March 3, 2024

North America on Dubai World Cup map after Al Maktoum Challenge rout

North America served notice of his Dubai World Cup ambitions in Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

Thursday’s Dubai World Cup Carnival action can be summed up in two words: dirt romps. Significantly, the command performances were turned in by a leading World Cup player in North America, the upwardly mobile New Trails, and a serious UAE Derby (G2) prospect in Walking Thunder.

North America was last seen in the 2018 Dubai World Cup, lining up as a top contender only to flub the start and lose all chance. The Satish Seemar trainee put that unhappy memory to bed here with a front-running rout in the $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2). Not only did North America pummel a fine cast in this first leg of the series, but he did so in a fast time on a Meydan surface that’s been playing slower this term.

Breaking well this time, North America used his early speed to take command. Expected pace rival Heavy Metal, the defending Round 1 champion and reigning Godolphin Mile (G2) winner, did not get away as alertly. Although recovering to track North America, Heavy Metal was uncharacteristically off the bridle, a beaten horse on the far turn, and wrapped up on down the lane.

North America, on the other hand, galloped them into the ground and drew nine lengths clear. Under a brisk hand ride by stable jockey Richard Mullen, the Dubawi gelding finished the metric mile in 1:35.88. He missed the track mark by just three ticks of a second, but recordholder One Man Band had a much glibber surface when posting 1:35.21 in the 2016 Godolphin Mile.

To put the time in better context, North America ran at least three seconds faster than the other winners over track and trip since the season began last November. As track announcer Craig Evans pointed out, the best time so far this meet was Cosmo Charlie’s 1:38.90 in a November 22 conditions race.

And to give the Round 1 form a solid look, Doug Watson’s pair of Kimbear and Muntazah took the minor placings. Godolphin’s Gold Town, hero of the course-and-distance UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) last Carnival before fading to fourth behind Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby, settled for fourth again in his return.

“Unbelievable,” Mullen told the Dubai Racing Club publicity team. “I just said to the (Seemar) that there are not a lot of horses who give me goosebumps and he has done that. It was an incredible performance for his first run (of the campaign). He has such huge stride. I think anything that comes near, he has that much pace that he just kills them off.”

“That’s the way he is,” Seemar said. “I was telling (Mullen) to let him do his thing. We had the right draw. If he pops out, just don’t stop him. I know when he’s in form like that, he’s so good. About 10 days ago, we jumped him out of the gate, just to wake him up and he did it exactly the same way.

“I wasn’t worried about (Heavy Metal). After (North America) broke like he did, I had no worries. His stride is about 1 1/2 compared to other horses. He could have set a track record today, but no one was there to challenge him.”

North America first took the Carnival by storm two years ago with a rapid rise up the class ladder, a four-race spree beginning in a maiden and capped by the 2017 Firebreak (G3). Subsequently purchased by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, he flopped as the favorite in the Godolphin Mile on an unfamiliar muddy track.

On the World Cup path last year, North America progressed from a third in this race to trade decisions with Thunder Snow in the next two rounds. He just succumbed in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), then turned the tables with a 5 1/4-length wire job in Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday, before his World Cup debacle.

North America has the entire series on his itinerary again, and Mullen believes he still has upside.

“This is step one,” his rider noted. “There are a few to go, so let us not get carried away. Like I said, they are horses, not machines, and anything can happen. There is potential for him to be better. He is only going to have four runs this year and he already has his program penciled out.

“I know he is a seven-year-old,” Mullen added, “but he has probably had less races than most three- or four-year-olds in Europe. He is very lightly raced and very well looked-after. They have the whole summer off, so seven is the new three or four in UAE terms.”

Bred by Qatar Bloodstock in Great Britain, North America is out of the Grade 1-placed Northern Mischief, a Yankee Victor half-sister to champion Gourmet Girl.

Walking Thunder burst onto the UAE Derby scene (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

Earlier on the card, Godolphin’s Royal Marine, the European Road to the Kentucky Derby points leader, took his much anticipated dirt test in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial. But instead of advancing his candidacy, he was drubbed by the Ahmad bin Harmash-trained Walking Thunder, who remained perfect in three starts.

The latest budding star for Amer Abdulaziz’s Phoenix consortium, Walking Thunder has proven a terrific advertisement for the recently formed Phoenix Ladies Syndicate. The Florida-bred Violence colt stamped himself as one to follow with a 5 1/2-length debut score on November 1, and added a conditions race by 4 1/2 lengths December 6.

Now Walking Thunder was stepping up in class, from the far outside post 15, and passed his exam by delivering his best performance yet. He got off to a brilliant start, allowing regular pilot Connor Beasley to angle over into a tracking spot and negate the effect of the draw. Walking Thunder inhaled pacesetter Power Link turning for home and widened his advantage to nine lengths at the wire. Although his time of 1:38.43 for the metric mile was well off North America’s, he too eclipsed the aforementioned Cosmo Charlie’s clocking.

