By Muhammad Rafiq
DUBAI: Super Saturday, the second biggest fixture of the UAE horseracing season, is upon us. Introduced in 2003 as a dress rehearsal for the Dubai World Cup card three weeks later, all seven races are mirror images of a race to be contested on that ultra-valuable occasion when US$30 million will be distributed in prize money.
Pride of place goes to the Group 1 $400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 sponsored by Emirates Airline over the same 2000m dirt trip as the $10million Dubai World Cup. Three horses have won both races –Dubai Millennium (2000), Street Cry (2002) and Electrocutionist (2006)– and all were trained by Saeed bin Suroor, who has saddled the winner of this race on no less than 11 occasions for Godolphin.
Owner and trainer combine this year with both Thunder Snow and Team Talk with the former, the mount of Oisin Murphy, appearing to hold the strongest claims. Normally partnered by Christophe Soumillon, who is suspended, Thunder Snow is a dual Group 1 winner in Europe, as well as landing both the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and UAE Derby (G2) last year. His most recent effort was a local victory in the 1900m Al Maktoum Challenge R2 (G2) four weeks ago. Bin Suroor has also won both the second and third rounds with Prince Bishop and Hunter’s Light, in 2013 and 2014. Team Talk, meanwhile, will be making his dirt debut on just his sixth career start. Pat Cosgrave rides.
Bin Suroor said: “Obviously, we know conditions suit him on the Meydan dirt track and he has been in great form since winning the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge. This looks a lot tougher challenge, but we are very hopeful of another big run. Team Talk has been working well and we were keen to try him on dirt.”
Fellow Godolphin handler Charlie Appleby relies on Boynton, the ultra-impressive winner of a 1600m dirt Meydan handicap on his only local outing over graded stakes-placed Kimbear. To be ridden again by William Buick, he has enjoyed five weeks off and will be stepping up considerably in trip.
“He was a Group 2 winner as a juvenile in England, but last year basically did not go to plan,” Appleby said. “We were delighted with his winning reappearance and first try on dirt. The draw could have been kinder, but this will help us decide which race to target on World Cup night.”
Special Fighter won this in 2016 and was then fourth in the Dubai World Cup. He has clearly not been easy to train and made his reappearance last season in this race when an excellent second before disappointing in the Dubai World Cup. His only run this season was on turf, when well-beaten in the Dubai Millennium Stakes (G3).
Last year’s Godolphin Mile (G2) winner Second Summer looks to return to form for trainer Doug Watson, while a trio of South American G1 winners –Furia Cruzada, Eragon and Saltarin Dubai– add considerable depth to the declared dozen.
The turf feature is the Group 1 $300,000 Jebel Hatta over the same 1800m as the $6 million Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1) in three weeks’ time. Godolphin are responsible for no less than five of the 11 declared runners, with Benbatl and rider Oisin Murphy looking to make it three wins from as many starts during the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival for the bin Suroor trainee. Bin Suroor also saddles Leshlaa and Promising Run.
“Benbatl has thrived here in Dubai this year and already won twice,” he said. “This is a tougher, but he merits the step up in class. Promising Run always tries her best and has also won twice this Carnival, albeit in fillies and mares races. It will be interesting to see how she gets on against the colts. Leshlaa is a horse we have always really liked, so he merits his place in a tough race, but we expect him to run well.”
On his most recent start, Leshlaa was caught close home by Folkswood, also representing Godolphin but trained by Appleby, who also saddles Blair House. Blair House was beaten by Leshlaa in a 2000m turf handicap on his penultimate outing.
“We were over the moon with Folkswood’s winning comeback at Meydan, the style of racing, clearly suits him,” Appleby said. “He was second in this last year and also ran well in Australia for us at the end of 2017. Blair House actually reminds me of Folkswood as a progressive type.”
The two highest-rated horses in the field, both South Africans, each warrant consideration. Brett Crawford-conditioned 2017 J & B Met (G1) winner Whisky Baron should appreciate the stretch out from his comeback fourth in the Zabeel Mile (G2) on February 22nd, which was won by Mike de Kock-trained Janoobi in determined style.
The night starts with a course and distance prep for the $2 million UAE Derby (G2) in the Al Bastakiya (Listed) over 1900m and carrying a $250,000 purse. Godolphin’s Appleby-trained Masar towers on class in this event, but could be challenged by the likes of improving Yulong Warrior.
Comicas and My Catch, winners of the first two Group dirt sprints of the Carnival, get a rematch in the $200,000 Mahab Al Shimaal (G3), a course and 1200m distance prep for the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). A fast pace will surely develop with the likes of Yalta and Raven’s Corner in the running, each victorious last out.
Fan favourite Ertijaal wheels back two weeks after taking the 1000m Meydan Sprint (G2) and steps up in trip to 1200m down the turf chute in the $200,000 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint. He will not have an easy go of it, as Appleby has entered a trio of tough ones in Baccarat, D’Bai and Jungle Cat.
Heavy Metal looms a heavy favourite in the key prep for the Godolphin Mile, but must overcome the outside draw in the baker’s dozen Burj Nahaar (G3). Kimbear, Drafted and Hong Kong’s Classic Emperor all appear poised to return to form after less-than-ideal last out efforts.
The Dubai City of Gold (G2), over 2410m on the turf course and with a $250,000 purse, closes the night and features the return of G1 winner Hawkbill for Godolphin and Appleby. Fellow banner-mates Gold Star, Frontiersman and Best Solution will likely give the emblazoned chestnut all he can handle on return, while South African G1 winner Al Sahem will likely move forward in this outing for trainer Mike de Kock.