Defending champion Vazirabad swept from well back to nab the mare Beautiful Romance in the final yards of Saturday’s $1 million Dubai Gold Cup (G2), becoming the race’s first two-time winner.
The Aga Khan’s homebred was turning the tables on Beautiful Romance, who had defeated him in their mutual reappearance in the February 23 Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3). That was contested at about 1 3/4 miles, but the combination of race fitness and the added ground of the Dubai Gold Cup’s two metric miles made the difference for Vazirabad.
Regular rider Christophe Soumillon exercised great patience, waiting until the last possible moment to deploy Vazirabad. Godolphin’s Beautiful Romance, in contrast, was in a forward position throughout attending pacesetter Big Orange. The two leaders tried to slip away from the field rounding the far turn, and Beautiful Romance spurted clear swinging for home.
Ordinarily her move might well have been enough to land the spoils, but the relentless Vazirabad was by now in hot pursuit. Gaining ground rapidly on the yielding Meydan turf, the Alain de Royer-Dupre stayer denied her by a neck in a final time of 3:22.52.
Aside from his two Dubai Gold Cups, Vazirabad has captured the past two editions of the Prix Royal-Oak (G1), last season’s Prix Vicomtesse Vigier (G2) and Prix Gladiateur (G3), and the 2015 Prix Chaudenay (G2) and Prix de Lutece (G3).
Sheikhzayedroad, tightened up momentarily when Vazirabad raced past to join Beautiful Romance, was en route to finishing third anyway. Big Orange, who had been caught late by Vazirabad in the 2016 running, settled for fourth here. Trip to Paris and Kingfisher, the top two from the 2015 Ascot Gold Cup (G1) who have had injury woes since, were tailed off as the last two across the line. Kingfisher was basically eased, well adrift of Trip to Paris, and came out lame.
The Aga Khan’s racing manager Georges Rimaud: “We brought him here earlier this year to get used to the climate and he has done well in training. I was a little concerned when Christophe went inside in the straight but he knows his way round the track and has confidence in the horse.”
Jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vazirabad: “He didn’t jump so good because he was moving a bit badly in the gate. I gave him the time to get into the race and fortunately for us the pace was quite good. I knew we could make up some lengths, especially on this ground, it’s a bit difficult to finish today. When I came in the back straight the horse was much better than last time and he didn’t hang.
“In the last corner I just preferred to stay on the inside to drop some lengths there. And when I came into the straight I knew he was going to give me a good turn of foot but I was not really sure I could arrive to take the lead in the end. When he passed the two horses he started to shift in a bit but then when he felt the field in front of him he just kept running. It’s good to come on at the latest moment with him because he can be a bit green in front.”
Jockey Oisin Murphy on runner-up Beautiful Romance: “There are no excuses and she’s been beaten by Vazirabad, who was the best horse in the race. She’s run a career-best race so I can’t complain. I’m delighted to ride a horse as good as her. I’m one of the youngest jockeys riding here so to get beat is hard to swallow but it’s great to be involved.”
Godolphin racing manager John Ferguson: “She’s a very genuine filly and has run the race of her life. She’s proved herself a top stayer, and we look forward to her competing in the big events around the world.”
Jockey Martin Harley on third-placer Sheikhzayedroad: “He’s rock solid and had a nice position. It was a great run and I think he might turn out to be an Ascot Gold Cup horse.”
Sheikhzayedroad’s trainer David Simcock: “He’s done us proud. He’s shown that as he’s got older he needs at least two miles and probably even farther, so there’s a certain race at Royal Ascot that we have in mind.”
Trainer Michael Bell on fourth-placer Big Orange: “It was a massive effort but they are taking the top off the ground and he does enjoy it when it’s faster. Hopefully this sets us up for a good season.”