Godolphin racked up three wins on the Super Saturday program at Meydan, all on turf for trainer Charlie Appleby, while the four dirt preps for Dubai World Cup night all went the way of horses flashing speed on the inside. Track records fell on both surfaces, thanks to lightning-quick conditions .
Trainer Satish Seemar and stable jockey Richard Mullen scored a double on the dirt, crowned by North America in the $400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), the stepping stone to the March 31 Dubai World Cup (G1). Worn down by Thunder Snow late in the February 8 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), the Dubawi gelding stripped fitter in this third start of the Carnival to reverse the form while lowering California Chrome’s track record in a romp.
North America broke like a shot from post 6, sped to the early lead, and thereby bagged the all-important rail. Given how the dirt was playing, the race was virtually over by the time he set up shop comfortably entering the clubhouse turn. Favored Thunder Snow, among the stalking group, was the last one standing to chase the leader, but his challenge was short-lived as North America found another gear into the stretch. The Ramzan Kadyrov colorbearer drew off by 5 1/4 lengths and clocked a new record time of 2:01.71 for about 1 1/4 miles.
Thunder Snow was 3 3/4 lengths clear of classy Chilean mare Furia Cruzada in third, and there was a gap of nine lengths back to Second Summer in fourth. The whole field was strung out like steeplechasers, a pattern that held throughout the dirt contests.
“Last time, when second to Thunder Snow (in Round 2), was probably a career-best and he has built on that again tonight,” Mullen recapped. “I just wanted to get him into a rhythm; not necessarily to lead, but we broke so well, I was able to get to the front and he was then always happy. I am just very lucky to be part of a big team with Satish at Zabeel Stables. Everyone works so hard and it is great on occasions like this for everyone. Obviously the Dubai World Cup is going to be a stronger race, but he deserves his chance.”
Seemar and Mullen opened Super Saturday with a similarly dominant performance from the Kapoors’ Yulong Warrior in the $250,000 Al Bastakiya, a lead-in to the UAE Derby (G2). Drawn on the rail and sharpened up in first-time cheekpieces, the Kentucky-bred Street Cry colt was hustled to take command early. A cluster tracked him the whole way down the backstretch, but they began to toil nearing the far turn – including favored Masar, who gave up in his dirt debut and folded to 10th of 13. Yulong Warrior cut the corner and simply ran away by 11 1/2 lengths, completing about 1 3/16 miles in 1:58.05 to set himself up for a clash with Gold Town and Mendelssohn on World Cup night.
“He is a horse we have always really liked,” Mullen said, “and thought would continue improving as he matures. He won his maiden well last time, over 1600 meters but, obviously, this was a stronger race and he has coped with the increase in both class and distance. He has surprised me just how much he had improved from last time but the nice, low, draw has helped him in both his wins. There should still be more to come from him but the UAE Derby will be a stronger race again. Fingers crossed we can get a nice draw in that as well.”
Post positions played a significant role in the $200,000 Burj Nahaar (G3), the prep for the Godolphin Mile (G2), as the Doug Watson-trained Kimbear made the most of his rail draw to overturn favored Heavy Metal, who worked awfully hard to get over from post 13. The two matched strides until swinging into the stretch, when Heavy Metal began to assert. But jockey Pat Dobbs steered Kimbear around Heavy Metal to offer a renewed bid, and the Kentucky-bred son of Temple City grittily came again and collared the favorite in the final yards. Owned by Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid al Nuaimi, Kimbear edged away by 1 1/4 lengths and finished the metric mile in 1:36.81.
A spent Heavy Metal couldn’t salvage a placing. Secret Ambition, from the in-form Seemar/Mullen team, and Musawaat swamped him in the shadow of the post for second and third, respectively.
“I thought I was in trouble for a moment,” Dobbs said, “but I could see Heavy Metal was getting tired and my fellow has run on gamely. We went very quick early on, so credit to my horse for responding again in the straight when I asked him.”
Owner/trainer Fawzi Nass’ Jordan Sport likewise fit the day’s racing pattern in his track record-setting dirt debut in the $200,000 Mahab al Shimaal (G3), the warm-up for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). Having shown plenty of dash on the turf, the son of Dubawi (and full brother to past Hong Kong star Akeed Mofeed) transferred his sprinting game seamlessly to the new surface to secure the lead and the rail. His nearest pursuer, Yalta, couldn’t keep up as Jordan Sport widened his margin to 7 1/4 lengths on the wire, in a new mark of 1:10.18 for about six furlongs. Favored Comicas never got involved from off the pace on a track that made life difficult for the closers.