Jebel Ali maiden winner Manguzi was a clear second by six lengths from Al Seel Legacy’s, who was coming off a debut score here.

Royal Marine, off a beat slow, could do no better than fourth. A different race dynamic would have helped, so it’s premature to declare that he’s ineffective on the surface. At the same time, even with a more beneficial trip, it’s doubtful he could have coped with the buzzsaw winner.

“He’s a very good horse,” bin Harmash said. “We are trying to get to the UAE Derby (on March 30) with him. He’s doing very well and has trained very well. He ran a great race. Congratulations to this new group of owners.

“We weren’t worried about the (draw). He’s a horse who runs fast from the gate and it didn’t scare us that much. It looks like he can travel the Derby distance (about 1 3/16 miles).”

“From a wide draw, I just thought I would let him jump and, instead of fighting, let him breathe and find his feet,” Beasley recapped. “He did that really well today and he traveled very easily. He is a real professional in his mannerisms; the way he goes to start—just everything. To me, he feels like a good horse.

“When the draw came out, I was a bit disappointed, but in hindsight, it worked out really well. I’ve let him get into stride and I had no kickback in his face; not that he minds kickback. He had a smooth passage throughout and I think that was probably key.”

Walking Thunder was a $42,000 OBS April purchase from the draft of Q Bar J Thoroughbreds. Bred by Golden Legacy Stable, he is the first foal from the winning Street Boss mare Street Show.

Bin Harmash and Beasley have a candidate for the World Cup trail too, in the wake of New Trails’ 10 1/2-length handicap conquest. The lightly raced five-year-old is now bound for the February 7 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2, and a clash with North America, over this same about 1 3/16-mile trip.

Aside from giving his trainer and jockey a double, New Trails did the same for his sire line, being a son of Medaglia d’Oro, the paternal grandsire of Walking Thunder. The Darley-bred began his career as an Andre Fabre trainee for Godolphin, winning one of three outings in France. He disappeared from view for 18 months, but resurfaced with his new connections in Dubai. Successful in his local debut in the silks of Hamdan Sultan Ali Alsabousi in a November 1 handicap, New Trails was best of the rest behind Cosmo Charlie in the December 20 Entisar S. in his latest.

Kentucky-bred New Trails, a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Tizaqueena, is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Issaqueena.

The only dirt contest that wasn’t one-sided was the Purebred Arabians’ version of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1, where the wire-to-wire Wadeeaa held on by a half-length.

The three turf races were all competitive. Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby notched his first win of the Carnival courtesy of Good Fortune in the Dubai Trophy, a newly minted conditions event for sophomores. The full brother to multiple Group 2 queen Beautiful Romance struck the front in upper stretch, and under urging from James Doyle, found enough to stave off the rallying Woven by three-quarters of a length.

Sporting Chance, the highest-rated contender as the Prix Eclipse (G3) winner, compromised his chances. Rushing up after an awkward start to chase the pace, he tired to 12th of 16.

Good Fortune, who romped on the Lingfield turf third time out, was third in the Denford (aka the Washington Singer) and most recently runner-up in a Sandown conditions race. Appleby mentioned that the colt has thrived since moving to his winter quarters, and the February 28 Meydan Classic looms as his logical target.

By New Approach and out of the Group 3-winning Cape Cross mare Mazuna, Good Fortune hails from the family of Mastercraftsman.

British trainer Jamie Osborne and Carnival mainstay Mike de Kock both were pleasantly surprised by their respective winners.

Osborne’s new recruit for Melbourne 10 Racing, Dream Today, got up in a blanket finish in the about six-furlong turf handicap. Well ridden by Chris Hayes, the full brother to Group 1 hero Al Wukair improved in the center of the field and stayed on gamely to deny Spain’s Abrantes.

The 90,000-guineas Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training buy made the most of a four-pound weight break from Abrantes, as well as a 13-pound concession from third-placer Intisaab, to provide a rapid return on investment.

Formerly with Mark Johnston, Dream Today was runner-up in the 2017 Autumn S. (G3) as a two-year-old but kept mostly to handicap company at three. The Dream Ahead gelding was produced by the Machiavellian mare Macheera, making him not only a full sibling to Al Wukair but also a half to multiple stakes-placed Witches Brew, the dam of current Prestige (G3) winner Antonia de Vega.

In the nightcap, Baroot was thought to need a run to bring him on, in keeping with de Kock’s usual pattern. But the seven-year-old veteran was plenty sharp enough to outkick his rivals in the metric mile handicap. Settled off the pace by Adrie de Vries, who held onto the strong traveler as long as possible, Baroot shot past Godolphin’s On the Warpath late to win going away by two lengths.

Baroot capped a double for Dubawi, also the sire of North America. The British-bred is out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Time Honoured, a daughter of champion racemare and influential producer Time Charter.