For the second consecutive Thursday, Godolphin celebrated a four-win night at the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Trainers Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby divided the spoils evenly, including the pair of Group 2s. And best of all, each sent out a serious contender for the World Cup undercard.
Benbatl got the ball rolling with another convincing display in the $200,000 Al Rashidiya (G2) at about 1 1/8 miles on turf. The odds-on favorite after his smart course-and-distance success in the January 11 Singspiel (G3), the bin Suroor trainee left no doubt about his superiority when kicking 3 3/4 lengths clear. Appleby’s duo of Bay of Poets (in first-time cheekpieces) and Bravo Zolo rounded out the Godolphin trifecta, while Mike de Kock’s Light the Lights, second in last year’s running, had to settle for fourth.
As expected, de Kock’s new South African recruit Al Sahem wasn’t cranked to give his best off the layoff. Less expected was his role as front runner, and Al Sahem faded to last in the seven-horse field. The 2017 S.A. Derby (G1) winner is entitled to improve stretching out second up.
The Al Rashidiya’s final time of 1:48.42 wasn’t as fast as the Singspiel’s (1:46.99), thanks to the much slower pace, but Benbatl was just as effective in both race shapes.
“He gave me a great feel throughout the race,” winning rider Oisin Murphy said, “and well done to Saeed and his team, who have produced him here tonight in great form. We were drawn widest in (post) 7, but they went quickly enough so that was not an issue as I was able to settle him and get a lead. This is a seriously nice horse and, as he showed again here, he has a serious turn of foot, which is a potent weapon in these races.”
So potent a weapon that Benbatl, a son of Dubawi and multiple Grade/Group 1 heroine Nahrain, has emerged as the leading local contender for the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night.
“He is a horse we have always really liked and he has won this well tonight, following up his course and distance win in the Singspiel Stakes on the first night of the carnival,” bin Suroor said. “Obviously we will have to talk to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, but the Group 1 Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday and then hopefully the Dubai Turf on World Cup night, both over this course and distance, would be the obvious targets.”
Appleby’s Jungle Cat used his high cruising speed to great effect in the featured $250,000 Al Fahidi Fort (G2). The Godolphin runner had been knocking on the door of a stakes success for a few years now, and the step up from the usual sprint game to about seven furlongs helped his cause. Stalking de Kock’s Janoobi early, Jungle Cat outpaced him to the line in a swift 1:22.40 – just off the course record of 1:22.32.
Stablemate D’Bai, who established that mark in a January 10 handicap, couldn’t duplicate that effort on the class hike and wound up fourth to Jungle Cat, Janoobi, and bin Suroor’s Dream Castle. De Kock’s Noah from Goa, third in last year’s Al Fahidi Fort, ground his way into fifth from well back, in a race dominated by the early leaders. Championship, the defending champion who was launching his comeback from a stress fracture last Carnival, didn’t land a blow in eighth.
Jungle Cat doesn’t have another stakes option in Dubai over this in-between distance, so connections have to entertain shortening him up again or experimenting at a mile.
Jockey James Doyle clearly voted for reverting to a sprint in the postrace interview, and Appleby was of a similar mind in his quotes on Godolphin.com.
“James is a big team player and has put in a lot of home work on this horse,” the trainer said.
“There was pace on, and we were right on it. I said that if we are in a box seat position, it will turn into a sprint in the straight and sprinting was always this horse’s game in the past. James has given him a great ride.
“Seven furlongs is Jungle Cat’s trip now. He is getting older and over six furlongs he just hits a bit of a flat spot these days before staying on at the line. He appreciated the step up to seven furlongs.
“Where do we go now? We will have to see. I would imagine we may have to might have to come back in trip as options over this distance are a bit limited. I don’t think he will see out a mile as he races a bit too freely.”
Jungle Cat has finished fourth in the last two runnings of the Al Quoz Sprint (G1), so even if he finds it a bit sharp for him, the son of Iffraaj can still mix it up creditably on World Cup night.
Appleby unveiled a bigger World Cup night threat in Boynton, who shapes up as a premier contender for the Godolphin Mile (G2) after his dirt debut in a $135,000 course-and-distance handicap.
A More Than Ready half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Constitution, Boynton was a prominent juvenile on the British turf in 2016, notably beating War Decree in the Superlative (G2). But it was questionable whether he’d return to that level after being sidelined for almost 15 months, and going winless in his three ensuing tries last fall.
