DUBAI: Thursday’s Gulf News-sponsored seventh evening of the 2019 Dubai World Cup Carnival included a pair of stylishly won Group 2 $250,000 events, but it was the Group 3 $200,000 Firebreak Stakes and a blowout performance by Muntazah that arguably burned the brightest on the night that set alight Dubai World Cup hopes for the Doug Watson trainee. A pair of handicaps that could have Super Saturday implications, a Group 2 Purebred Arabian affair and an eye-catching run in the inaugural Meydan Trophy completed the septet of thrilling Thursday fixtures.
$200,000 FIREBREAK STAKES (GROUP 3)
Having finished third behind North America in the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G2) on Jan. 10, Muntazah got back to winning ways with an easy victory that hinted that a try at longer distances could be in the future. A first win in the race for both Doug Watson and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s retained jockey Jim Crowley, the 6-year-old son of Dubawi broke well from his outside draw and settled into a handy position for the first half of the race. The early pace was fast enough, with Heavy Metal pushed to the lead by Mickael Barzalona. He was tracked by Satish Seemar’s Behavioral Bias and Secret Ambition with opening sectionals of 24.23 (400m) and 46.58 (800m).
Behavioral Bias challenged Heavy Metal for the lead around the bend looking comfortable but stopped quickly as Muntazah, always in control, cruised past the leader into the home straight (after 1200m in 1:11.52) and kicked away to win by an impressive 4½ lengths in a final time of 1.38.21. Secret Ambition ran on well in second, with beaten favourite and 2018 winner Heavy Metal in third. Well-regarded Watson trainee Kimbear was fourth.
Muntazah has now won twice in the UAE including a Listed win at Abu Dhabi last year and a runner-up finish in the Godolphin Mile (G2) of 2018 behind Heavy Metal, finishing ahead of Secret Ambition and Kimbear.
“He showed last year that he has a lot,” Crowley said. “I thought he was a bit unlucky in the Godolphin Mile and that was his first time on dirt. Obviously, the Dubawis love (the dirt). I was a little bit disappointed with him first time out this season and I think there were genuine excuses for that. He ran a good race last time and he is a big horse who likes to get rolling. There was a bit of speed in that race and it caught him out and it got a bit messy. I felt he would come on a lot for that one and he did tonight.
“We went quick, as you would expect and I’d like to think there is a bit more to come from him, as well. He is versatile. Although he is a big horse, he jumps well from the gate and he is quick into his stride. Horses like Heavy Metal were going a fair nick and I was traveling easily on the side. I didn’t want to get involved too early and I probably could have waited a bit more, but we always felt that he would get a little further. He feels a better horse than 12 months ago. I still don’t think he is there yet and there is still a lot to work on. I am sure he will keep progressing.”
Watson added: “We thought he was in great shape last week and we really wanted to try him over the 1900m (of the G2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2), but he couldn’t. He has come back and done that well. It was a tough race. He had to sit three-wide the whole way and picked up nicely when he went by (Heavy Metal). He’s in great shape and last year he got better at around this time and that showed it right there. I’m not sure what happened to Kimbear.”
Both Mullen and Seemar were positive about Secret Ambition.
“He’s a horse who’s very tough,” said Mullen “I was happy from his stall to be on the inside. I don’t have the gate speed of Heavy Metal, but I tried to force the issues as best I could. I was quite happy. I always had enough horse and I was beaten fair and square by a good horse. This horse has come on and hopefully we can make up a little ground and be good enough to run in the Godolphin Mile.”
Seemar added: “(Secret Ambition) was giving a kilo more this time, but other than that, he ran well. That’s the difference a kilo can make sometimes in this kind of a race. As far as (Behavioral Bias, 5th), we will have talk to the jockey. Maybe it was the distance or what happened (when acting up before the race).”
Of Heavy Metal and Kimbear (placed 3rd and 4th respectively), jockeys were understandably disappointed having been well fancied before the race.
“They just rode against us”, Barzalona (Heavy Metal) said. This tone was echoed by Pat Dobbs (Kimbear), who said: “I was never happy from the word go.”
“I jumped very well,” O’Shea said of Behavioral Bias. “He’s a fast horse and he’s improved from his (third in the Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile three weeks prior). It’s woken him up, so I think he’ll probably end up coming back in trip.”
“It’s a different ballgame for a horse that has been running on turf to go to the dirt,” Sam Hitchcott, rider of Janoobi (sixth) said. “He just didn’t have the pace to go with them early. It’s a big shock when they’ve never done it before. He ran respectably and he’ll go back to the turf, I’d imagine.”
