February 22, 2024

Cowan tries his luck against elders in Al Quoz Sprint

Cowan (Dubai Racing Club/Neville Hopwood)

Charlie Appleby has won the past two renewals of the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1), and the Godolphin trainer is well qualified to make it a hat trick. His Space Blues, the highest rated runner, is buttressed by a pair of promising stablemates. But the wildcard in the about six-furlong turf dash is Cowan, who hopes to become the first American – and first three-year-old – to prevail in the brief history of the race, just added to the Dubai World Cup (G1) program in 2010.

Al Quoz Sprint – Race 4 (9:30 a.m. ET)

Cowan’s placement here is bold, considering his prolonged case of seconditis among his own age group. Yet the Steve Asmussen trainee is at a crossroads following his tough beat in the Saudi Derby, where he almost pulled out the victory after a poor start. Combined with his distant runner-up efforts in the Springboard Mile and Smarty Jones, the Kantharos colt wasn’t advancing himself as a Kentucky Derby (G1) contender.

But before his dirt routes, Cowan had turned in two straight hard-charging seconds in turf sprints at Keeneland. The way he rattled home in the Indian Summer and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), around a turning 5 1/2 furlongs, suggests that a straight six could suit him. The class challenge is the biggest obstacle, but his form with Wesley Ward’s highly regarded Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Golden Pal could hold up well on the international scene. The other concern is being drawn in post 1, on the far side of a course where it often pays to be closer to the stands. Still, Cowan’s presence in the Al Quoz makes for a lot more intrigue than if he’d pressed on to the UAE Derby (G2).

U.S. shippers have been knocking on the proverbial door, especially the past three years, and Extravagant Kid brings the more straightforward profile as a grizzled veteran. The Brendan Walsh charge has endured his own share of graded near-misses, and his fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) – beaten a scant length for it all – is evidence he can go close here as well. Irish import True Valour had regressed into an underachiever in the mile division until finding the sprint game rejuvenating. Most recently second in the Jan. 1 Joe Hernandez (G2), the Graham Motion trainee had experience on a straightaway in his early European days.

The aforementioned Space Blues, however, will be difficult to fend off at his best. The one straw for rivals to clutch is his profile as a seven-furlong type. Space Blues flew late to get up in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) at about 6 1/2 furlongs, and made it in time in the 1351 Turf Sprint on Saudi Cup Day to extend his winning streak to five. But his last loss came in his only prior attempt at this trip, and at this very track, when seventh in the 2020 Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3). Appleby is adamant that blip, in his reappearance, has no relevance to his chances in the Al Quoz.

Stablemate Royal Crusade played the role of beaten favorite in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint this year, winding up sixth in his Super Saturday comeback. Yet the well-bred son of Shamardal had not raced since capturing the July 12 Prix de Ris-Orangis (G3) over Glen Shiel, the eventual British Champions Sprint (G1) winner. Royal Crusade is entitled to be a different proposition off that tightener. Rounding out the Appleby trio is Man of Promise, who capitalized on a light weight to win the Dubai Sprint H. but was only eighth back at weight-for-age in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint.

The Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint trifecta will also renew rivalry – Saeed bin Suroor’s gallant filly Final Song, fast-finishing second Motafaawit, and sophomore Acklam Express who did well to grab third after a slow start. That prep form might not withstand the onslaught of fresh faces.

Charlie Hills has two prime chances with Khaadem and Equilateral. Khaadem stamped himself as a potentially top-class operator when demolishing the 2019 Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood. His two-race campaign of 2020 didn’t go according to plan, but his fourths in both the Diamond Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot and the July Cup (G1) at Newmarket put him right in the hunt. As a Shadwell colorbearer, like Motafaawit, Khaadem will try to score a poignant win after the passing of Sheikh Hamdan on Wednesday.

Equilateral sports a 3-for-4 local mark, including both appearances this Carnival in the Jan. 21 Dubai Dash H. and Feb. 18 Meydan Sprint (G2) over Acklam Express. Keeping him fresh for World Cup night could pay off, if the five-furlong specialist can last another panel.

Fellow British shipper Moss Gill is in a similar position regarding the distance. His third to Battaash in last summer’s Nunthorpe (G1) is his main claim, and connections believe he’ll enjoy Meydan as he does York. Moss Gill prepped with a near-miss in the Hever Sprint over Lingfield’s Polytrack.

The Joseph O’Brien-trained Speak in Colours has turned in some of his better efforts at this trip. Fourth and fifth in the past two Diamond Jubilees, he scored his biggest win in last summer’s Greenlands (G2) at the Curragh. Speak in Colours was originally expected in the 1351 Turf Sprint, but ended up skipping Saudi Cup Day. He already had the benefit of a tune-up Feb. 5 at Dundalk, where he chased all-weather specialist Harry’s Bar.