A gelding operation, adding cheekpieces, and a switch to the Meydan dirt combined to rejuvenate Boynton. Hustled to the front by William Buick, the $750,000 Keeneland September yearling wrested command from Kimbear, and simply outran Doug Watson’s last-out winner. Boynton drew away by 2 3/4 lengths while reeling off the metric mile in 1:36.97.
“He broke a fraction slowly, but once into his stride, we were always going strongly and I was able to get a bit of a breather into him which helped,” Buick said. “When I asked him to go again, he responded very well and that was a good performance.
“The whole team have always held this horse in the highest regard and he has been training very well on dirt at home, but this was his first race on it. His pedigree suggested it would suit and it certainly has. A fast-run 1600 meters is ideal for him, but he does stay 2000 meters, so there are plenty of options for him.”
Appleby nominated the February 17 Firebreak (G3) as the likely follow-up.
“It is nice to see him get his head back in front, and I think gelding him has really helped,” Appleby said. “I imagine we will stick to 1600 meters for now with the Firebreak Stakes the next logical target.”
Watson sent out a winner later on the card, in a Godolphin-less $125,000 handicap, with lightly raced improver Drafted. Relishing the fast pace carved out by Yalta, the deep closer produced a whirlwind charge for Sam Hitchcott to win going away by 4 3/4 lengths. Drafted, who took a non-Carnival handicap in his latest, covered about seven furlongs in 1:24.21 as the 121-pound co-lightweight.
“He is very straightforward to ride because he does not mind the kickback,” Hitchcott said, “so you can take your time on him and take the shortest route home. The extra 200 meters might have been a query, but he has really stayed on strongly and won that well.”
Drafted, initially trained by Eoin Harty, set a 4 1/2-furlong track record in his Keeneland debut as a juvenile. After a forgettable attempt at Royal Ascot’s Windsor Castle S. in that summer of 2016, the son of Field Commission was last behind Klimt in the Best Pal (G2). He wasn’t seen again until resurfacing here this winter, and scored in a lesser handicap second off the bench January 4. His rating raised to a Carnival-worthy 95 as a result, Drafted is on the upswing.
The only race that Godolphin contested and lost was the $160,000 turf sprint handicap – and even then, owner/trainer Fawzi Nass’s Jordan Sport needed the nose-bob on the wire, and an 11-pound weight concession, to edge bin Suroor’s Steady Pace. Valiantly leading throughout beneath Gerald Mosse, Jordan Sport was being worn down by 132-pound highweight Steady Pace, but his good attitude was rewarded.
“My horse went very quick early on and I was trying to keep something in the locker for late on,” Mosse said. “The second horse was coming at us in the final strides and, at the line, it was very close, but my horse had his head down when it mattered. With 200 meters to go, I was still traveling very strongly. In the last 100 meters, the horse was telling me he was getting tired, so I was delighted to get to the line still ahead.”
Jordan Sport was stepping up to about six furlongs after making his first two starts of the Carnival at about five. Fifth to the flying Ertijaal in an opening night handicap, Jordan Sport was wheeling back a week after just missing to Dutch Masterpiece. The Dubawi gelding, purchased for 90,000 guineas at Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale, clocked 1:10.82 to justify the investment already.
The evening ended, fittingly, with a Godolphin exacta in the about 1 1/2-mile turf handicap. Bin Suroor’s Gold Star would have been an unlucky loser, considering his buffeting in the stretch, but he shrugged it off and got free in time to nail Appleby’s Walton Street.
“He had to be a very good horse to win the way we did,” winning rider Christophe Soumillon said. “He gave me a great effort.”
Soumillon owed Gold Star one, so to speak, after denying him in a similar event in the January 11 Carnival opener aboard Golden Wood. Walton Street was coming off the same race, where he was a troubled sixth. He wasn’t short of room here, but had a different kind of problem in enduring a wide trip every step of the way from post 11. For that reason, Walton Street’s effort is better than a bare reading of the weights (his 122 to Gold Star’s 128) implies.
Both Godolphin runners have considerable upside as unexposed four-year-olds. Gold Star’s now won three of six lifetime, his only clunker coming at York in October. By Nathaniel and a half-brother to multiple Group 2-placed stakes scorer True Story, Gold Star counts as his third dam the 1985 English Fillies’ Triple Crown legend Oh So Sharp.