Godolphin’s Silent Attack finished last of the seven.
$250,000 MEYDAN SPRINT (GROUP 2)
The 1000m Meydan Sprint sponsored by Gulf News (G2) was turned into a one-horse show, courtesy of Group 1 sprinter Blue Point, who locked horns with the David Hayes-trained Faatinah (Jim Crowley aboard) at the top of the straight to power clear with 300m left to run. The 5-year-old son of Shamardal made amends under William Buick for his second placing behind the late Ertijaal in last year’s edition in the process and provided handler Charlie Appleby and owner Godolphin with a first win in the feature after finishing second in the last five renewals.
Australia’s Faatinah confiscated the lead from Mujaafy (Patrick Cosgrave) early on, with Blue Point settling midfield, before getting an easy tow into the final 600m by the Nicconi gelding, who stayed on well to finish five lengths behind the winner. Portamento (Fernando Jara) held his own for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi to take third, with Mike de Kock’s Mujaafy in fourth. Rebel Streak (Mickael Barzalona) and Johann Strauss (Royston Ffrench) completed the running order.
The Al Quoz (G1) over 1200m on Dubai World Cup night looms large, as the enigmatic King’s Stand Stakes (G1) winner has returned from Europe in solid form. The final time of the race was 56.52.
“It was a nice comeback opportunity for him and he did it very comfortably,” Buick said. “He did everything right. Lovely to see him come back like that. He has probably matured a bit and the biggest difference (from his last race here one year ago) is he is coming here now a Group 1 winner this time. He has proved himself and he feels like a very confident horse. No question about it.”
“He’s a nice horse, this fellow,” Appleby added. “Not having been fully tuned up, he ran well. This horse is going to come forward and come into his own this year. He’s a 5-year-old now and he’s a professional. William asked him to pick up and he ran a professional race. After this is the Al Quoz (Sprint on Mar. 30). He’s not overly exposed, really. Last year, he wasn’t over-raced. It’s going to be a fun season for him.”
“It was a good trip; a straight line. That one was too good,” Crowley said of Faatinah’s run.
Jara said: “It was a good trip. (Al Rayhi, trainer) told me to sit down and try to make one move and (Portamento) finished nice. He just ran a few days ago and it was hard competition. I think it was a really good effort and the boss brought him in good shape for this race.”
Cosgrave said: “It was a pleasing start back after a long time off. Obviously, he was thrown in the deep a bit today, but he equipped himself well. He ran ok, got a bit tired, but all around, everyone is pleased.”
Barzalona said: “He just ran alright. He needs cut in the ground. He just got beat by a better horse.”
Ffrench said: “Obviously he hasn’t run in a long time and he was very ring rusty; very slow away and over five furlongs it was all over too soon.”
$250,000 BALANCHINE (GROUP 2)
The 1800m turf Balanchine sponsored by gulfnews.com (G2) for the fairer sex confirmed a talented filly in Godolphin’s Poetic Charm. Completing the Cape Verdi (G2)—Balanchine (G2) double with a dominant 2¾-length win, the half-sister to Teofilo granted trainer Charlie Appleby another inaugural stakes victory on the night with William Buick aboard, after having taken the Meydan Sprint (G2) with Blue Point earlier on the card.
Settling comfortably at the rear under Buick, the Dubawi filly went four-wide in the home turn to hit the front with 300m left to go. Late-closing Charlie Fellowes charge Mia Tesoro(Christopher Hayes aboard) held on for second with three-quarters of a length to Turkish darling Peri Lina (Selim Kaya) in third, who played up in the stalls before the start. Asoof (Christophe Soumillon) jumped to the front before settling just off the speed to finish fourth, with South American G1 winner Furia Cruzada (Antonio Fresu) in fifth. Front-running Monza (Carlos Lopez) completing the field. The final time was 1:49.60.
“It was one of those strappy little fields and the worst thing you can do in those races is to not give the opposition the respect,” Buick said. “So we gave them the respect and knew we had to get everything right at our end and that she could produce what she did there. It is lovely and she relaxes so nicely now, the extra furlong was not a problem for her. She has just opened up a few more opportunities for herself. She proved last time that she is a quality filly that she really fills herself up for the race. She has a great finishing kick. The combination of being drawn six of six and an extra furlong, it was important to get the first furlong right and then take it from there. It was lovely; a great performance. She has won two Group 2s now, so she will be looking for the elusive Group 1.”
