Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby was widely forecast to take the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1) at Meydan Saturday, with his Blue Point a red-hot favorite for some time. Then his long hopes were dashed behind the gate when Blue Point’s nose was spotted with a trickle of blood, necessitating a last-second scratch.
But amid the turmoil of those emotions, Appleby’s other contender, Jungle Cat, jumped up with a new career high to save the day for the yard. Well handled by James Doyle, the homebred son of Iffraaj bested Peter Miller’s pair of Stormy Liberal and Conquest Tsunami to extend his winning streak to three.
Fourth in the past two runnings of the Al Quoz, in 2016 at an about five-furlong trip that’s shorter than ideal, and last year on yielding ground, Jungle Cat wasn’t exactly a surprise. The six-year-old has been a Group performer since his juvenile days, placing in the 2014 Coventry (G2), July (G2), Richmond (G2), and Gimcrack (G2). His three-year-old campaign was cut short by injury sustained in his too-bad-to-be-true Commonwealth Cup (G1). Jungle Cat promised to make up for lost time at four, but he remained a stakes bridesmaid with seconds in the Meydan Sprint (G3) and Palace House (G3), and a creditable fourth in the King’s Stand (G1). It was a similar story last year, only he stretched out to seven furlongs in the second half of 2017 to place in the Criterion (G3) and City Plate.
When Jungle Cat resurfaced in the February 1 Al Fahidi Fort (G2), and at last broke through with his first stakes win, he shaped as if he’d found his niche at around seven panels. In fact, he was just reaching the peak of his powers. Back down to about six for the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint, Jungle Cat upstaged local standout Ertijaal in course-record time in the Super Saturday conditions race. Still, he was the stable’s secondary Al Quoz hope compared to Blue Point, until fate helped him escape from his shadow.
Jungle Cat was well placed tracking the early leader Conquest Tsunami before losing position. That ended up being a tactical retreat by Doyle, who steered him around and a few paths out more toward the stands’ side, and Jungle Cat took off. Conquest Tsunami was bravely battling Australia’s Illustrious Lad, finally shrugging him off, but couldn’t repel Jungle Cat. On the far side, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) hero Stormy Liberal was picking up the baton from his stablemate and finishing with gusto. Jungle Cat kept responding, though, to score by a half-length in 1:09.37, more than a second off his mark of 1:08.24.
Conquest Tsunami, who gained new international attention this week as a San Luis Rey fire survivor, held third. Aidan O’Brien’s Washington DC rattled home late for fourth from Illustrious Lad. Richard’s Boy, Miller’s other runner to have survived the training center fire, was sixth. Holding Gold, Faatinah, Librisa Breeze, Baccarat, Music Magnate, Hit the Bid, and Magical Memory rounded out the order of finish. Blue Point was not the only major withdrawal; Ertijaal was ruled out by a stress fracture before the draw Wednesday.
Quotes from Dubai Racing Club
Trainer Charlie Appleby: “I am delighted. I don’t know what happened with Blue Point down at the start there but when he was withdrawn I knew I just had to compose myself as I knew that Jungle Cat was in the form of his life. The team at home have done a fantastic job and I am delighted to win. I really fancied this horse last year, but the rain came and he finished fourth. He is now a Group 1 winner and I am very proud of him. The whole Carnival has gone well but there was no pressure tonight as it is all about the international horses and we have seen some good winners, but I am delighted to get one in the bag.”
Jockey James Doyle: “It was a dash to the line. But we went pretty solid though. I was quite happy with my fellow. Obviously, he stays 1400 meters so I jumped quite well and then found myself just in the middle of them. He is a horse who likes to get a bit of room, so there was that option after going a furlong or so to move out to my right and give him all the room in the world and that panned out all right. You can set the clock by him, he is fantastic.”
Jockey Joel Rosario on runner-up Stormy Liberal: “I thought I might go by when we came into the last 200 meters but the winner was too tough. We raced away from the others, and maybe my horse might have done a little better with some company, but he’s still run a very good race.”
Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, who rode Conquest Tsunami in third: “I had a good run. I wanted to wait for as long as possible, but it was impossible. He ran pretty good. He ran an amazing race.”
Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux on sixth-placer Richard’s Boy: “Tried hard. Gave me his best ride.”
Trainer Peter Miller on Stormy Liberal, Conquest Tsunami, and Richard’s Boy: “All three ran great. I couldn’t be happier. As for Stormy Liberal, it was great to see him run to form. He just got beat.”
Jockey Anthony Darmanin on fifth Illustrious Lad: “He ran super. He was very hot before the race. He probably got a bit too warm but once he got behind the gates he relaxed and traveled really good. He toughed it out well.”
Robert Winston, who rode Librisa Breeze in ninth: “He jumped great but he ran a bit fresh. Hopefully there’s more to come for the rest of the year.”
Jockey Leigh Roche on the 12th, Hit The Bid: “He got a bit upset beforehand but he jumped super. He’s had a great season here anyway.”
Jockey Frankie Dettori on the trailing Magical Memory: “It was his first run of the season and he was a bit rusty.”
William Buick, who chose to stick with Blue Point over Jungle Cat: “It’s disappointing for me but it’s great for the team that we still got the winner.”