You don’t often see a trainer enthusiastic about finishing second as the short-priced favorite, but Mike de Kock had reason to be delighted with Mubtaahij’s comeback effort in Thursday’s $160,000 Curlin H. at Meydan.
De Kock had widely publicized his concerns about Mubtaahij’s fitness level, and mentioned having to wheel back on Super Saturday March 4 if his stable star didn’t run well enough. But after Mubtaahij challenged boldly under the top weight of 132 pounds, and beat all bar Sheikh Hamdan’s rail-skimming Etijaah, it was a case of mission accomplished. Now he stands to come on a bundle for the March 25 Dubai World Cup (G1), where he was second last year to California Chrome.
This handicap served as the World Cup stepping stone for both Curlin (2008) and California Chrome. Hence the Emirates authorities elevated it to listed stakes status this season, and Etijaah took advantage to earn his first piece of black-type.
Carrying only 117 pounds, 15 fewer than Mubtaahij, Etijaah also had the advantage of recency. The Doug Watson charge already had four runs under his belt this UAE season, most recently finishing a dead-heat second to the re-opposing Alabaster.
Etijaah was well handled by Sam Hitchcott, who reserved the Kentucky-bred behind Mubtaahij, and steadily followed the favorite through as he advanced on the inside. When Mubtaahij angled out to accost Alabaster, Etijaah stayed on the fence, and rallied best of all to prevail by 2 1/2 lengths. The seven-year-old negotiated about 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.95.
Mubtaahij pulled 4 1/2 lengths clear of third-placer Alabaster. The son of Dubawi traveled well throughout for Christophe Soumillon, until his lack of fitness told in the stretch.
Hitchcott paid tribute to Etijaah’s attitude.
“He is just so genuine, and is happy to face the kickback which makes my job so much easier as I was able to follow Mubtaahij, knowing he would give me a tow into the race,” the winning rider recapped.
“I was then able to pull inside and pass him when I wanted after which, with our low weight, I was never worried. Basically, every fell into place tonight and it is great for the horse and everyone involved.”
Etijaah was part of a triple on the card for Sheikh Hamdan, highlighted by his Purebred Arabian Handassa’s gritty repeat victory in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3. Nomorerichblondes landed the richest race on the program, the $250,000 UAE Oaks (G3). Also on Thursday, Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor scored a stakes double with Beautiful Romance in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) (beating favored Vazirabad) and Top Score in the Meydan Classic. Godolphin celebrated a treble including the Charlie Appleby-trained Viren’s Army.
An analytical recap of Thursday’s action will be posted in next week’s “Dubai Carnival beads” feature on TwinSpires.com.