Saturday’s $5 million Dubai Turf (G1) nearly produced a triple dead-heat, as frontrunning Panthalassa, defending champion Lord North, and Vin de Garde flashed across the wire abreast. Although Vin de Garde had all the momentum, it was a fraction late. The Japanese contender was a nose away from compatriot Panthalassa and Britain’s Lord North, who were inseparable after a protracted examination of the photo.
The John and Thady Gosden-trained Lord North made history as the first two-time Dubai Turf winner, but there was precedent for a dead-heat. In the former incarnation of this about 1 1/8-mile test at old Nad al Sheba, the Dubai Duty Free, Right Approach and Paolini had to share the spoils in 2004.
Panthalassa was an incredible third winner on the card for trainer Yoshito Yahagi. His Stay Foolish had toppled Godolphin hotpot Manobo in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2), and Bathrat Leon sprang a $123.70 surprise in the Godolphin Mile (G2). Thus Yahagi continued his strike rate abroad, including his historic Breeders’ Cup victories at Del Mar.
The Dubai Turf was memorable for its fast time as well. Panthalassa and Lord North posted 1:45.77, a tick off Just a Way’s course record of 1:45.52 set in 2014. Just a Way had prepped with a victory in the Nakayama Kinen (G2), and Panthalassa did the same this year.
Under Yutaka Yoshida, Hiroo Race Co.’s Panthalassa dashed to the front from post 11 and almost lasted for a solo win. American shipper Colonel Liam chased early, but paid the price in the stretch. British filly Saffron Beach showed grit to keep up the hunt without being able to lift enough.
Lord North, on the other hand, was traveling superbly into contention. When Frankie Dettori set him down, Sheikh Zayad bin Mohammed Racing’s colorbearer began to cut the gap. But he wasn’t quite getting there until Vin de Garde, who had been runner-up to Lord North here last year, came charging to join the fray. Lord North appeared galvanized by the new challenger to his outside, and he thrust his nose alongside Panthalassa.
Saffron Beach reported home 3 1/2 lengths back in fourth. Wide-drawn Sir Busker excelled himself in fifth. Next came My Oberon; Alfareeq; the best-fancied Japanese runner, even-money favorite Schnell Meister, who failed to fire in eighth; Colonel Liam; Mohaafeth; Ursa Minor; Haqeeqy; Desert Fire; and Harrovian. Lord Glitters and Finest Sound were scratched.
Lord North, making just his second start back from a year-long layoff, was let go at 9-2 and paid $5.60. Panthalassa, a 12-1 chance, returned $13.30.
Dettori paid tribute to Lord North’s return to world-class form. The 2020 Prince of Wales’s (G1) and Brigadier Gerard (G3) hero was seriously ill last season. After an 11-month absence, Lord North warmed up with a second in a course-record Winter Derby (G3) Feb. 26 at Lingfield. By Dubawi and out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Najoum, the Godolphin-bred six-year-old has compiled a record of 15-8-3-1.
“I thought I was beaten on the line, so I will settle for a dead-heat if it’s available,” Dettori said as the photo was still being deciphered. “He had half the year off – he almost died last year – so to get him back to performing at this level, it is a great credit to the team. He gave me everything he had so I can’t ask for anything more.
“What an amazing achievement by everyone and this horse, he’s just a fighter. Very few horses can do what he’s done and come back to win the Dubai Turf for the second time. What a horse.”
“I’m thrilled with our boy,” John Gosden said. “He’s been off for a year with a very nasty throat infection and we’ve managed to get him back just in time.”
Gosden also spoke of the remarkable performance of the Japanese. Their tally was four races on the card at the time, including Crown Pride’s UAE Derby (G2), and it would grow to five courtesy of Shahryar in the ensuing Dubai Sheema Classic (G1).
“That’s a very fair result as we got ourselves in a bit of a Japanese sandwich there and those horses are so tough,” the trainer observed. “They’ve been buying horses for the last 30 years or so and their investment is paying dividends. They’ve come here and knocked us for six – they’ve gone and won four races now.”
The ever-dapper Yahagi was confident in Panthalassa, a five-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa and the Montjeu mare Miss Pemberley whose resume now reads 20-6-4-0.
“Usually when he runs he takes the lead and really runs off with the race. We thought he was going to go a little bit further out wide than he did, but he really held on until the end. He’s always been a really good starter, so we weren’t too worried about the draw.
“We’ve had a lot of good luck today so we didn’t think we’d lose! I’ve never known a wait like that in a photo finish.
“As the Japanese racehorse level has increased over the years I’ve been really proud to showcase it on the global stage.”
Panthalassa has further travel on his agenda.
“This was his first time running this well on firm ground and in the past he’s run well on softer ground, so taking him over to Europe is high on his to-do list. We’d like to head to Royal Ascot for the Prince of Wales’s.”
That’s exactly where Lord North is headed, with Gosden pointing to regain his crown.
“The Prince of Wales’s will be his target, but we need to see how he comes out of this race.”
Bring on the rematch!