Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor hit a triple on Thursday’s Dubai World Cup Carnival program at Meydan, including the evening’s $250,000 features. Progressive three-year-old filly Winter Lightning served as the opening act in the UAE 1000 Guineas for half-brother Thunder Snow, who put himself right back into the Dubai World Cup (G1) picture in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2).
Thunder Snow was a distant second to Heavy Metal in Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge (G2) on January 11, when racing uncharacteristically off the pace. Now making his second start of the Carnival, and back up in trip to about 1 3/16 miles, the homebred performed to his higher standard.
Regular rider Christophe Soumillon got Thunder Snow involved in the game earlier, securing a stalking spot within striking range of front-running North America and the prompting Heavy Metal. The rub was that he was also parked wide from his outside post. His class as a dual French Group 1 winner, however, ultimately told. Thunder Snow loomed up in the stretch as Heavy Metal’s stamina ebbed away, and outdueled the stubborn North America by a neck in 1:57.89 – about two seconds faster than an undercard handicap.
The top two from last year’s Round 2, Furia Cruzada and Second Summer, never threatened a reprise. Both slowly away, they were a well-beaten fourth and fifth, respectively. Argentine export Eragon, best known in North America for trailing in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup (G1), was a long-way last in this Dubai debut. Cosmo Charlie was an early scratch, and Grendisar a late withdrawal on veterinary advice.
Thunder Snow is now three-for-four on the Meydan dirt, having turned a classic double in last year’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and UAE Derby (G2). He proved more focused, and arguably more resolute, than in the UAE Derby over this same distance. That day he jinked right in the stretch and had to scramble to nip Japan’s Epicharis on the wire. That was nothing compared to his infamous display next time in the Kentucky Derby (G1), where he bucked a few strides out of the gate and had to be pulled up.
Soumillon commented on Thunder Snow’s ability to throw a curveball.
“He is very funny because he knows the big screen here in the straight,” he said according to Godolphin.com. “Last year he did something funny at 250 meters from the line and today he didn’t, which is good progress, but you still feel that he is looking for something.
“He is learning after each run and the one thing I know with him is to be ready to see something new because of what happened in the Kentucky Derby and Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) (where he appeared to be in control before getting run down late in third). You have to really concentrate and never give him the chance to do something wrong.”
Soumillon added that he believes Thunder Snow is better on turf. The winner of the 2016 Criterium International (G1) and last year’s Prix Jean Prat (G1), Thunder Snow has also placed in such major events as the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) and St James’s Palace (G1). Next on the agenda is the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday, the course-and-distance dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
Younger half-sister Winter Lightning became the third UAE classic winner produced by their dam Eastern Joy after her clear-cut performance in the UAE 1000 Guineas. Her full sister, the ill-fated Ihtimal, captured the 2014 edition of this race en route to a romp in the UAE Oaks (G3), and Winter Lightning has pretty serious claims on the double herself.
Just edging Rayya in a battle royal in the January 18 trial, Winter Lightning found a fair bit more than her rival on the step up to a metric mile. The homebred daughter of Shamardal broke sharply, but Rayya was intent on the lead, and jockey Pat Cosgrave eased Winter Lightning back into her slipstream. The winner readily angled out into an ominous position turning for home, mastered Rayya by two lengths, and clocked 1:38.19. Expressiy, third in the trial for Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby, repeated that result while getting a lot closer, and it was a pole back to Queen Estoril in fourth.
The March 1 UAE Oaks figures to suit Winter Lightning to a tee, and she’s also been nominated to the UAE Derby on World Cup night. But the European classics provide an incentive to skip a tilt against the boys and freshen up. That’s the route bin Suroor chose for Ihtimal, who passed the UAE Derby and went on to finish a close third in Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas (G1).
“Winter Lightning is a filly for the future,” bin Suroor told Godolphin.com. “She is a big, strong filly who can show something this year and during her four-year-old campaign. We can keep her in training for the future because she didn’t do much as a two-year-old (second to classic prospect Veracious at Newmarket in her October unveiling ).
“She always shows her class and we need to think about the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket (May 6). We will see how she gets on in the UAE Oaks first.”
Winter Lightning is engaged in a pair of Curragh classics as well, the May 27 Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and July 21 Irish Oaks (G1).
Bin Suroor made it a hat trick, and Cosgrave a double, courtesy of Leshlaa in the $160,000 nightcap on turf. The four-year-old son of Street Cry, and descendant of Miesque’s full sister Massaraat, was well placed in midpack early, improved his position into the stretch, split foes and burst 4 1/4 lengths clear. The Appleby duo of Blair House and front-running Banksea rounded out the all-Godolphin trifecta.
Leshlaa, who covered about 1 1/4 miles on a good course in 2:02.33, was moving forward off a comeback third to Light the Lights and Blair House in a January 18 course-and-distance handicap. His lone black-type victory came at this same trip, in the Anatolia Trophy on Veliefendi’s Polytrack, last September, but more may be on the horizon.
“He’s a very smart horse,” Cosgrave said. “Saeed had him spot on for tonight. He’s quite a smart horse, like I said. He definitely has the ability to be a Group horse.”
