When Old Persian justified favoritism in Saturday’s $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), the son of Dubawi was completing a Godolphin hat trick in more ways than one.
Aside from becoming the third straight Sheema winner for Team Godolphin, after Jack Hobbs (2017) and Hawkbill (2018), he gave trainer Charlie Appleby and jockey William Buick a triple on the Dubai World Cup program. The Appleby/Buick tandem also connected with favorites Blue Point and Cross Counter in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) and Dubai Gold Cup (G2), respectively, earlier on Saturday.
The Sheema served up an early pace surprise when Godolphin’s Racing History did not go forward as forecast. Instead, Japan’s Rey de Oro ended up shouldering the pacesetting role. Aidan O’Brien’s top chance, the filly Magic Wand, stalked in second, ahead of her lesser-fancied stablemate Hunting Horn who was surmised to be her pace help. Old Persian at least was right where he figured to be, covered up within ready striking range.
Swinging into the stretch, Old Persian angled off the fence, willed Hunting Horn out of his way, and set sail. Magic Wand was at that point collaring Rey de Oro, but not moving with the authority of the eventual winner. Old Persian surged past and opened up, continuing to stay on far too well for the belatedly closing Cheval Grand. With 1 1/2 lengths to spare at the wire, Old Persian finished about 1 1/2 miles in 2:27.17, just off Hawkbill’s course record of 2:26.85.
Old Persian was emulating Hawkbill’s feat of capturing the local prep on Super Saturday, the Dubai City of Gold (G2), and turning the double in the Sheema. Buick, who also rode Hawkbill, is now a perfect four-for-four in the Sheema, after guiding Dar Re Mi (2010) and Jack Hobbs for John Gosden. With this fourth victory, Buick surpassed Frankie Dettori as the race’s all-time leading rider. Appleby is likewise unbeaten in the Sheema, Hawkbill being his first runner.
Runner-up Cheval Grand, a half-brother to Saturday’s Dubai Turf (G1) second Vivlos, capped a banner day for their dam, Halwa Sweet by Machiavellian. Fellow Japanese shipper Suave Richard reported home a half-length adrift of Cheval Grand.
There was an 8 1/4-length gap back to the O’Brien pair, Hunting Horn nosing out Magic Wand for fourth. Rey de Oro, Racing History, and the slow-starting Desert Encounter rounded out the order of finish.
Old Persian, who beat Gronkowski in a Newmarket novice at two, captured a trio of stakes at three highlighted by Royal Ascot’s King Edward VII (G2) and the Great Voltigeur (G2) over Cross Counter and Kew Gardens. The step up to about 1 3/4 miles in the St Leger (G1) proved too much, and Old Persian wound up fifth behind the avenging Kew Gardens. Not seen again until the Carnival, Old Persian is two-for-two this campaign, progressing just as a son of Dubawi is entitled to do.
Quotes from Dubai Racing Club
Winning trainer Charlie Appleby: “It has just been a fantastic night, and I’m so pleased for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and the whole Godolphin team. They went a good sensible gallop and William made a sensible move turning for home to make his gap, allowing himself to get the run he needed. I knew the acceleration was there. He’s a class animal, a typical Dubawi who has made that great progression.”
Winning rider William Buick: “He got a lovely trip around and, even when Christophe (Lemaire on Rey de Oro) slackened the pace about halfway, we were in a good spot. It was just a question of getting the splits. I have to give credit to the horse – he finds his own passage and, from three to four, he’s really improved and he has a big turn of foot now. It was a beautiful performance from the horse.
“Coming here tonight, we knew we had exceptional horses in good shape, but with the international competition, it can sometimes be hard to weigh up. Especially in this race, the Sheema Classic, you had to give respect to the Japanese and to Aidan O’Brien’s horse. It was a big effort.”
Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi on runner-up Cheval Grand: “The draw was good but he got stuck at the start further back than I wanted him. For his first race abroad, it was a very good run. He ran well.”
Hugh Bowman, Cheval Grand’s rider: “He’s a very consistent horse. He was a bit slow to jump, which I didn’t want to happen, but I was pleased with where I settled. I thought the pace was quite strong early, it slowed up in the middle stages but it wasn’t a joke. It was a bit of a sprint home, which played into the winner’s hands, but my bloke ran his heart out and I’m very proud of him. It’s been a great first experience riding at Meydan, but obviously it would have been nice to win.”
Jockey Joao Moreira on third-placer Suave Richard: “He had a beautiful run through, they were going fast enough that I knew the front runner wasn’t going to be in the first three horses. I got a held up a little bit when the horse in front of me started to drop back around the 1000m mark, and that may have cost me second place. There wasn’t much I could have done differently. It was a good run.”
Christophe Lemaire, who rode Rey de Oro in sixth: “Today we went to the lead. From to start through the first turn he relaxed, but along the backstretch he was a bit keen and so in the end he exhausted himself. It is a shame, but he doesn’t seem to be able to put his best foot forward in Dubai.”