“Fawzi asked me to work him on the dirt on Monday to see how he handled it,” winning rider Adrie de Vries revealed, “and he loved, so it so we came to this race, not the turf option. We had a good draw and he was very quickly out of the gates, so I was able to get across to that rail. Once I gave him a breather on the turn and committed him for home, he put the race to bed in a few strides. Hopefully we can get a good draw on the big night, because it really does help. That was impressive today and we can enjoy this win then worry about the race in three weeks.”
In that turf option, the $200,000 Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint, Godolphin’s Jungle Cat burst 2 1/4 lengths clear of Ertijaal, perhaps the most surprising of the day’s favorites to meet defeat. To rub salt in the wound of Ertijaal fans, Jungle Cat also erased his about six-furlong course record when zipping in 1:08.24 beneath William Buick.
Although the Appleby pupil was the reigning titleholder, he didn’t have to face Ertijaal in last year’s edition, and he’d been plying his trade over seven furlongs since last summer. Indeed, Jungle Cat appeared to have found his niche at that trip when finally earning an overdue first stakes win in the Al Fahidi Fort (G2) last out. As it turned out, however, the Al Fahidi was a sign that the Iffraaj six-year-old has reached the peak of his powers, and the cutback in trip proved no problem in this stepping stone to the Al Quoz Sprint (G1).
Ertijaal didn’t achieve his usual separation from the field, so favorite backers had cause for increasing concern as the Godolphin posse closed in. Yet Ertijaal soldiered on to hold second from Top Score, and Baccarat got up for fourth after blowing the start.
“He has won that really well, but we knew he was in good form,” Buick said. “The form of his Al Fahidi Fort victory over 1400 meters was advertised by the win over Janoobi and he has loved this fast gallop to aim at this evening. I was soon in a good rhythm and knew he would be staying on strongly. In the end, he has won pretty comfortably. The soft ground did not suit him in the Al Quoz Sprint last year (when fourth), so hopefully we get quick ground this time, because I think he is better than ever.”
Buick also rode the other turf record-setter, Hawkbill, who prevailed over stablemate Frontiersman through a stretch-long battle in the $250,000 Dubai City of Gold (G2). The lone Super Saturday favorite to justify his status, Hawkbill covered about 1 1/2 miles in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) prep in 2:26.85.
Saeed bin Suroor’s Gold Star rallied late to ring up the Godolphin trifecta, just depriving French shipper Called to the Bar of third. Best Solution, stacked out wide in the early going, faded to ninth. Singapore’s Gilt Complex was pulled up as the field straightened in the backstretch.
“They fought it out well and it was a good race,” Buick said. “I had quite a tough trip (posted wide from post 10) and the horse did really well, having to cover a bit of ground. It was a really good performance and he’s an exciting horse, who seems to get better with age.”
A Kitten’s Joy half-brother to Free Drop Billy, who runs in Saturday’s Gotham (G3), Hawkbill had not raced since being upset by Johnny Bear in last September’s Northern Dancer Turf (G1) at Woodbine. He’s now won five Group stakes in his career, including the 2016 Eclipse (G1) and last summer’s Princess of Wales’s (G2) over Frontiersman.
Unlike Hawkbill, the hot Jebel Hatta (G1) favorite Benbatl wasn’t able to overcome a wide trip from post 10 and yielded to rail-skimming Blair House by three-quarters of a length in an all-Godolphin exacta. Hitherto a handicapper, the progressive five-year-old was winning his second straight contest at this course and about nine-furlong trip. By stopping the teletimer in 1:47.53 under James Doyle, the Pivotal gelding put himself in the Dubai Turf (G1) picture.
The Mike de Kock-trained Janoobi, who’d just missed to Jungle Cat two back before landing the Zabeel Mile (G2), was in the thick of contention until his stamina ebbed in the final furlong. He did well to take third, only a head adrift of Benbatl, and thwart a Godolphin trifecta as bin Suroor’s mare Promising Run was a fine fourth. Yet another Godolphin, Appleby’s Folkswood, was a disappointing sixth.
“We won a bit too easily last time,” Doyle said, “so we had to step him up in class as there was no handicap opportunity for him. It has actually worked out very well in the end, because he is a Group 1 winner now!”
“We knew this horse arrived here in good form,” Appleby said, “and it looked a wide open race, as it transpired to be. I am sure we will have to come back with him in three weeks in what will be a stronger race, but he owes us nothing now.”
The trainer’s last comment would apply to all seven Super Saturday winners, due to meet formidable international challenges on Dubai World Cup night.