Trainer Doug Watson recorded two wins on the card, notably with the speedy My Catch in the $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint (G3). Handed a much more favorable set-up than his recent fourth in the Dubawi (G3), he capitalized on the rail draw – and the surprising lack of pace shown by Muarrab – to dominate as he pleased on the front end. Valentin Bukhtoyarov and Evgeny Kappushev’s runner opened up by four lengths beneath Pat Dobbs, despite taking a tepid 1:12.50 to complete about six furlongs.
In contrast, Dubawi winner Comicas didn’t receive his preferred pace set-up this time. The Godolphin colorbearer did his best work late, as usual, but had to settle for a non-threatening second. Comicas mugged lovable 12-year-old Reynaldothewizard on the line.
The race shape, and time, make this an uninspiring lead-in to the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on World Cup night, where the locals will face a formidable American team led by champion Roy H.
“When we saw the draw, in one, we were delighted because it is ideal for him,” Watson aid. “He has not ever really run a bad race, but things have transpired against him a few times. He has really started working well over the last couple of weeks, so we were very hopeful and he has not disappointed.”
My Catch scored in the 2013 Prix de Cabourg (G3) as a juvenile and the 2014 Meydan Classic in his first Carnival stint. The Camacho gelding subsequently found a home on the dirt, romping in the 2016 Garhoud Sprint. A setback marred plans for the 2017 Carnival, putting into perspective his 10th when trying the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) off the layoff. My Catch was next seen third in his title defense in the December 21 Garhoud Sprint on the way to the Dubawi. With his second dam being Irish highweight Catch the Blues, he’s a cousin of Phoenix (G1) winner and current Aidan O’Brien Triple Crown nominee Sioux Nation.
Watson sent out the exacta in the previous race, a non-Carnival handicap worth $60,000, topped by well-bred outsider Street of Dreams. A Shamardal half-brother to past Godolphin star Rio de la Plata, the five-year-old just broke his maiden here December 21, flopped in his follow-up on turf, and thrived back on the dirt. Jockey Adrie de Vries engineered a ground-saving trip from off the pace aboard Street of Dreams, who rallied past pacesetting stablemate Galvanize (conceding eight pounds). The final time for about 1 3/16 miles was 1:59.81, a reflection of the class differential from Thunder Snow in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2.
De Vries landed the Meydan Classic Trial with an even bigger longshot, Wasim, dispatched at 29-1 in North America. Owned and trained by Ismail Mohammed, the Acclamation colt took a strong hold while traveling keenly just behind the leader, got the split, and picked up in style. Appleby’s Zaman, the form choice off his second to Expert Eye in the Vintage (G2), went through his gears a bit too steadily, and late, and came up a half-length short.
“I only had two rides this evening so to win on both is brilliant,” De Vries said. “This horse had been running very well on dirt, but tonight, from a good draw, he has traveled and then quickened like a good horse. He is a horse with plenty of natural pace and stays 1600 meters if connections want to step up (for the March 1 Meydan Classic).”
Wasim, a 33-1 upsetter on debut at Doncaster last summer, had gone winless on both turf and dirt in the interim. In his latest, he was fourth to good-looking Gold Town in the stronger division of the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial. Out of the Kingmambo mare Quiet Protest, he comes from a well-named family. Second dam, multiple stakes-placed Rosa Parks, is a half-sister to multiple Grade 2 queen Coretta, both daughters of Grade 3 vixen Free at Last. Also close up on the page are classic-winning highweights Barathea and Gossamer.
Although there was just one European-trained winner, it was a seriously good one in Ireland’s Hit the Bid in the about five-furlong turf handicap. An excellent second to local turf sprint supremo Ertijaal in his Dubai debut, the Darren Bunyan charge was all the rage here, and he got the job done as the 132-pound highweight. Hit the Bid showed bags of speed to lead throughout, and despite hanging across to the far rail, held sway by a convincing 1 3/4 lengths.
Underscoring the Ertijaal form was runner-up Dutch Masterpiece, who had been third to him and Hit the Bid on opening night. Dutch Masterpiece had gone on to win a similar handicap January 25, and continued his fine Carnival by being the only horse in the picture with Hit the Bid.
With Oisin Murphy in the saddle, Hit the Bid sped in :57.79.
“He needed that first run, fitness-wise, and we have just brought him along steadily,” Bunyan said. “That said, it was a very good effort a month ago and, to be honest, we would have been disappointed if he was beaten here. We still have something to work on, regarding fitness, so it is very exciting.”
“This is a big win for a small team and, all credit to them, they have brought him along slowly and been very patient. He is probably still not 100 percent fit, so you hope there is more to come.”
Hit the Bid’s career highlights have come over five furlongs, from his 50-1 upset of the 2016 Curragh S. (G3) at two to his 20-1 surprise in the 2017 Midsummer Sprint and his second in the Mercury S. But his pedigree – as a son of Exceed and Excel and the multiple stakes-winning Selkirk mare Selinka – implies he should have no problem with the extra furlong of the Al Quoz Sprint (G1). That’s his aim on World Cup night.