February 27, 2024

Al Quoz Sprint: Unfinished business for Blue Point, Stormy Liberal

Jockey William Buick keeps a tight hold on Blue Point as the five-year-old bay romps in the Meydan Sprint (G2) at Meydan on February 14, 2019 (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

While two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) champion Stormy Liberal aims to go one better than his second in last year’s Al Quoz Sprint (G1), Godolphin’s Blue Point has been spoiling just for the chance to contest the $2.5 million turf sprint feature on Dubai World Cup night.

A year ago, Blue Point was on the verge of starting as the Al Quoz favorite, only to be a gate scratch. Blood was spotted in his nostrils, and vet advice prompted his withdrawal. As trainer Charlie Appleby later reported, it wasn’t a bleeding episode per se, because he scoped clean through the trachea. Apparently Blue Point had just knocked his head, enough to keep him on the sidelines as stablemate Jungle Cat went on to victory.

Fast forward to this Carnival, and Appleby was determined to give Blue Point two prep runs, instead of the single warm-up he had in 2018, in the belief that an extra start would tamp down his fizziness for the big day. The five-year-old sailed through both, romping in the Meydan Sprint (G2) by five – no mean feat in an about five-furlong dash – and dominating the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) on Super Saturday over up-and-comer Ekhtiyaar and sharp handicapper Mazzini.

Thus Blue Point once again confirmed his status as the favorite for the Al Quoz. Only now he enters with a Group 1 tally already on his resume, having upended Battaash in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot last summer, and likely a stronger specimen.

Stormy Liberal successfully defends his title in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) under jockey Drayden Van Dyke at Churchill Downs on November 3, 2018 (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

Yet Saturday’s edition of the Al Quoz is arguably deeper as well. If so, Stormy Liberal would have to improve a bit more than his half-length loss to Jungle Cat implies. A stablemate of Golden Shaheen (G1) favorite Roy H, Stormy Liberal has mirrored his Breeders’ Cup heroics by taking the last two runnings of the Turf Sprint (G1). And in a year without a clear-cut leader in the turf male division, the repeat earned him an Eclipse Award.

Stormy Liberal has played second fiddle in both subsequent starts, but with explanations. Trainer Peter Miller took responsibility for his loss to Caribou Club in the Joe Hernandez (G3), saying he’d gone a little too easy post-Breeders’ Cup. Then in a February 22 allowance at Santa Anita, he was in the process of striking the front when he took an awkward step, appearing to stumble leaving the far turn. Stormy Liberal righted himself and still nearly pulled it off, just losing by a head to Eddie Haskell in course-record time. The ultra-game battler figures to run his race while reuniting with Joel Rosario for the first time since last spring. Being drawn on the far inside post 1 on the straightaway is not ideal, however.

Stablemate Belvoir Bay, who stayed with Miller after selling for $625,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November, has been a terrific servant ever since her importation as a juvenile. The British-bred daughter of Equiano stayed a mile well earlier in her career, but with maturity has come a preference for the sprint game. Belvoir Bay would be a dark horse if able to transfer her Santa Anita form, including victories in the Monrovia (G2) and San Simeon (G3) versus males last term and this winter’s Las Cienegas and Wishing Well. Her fifth in the 2018 Highlander (G1) at Woodbine gives pause, though.

Multiple Grade 2 winner Caribou Club enters in the form of his life for Tom Proctor. Since his slow-starting third to Stormy Liberal in the Eddie D. (G3), the Glen Hill homebred has won two straight, the 1 1/16-mile Seabiscuit (G2) and the aforementioned Joe Hernandez on the cutback down the hill. That distance range, embracing his seven-furlong Connaught Cup (G2) trophy at Woodbine, hints that about six down the straightaway should suit.

To make it a sterner task for the Carnival runners and Americans alike, this year the Australians are back in force, and Hong Kong fields an intriguing contender. Each of those jurisdictions has won the Al Quoz twice.

Brave Smash breezes at Meydan on March 26, 2019 (c) Dubai Racing Club/Mathea Kelley

Japanese-bred Brave Smash has had a career makeover since emigrating Down Under. His formlines with the outstanding Oz campaigners make him a major threat here, his official rating a lot nearer to Blue Point than his odds. It’s particularly significant that he’s gone close in the last two runnings of the Newmarket H. (G1), contested at about six furlongs down a straight similar to the Al Quoz. Just held by Redkirk Warrior in 2018, he edged Merchant Navy, the eventual winner of the Diamond Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot.

Most recently in the March 9 renewal at Flemington, Brave Smash was beaten less than a length by budding superstar Sunlight and Osbourne Bulls while giving weight to both. That result is encouraging since he’s among those who had to switch from banned trainer Darren Weir, so he’s clearly going well at present for Kris Lees.

Brave Smash’s past form around a bend reinforces his quality. Third to Redzel (besting fourth-placer Chautauqua) in the inaugural Everest in 2017, he was a near-miss third to Hartnell in a blanket finish to last year’s C.F. Orr (G1). Brave Smash came right back to take the Futurity (G1), and later in 2018, he annexed the Manikato (G1).

Viddora boasts a win over Brave Smash in last year’s Moir (G1), although a frenetic five around Moonee Valley likely played more to her strengths. Her prior Group 1 score also came around a turn in the 2017 Winterbottom (G1) at Ascot (in Perth). Although she hasn’t raced on a straightaway for a long time, trainer Lloyd Kennewell has reportedly been delighted with how she’s handled it in works. Interestingly, the only distaffer to win the Al Quoz was Australian, Ortensia (2012). Also flying the Australian flag is Illustrious Lad, who doesn’t bring the same type of resume but outperformed his odds when fifth to Jungle Cat and Stormy Liberal here last year.

Although Hong Kong’s past Al Quoz heroes had more stakes experience than Wishful Thinker, the Australian-bred is on the upswing with wins in four of his last five. The exception was also his lone black-type attempt, the Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (G3), where he reared at the start and got held up in traffic en route to a third. By I Am Invincible – the same sire as Viddora and Illustrious Lad – Wishful Thinker could end up being the hot stallion’s best chance. At any rate he’s yet to reach his ceiling for Richard Gibson.

Europeans used to find this race difficult, but two of the past four renewals have gone their way. Sands of Mali spearheads the raiding party. Long highly rated by trainer Richard Fahey, he was last seen achieving a Group 1 breakthrough in the British Champions Sprint (G1). Historical trends would have preferred the benefit of a prep run, and like Stormy Liberal, he is drawn on the inside in post 2.

France’s The Right Man upset the 2017 Al Quoz, largely thanks to the unusual rain that left Meydan yielding. Unlike that year when he got a tightener, The Right Man hasn’t raced since just failing to turn a three-peat in the Prix de Seine-et-Oise (G3). He looks unlikely to emulate J J the Jet Plane (2009, 2011) as a two-time Al Quoz winner.

Aidan O’Brien’s Lost Treasure likewise reappears in this spot for the first time since his seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. The blueblood full brother to current classic hopeful Just Wonderful would have a better record if his racing manners weren’t so tricky. Lost Treasure has the ability, as indicated by his fifth in tight quarters in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1), and if he grows more professional he can profit from it.

Wednesday’s draw via emiratesracing.com: