Given its proximity to the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup extravaganza, Meydan’s Super Saturday program understandably lacked the same degree of star power. But in a pleasant surprise, a few winners stepped up dramatically to emerge as proper Dubai World Cup night contenders in their respective divisions.
Godolphin’s Barney Roy, the card’s most obvious winner in the $400,000 Jebel Hatta (G1), served notice of intent for the March 28 Dubai Turf (G1). Despite racing farther back than preferable for William Buick (thanks to post 12), the odds-on favorite quickened smartly to reel in stablemates Magic Lily and Spotify in a Charlie Appleby exacta.
According to Trakus, Barney Roy zipped his last 400 meters (about a quarter-mile) in :21.94 en route to a stakes-record 1:46.09. That smashed Blair House’s old mark of 1:47.53 from 2018. Moreover, Barney Roy didn’t miss by much the about 9-furlong course record of 1:45.52 established by Just a Way in the 2014 Dubai Turf.
Now the winner of both Carnival starts, including the Jan. 30 Al Rashidiya (G2) in a stakes-record 1:47.41, Barney Roy is back to his sparkling form of 2017. The son of Excelebration spent 2018 at stud, where he proved subfertile, and his three starts of 2019 were useful without advertising his old ability. As the hero of the 2017 St. James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot and near-misser to Ulysses in the Eclipse (G1), the gelded 6-year-old is summoning his loads of back class. The Dubai Turf will be no cakewalk, with a Japanese juggernaut led by defending champion Almond Eye, but Barney Roy is not your typical Carnival creature either.
The same can’t be said for Godolphin’s other Super Saturday winner, Dubai City of Gold (G2) upsetter Loxley, who is unlikely to turn the double in the Sheema Classic (G1). A 27-1 shot in North America and 16-1 according to Racing Post, Loxley was freely described as having a “disappointing” Carnival in Appleby’s postrace comments. Here he capitalized on race-fitness, and a well-judged Mickael Barzalona ride, to edge ring-rusty favorite Defoe.
If giving benefit of the doubt that Loxley could outfoot Defoe again, his task in the Sheema is much more complicated with stablemate Ghaiyyath looming large as well as Japan’s Glory Vase et al. Loxley’s prior European form doesn’t offer much confidence, since he’d gone winless since the 2018 Grand Prix de Deauville (G2) and endured listed-level seconditis last fall.
Barzalona also rode Saturday’s $600,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) romper, Matterhorn, who likewise will be subject to a sterner test in the World Cup itself. Round 3 form tends not to hold up on the big night anyway, never mind the fact that Benbatl, Mucho Gusto, Tacitus, and Matterhorn’s own stablemate Gronkowski are among those expected to advance from the Saudi Cup.
Adding to the cautionary note, Matterhorn is the fifth straight front-running winner of Round 3. The previous four (Special Fighter, Long River, North America, and Capezzano in 2016-19 respectively) were all well beaten in the World Cup.
Yet Matterhorn boasts a more elevated profile. A multiple Group-placed European turfer, and smashing winner of last year’s lucrative Easter Classic over Wissahickon on the Lingfield Polytrack, he was making only his second Carnival start here. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum’s runner was third in the Feb. 13 Firebreak (G3) to stablemate Capezzano, and he moved forward in dynamic fashion second time out for Salem bin Ghadayer.
After Barzalona urged him to the lead in the opening strides, Matterhorn soon reached cruising speed, never looked in danger, and completed about 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.44. The Raven’s Pass half-brother to Group 3 winners Bangkok and Tactic, and “uncle” to star miler Ribchester, crossed the wire 5 1/2 lengths clear. Favorite Military Law, under a ride early, did his best work late in second.
Trainer Doug O’Neill’s productive Carnival reached a crescendo with Wildman Jack’s course record-obliteration of the $350,000 Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3). Hitherto untested down a straight course, the W C Racing homebred laid down a serious marker for the Al Quoz Sprint (G1). A similar exhibition of speed would make Wildman Jack tough to catch on World Cup night, even for Equilateral and the shippers, so the main question now is if he can back it up on three weeks’ rest.
Wildman Jack has never run a bad race in a brief career that began just last summer. Twice a winner sprinting 5 furlongs on the Del Mar turf, the Goldencents colt missed in a pair of photos, went down by a half-length in his lone third, and finished a close fourth in an about 7-furlong handicap in his Meydan debut. Still, that form hardly stood out in a Super Saturday contest, and his 27-1 odds turned out to be a wild overlay.
Always in the vanguard with Fernando Jara, Wildman Jack simply kept motoring the further they went until drawing off by 4 3/4 lengths. His time for about 6 furlongs, 1:07.61, erased Jungle Cat’s stakes and course mark of 1:08.24 from 2018. No wonder O’Neill’s postrace comment summed it up as “insane.”
Runner-up Ekhtiyaar gives the form a solid look, filling the same spot he did behind Blue Point in last year’s edition. Appleby’s Space Blues, a question mark at this short a trip, was found out in seventh.