“She had won the Cape Verdi in such great style and we were very confident stepping up to the (1800m), but you never know until they’ve done it,” Appleby said. “She also had the penalty. We were going out there to get cover and get her switched off and (Buick) has done a great job there. She picked up nicely and galloped out strongly.”
Fellowes, who’s already having a strong Carnival, was quite pleased with the performance of his Danehill Dancer mare: “I’m over the moon. She’s a super filly and I don’t know what happened last time in the Cape Verdi. Maybe there was too much water on the ground. To be honest, today didn’t go to plan, as we were going to go forward because she stays the trip. Then she was standing in the gate and falling asleep (waiting for Peri Lina to load). She’s been remarkable. She came to me rated 57 and just finished second in a Group 2. That’ll probably be it for her in Dubai. She’ll come back to England and the plan is for (Coolmore stallion) Australia to cover her. She might come back into training and we may have a bit of fun with her before she needs to be retired, especially after she ran a blinder like that.”
“I was happy enough,” Hayes said. “We wanted to ride more forward, but I got a bang in the gates from (Peri Luna), who reared up. It probably startled her a little bit. I had a lovely smooth run around and would have loved to have been a couple lengths closer to the pace, but ultimately it didn’t cost me. I might have finished a length closer, but the best horse won.”
Kaya said: “I jumped good and I was able to find a good position behind the Godolphin horse. I was moving smoothly and the pace was fine to for me. I feel if the horse had not had the incident at the starting gate, she could have finished in second position.”
Soumillon said: “She jumped out well, but unfortunately someone else wanted to go in front and she just got tired in the last 200m.”
Fresu said: “Like I said the other day, this was a bit too short and all these horses are more miler types than her. Even running over 1800m, the extra furlong didn’t help today.”
Lopez said: “She was a bit keen. I got beside another horse and she was doing a bit too much.”
Remainder of Card
The inaugural running of the $100,000 Meydan Trophy provided the first chance for 3-year-old turf runners to flash their promise and Godolphin’s Charlie Appleby-trained Art du Val did not disappoint. The son of sprinter No Nay Never defied his pedigree and won for fun in the end by four lengths after stalking nicely throughout the 1900m affair. Fawzi Nass’ Bila Shakfinished a promising second, while the consistent Troliuscompleted the top three for trainer Simon Crisford. In the process, Buick rode his 100th UAE winner.
“That was only his third career start and in the biggest field he has encountered, so it was a good performance,” Buick said. “He has travelled nicely throughout and then quickened in style when I asked him. Once I managed to relax him, after about a furlong, I was always happy and he stayed the trip nicely but he has enough pace to drop in trip if we wanted.”
Appleby added: “He is an improving 3-year-old and William was impressed with him there. We liked him last year and he did well to win his debut before going to France, when a good second in a Listed race. Hopefully there is more to come from him, because he is still learning and hopefully progressing.”
The penultimate race, the $135,000 Inside Out Handicap over 1200m on dirt, was an intriguing contest and supplied Satish Seemar with his sole victory of the evening. A competitive encounter on paper Lavaspin, drawn in stall two, took the initiative from the get-go holding a prominent position on the rail before being joined by Steve Asmussen’s Switzerland on his outside. A challenge at the 400m mark from Doug Watson’s Pop the Hood was fended off without consequence and Lavaspindrew clear of the one-paced American raider to win by 2¼ lengths with Nine Below Zero running on well for third.
“We have had to be patient with him since his last win as he spiked a temperature when he was due to run and has had a few other little niggles as well,” said Bhupat Seemar, assistant trainer. “He is a very fast horse. From that low draw with such a low weight, the plan was always to be positive and Richie has given him a great ride.”
In the finale, Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor struck with Mountain Hunter, who was given a beautiful ride by Christophe Soumillon to win by a measured 1½ lengths over stablemate Red Galileo. It was another nose back to Appleby trainee Walton Street, completing a top-three finish for the royal blue. Over the 2410m of the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), the Gulf News-sponsored handicap provided a possible preview for the Dubai City of Gold (G2) on Super Saturday.
“He is a nice horse and was always travelling well for me,” Soumillon said. “I was able to get a good lead and always had a nice position, so when we hit the straight, I was able to ask him for an effort and he quickened nicely. He has then run all the way to the line and seen out the trip well. It was a good performance.” Sport Desk