint.
Blue Point took time to find himself in the 1200m race, but once William Buick got him rolling a furlong and a half out, they stormed across the line three lengths clear of Ekhtiyaar.
Appleby said: “Blue Point has been foot perfect in both his starts so far this year, winning over five and six furlongs, and came out of his victory on Super Saturday in good shape.
“Last year, we missed out the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint, but I feel that he has definitely benefitted from the extra run.
“He can be hard on himself sometimes at home, but giving him another race has certainly helped get to where we want him to be for the Al Quoz Sprint.
“If he turns up on his A-game, he is the one they all have to beat.”
Meanwhile, Divine Image is bidding for a unique UAE Triple Crown, having captured the UAE Oaks in February and the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday.
The sire of Scat Daddy is the favourite in the 14-strong field for the G2 UAE Derby, where he will face the stiff challenge of Walking Thunder.
The 43-year-old said: “We were very pleased with Divine Image in the Al Bastakiya and she is a filly who is improving all the time.
“I think it was important to run her on Super Saturday to give her a bit more experience, mentally more than anything else.
“She is coming up against a couple of different rivals compared to her latest start, but we feel that she is going to be a major player again.”
Old Persian will also be a major contender for the Dubai Sheema Classic.
The Dubawi colt has only raced once this year, producing a late burst to beat Racing History by a short head in the Dubai City of Gold on March 9.
The four-year-old showed strong form in Europe last year, including G2 victories over 12 furlongs at York and Royal Ascot.
With sufficient rest over the last three weeks, Appleby will be hoping one of his finest horses can rise to the occasion.
The Southampton native said: “I was delighted with Old Persian on Super Saturday.
“It was great to get some course and distance experience ahead of the Dubai Sheema Classic, while he has definitely come forward for the run.
“This is a stiffer test compared to last time, but he needs to be bang there in a big race like this if he is going to be a nice mile and a half horse this year, which we hope he is.”
Dubai Sheema Classic: Old Persian
UAE Derby: Divine Image
Al Quoz Sprint: Blue Point