Similarly, the Fawzi Nass-trained Salute the Soldier was a revelation in his first dirt attempt in the $350,000 Burj Nahaar (G3). Allowing for the fact that the Victorious colorbearer worked out a beneficial trip with Adrie de Vries, the way he rolled 5 1/2 lengths clear stamped him a proper contender for the Godolphin Mile (G2).
The 380,000-guineas Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale acquisition had been a useful handicapper on turf and all-weather for Clive Cox, placing third in a Sept. 20 listed stakes at Newbury in his British finale. He made a winning Carnival debut in a turf mile handicap, followed by a close fourth to Godolphin’s promising Zakouski when trying to lead throughout in the Feb. 20 Zabeel Mile (G2).
Reserved just off the pace battle between a past-his-prime Heavy Metal and Ambassadorial, Salute the Soldier conserved more energy than Kimbear who took command arguably too soon. De Vries had a handful of horse turning for home as he accosted Kimbear and put the race away.
Axelrod rattled home late in an eye-catching second in his comeback for bin Ghadayer, with veteran Secret Ambition finishing with interest in third. While Axelrod could join the World Cup fray off this fine tune-up, he’d be especially interesting in the Godolphin Mile. Kimbear retreated to fifth, and might have held better with a different trip (or race shape).
Salute the Soldier’s dirt prowess can be attributed partly to his tactical qualities but pedigree can provide clues in hindsight. Sire Sepoy is by Elusive Quality, and his dam, the Street Cry mare Street Fire, produced a champion miler on the Saudi dirt in Pyrexia.
One thing to keep in mind for World Cup night, however, is his temperament. Nass said that Salute the Soldier is a “nervous type,” preferring to saddle in a quiet place removed from crowds. Thus he particularly enjoyed the spectator-less Super Saturday, a closed-doors policy in response to the novel coronavirus. If the World Cup goes forward with spectators as usual, watch his pre-race behavior.
Satish Seemar had five of the 14 runners in the $350,000 Mahab al Shimaal (G3), so strictly from a numerical perspective it wasn’t surprising that the yard ran one-two in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) prep. Less obvious, however, were their identities, and the manner of victory.
Wafy, picked up by Nasir Askar for 57,000 guineas at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale, made it 2-for-2 in his new home with a whirlwind charge. Near the back of the pack early with Tadhg O’Shea, the Shadwell cast-off still wasn’t in the picture in the stretch. Meanwhile, Seemar’s top hope, Bochart, was fighting a losing battle with Alkaraama, but lesser-fancied stablemate Leading Spirit swooped to save the day. Then Wafy rocketed onto the scene – with a final quarter in :23.44 per Trakus – to win going away by three-quarters of a length.
A royally bred son of Dubawi and Ghanaati, heroine of the 1000 Guineas (G1) and Coronation S. (G1) in 2009 and descendant of Height of Fashion, Wafy didn’t show much in turf handicaps for Charlie Hills. The change of scenery to the UAE dirt has worked wonders, as the 5-year-old gelding demolished them in a Feb. 21 wire job at Jebel Ali. Even so, Seemar admitted that he wanted a softer spot for a follow-up, and it was a case of owner insistence that he was entered for Super Saturday.
There’s no telling how much more improvement that Wafy has in him, but it must be underscored that the Mahab al Shimaal field lacked depth. Leading local Gladiator King (and mainstay Drafted) skipped it in favor of Saudi, not to mention the Americans and other internationals waiting in the wings for the Golden Shaheen.
Seemar also had the exacta in the $300,000 Al Bastakiya courtesy of Emblem Storm and Tuz, a result that didn’t do much to enhance the stature of the locally based 3-year-old colts ahead of the UAE Derby (G2).
The division had lacked a standout during the Carnival, and the impression was reinforced when O’Neill’s Fore Left wired the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). Considering that Fore Left was some way below the best of the American juveniles last season, his success in the first classic is an encouraging sign for higher-profile internationals bound for World Cup night.
To be fair, though, the top two in the Al Bastakiya are Kentucky-breds on the upswing. Al Bayraq Stable’s Emblem Storm, an inexperienced third to Fore Left straight off his debut win, learned to take up a more forward position in the Al Bastakiya and pounced with Oisin Murphy. Tuz, who crushed both of his juvenile starts in Russia, appeared to need this more competitive event as he kept trying to lug in on his left lead. Later described by Seemar as his “secret weapon,” Tuz was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths in a race that figures to bring him on. Note that Trakus reports Tuz, drawn in post 15, covered 12 meters (about 39 feet) more than the winner.
Godolphin filly Dubai Love continued her admirable consistency in a staying-on third. She’d be worth her chance in the UAE Derby, if only to vie for another placing. But Appleby’s Ya Hayati, dismal in his dirt experiment, looks to turn the page back on the turf in Europe.
Bred by Colts Neck Stables, Emblem Storm is by English Channel and out of American Girl, a High Chaparral half to multiple European Group 1 star Lush Lashes. The $45,000 Keeneland September yearling attracted $95,000 as an OBS April juvenile. Stablemate Tuz, a $7,000 bargain buy for Oracle Bloodstock at Keeneland September, is an Oxbow colt produced by the Pulpit mare Suede Shoe.