March 25, 2023

Thunder Snow nips Gronkowski to make history as first two-time Dubai World Cup hero

Thunder Snow and Christophe Soumillon just get up to triumph in the Dubai World Cup (G1) at Meydan on March 30, 2019 (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

The Dubai Racing Club ought to name a Carnival stakes after Godolphin’s Thunder Snow. By outdueling longshot Gronkowski in a titanic stretch battle, the Saeed bin Suroor trainee became the first horse ever to win the Dubai World Cup (G1) twice. Gunnevera closed well from last to take third in the $12 million prize.

Thunder Snow was rewriting the record book for the second straight year. In the 2018 edition, the homebred made history as the first UAE Derby (G2) hero to capture the World Cup. Jockey Christophe Soumillon rode a master class that day to seize the early initiative, but different tactics were required here. Soumillon again delivered the perfect ride, and Thunder Snow dug deep to prevail to crown a four-win night for Godolphin.

The prospect of a pace duel between Capezzano, who beat a less-than-fit Thunder Snow in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday, and North America evaporated when Capezzano was off a step slow. North America, in an attempt to erase the memory of his fluffing the start last year, broke alertly and grabbed the early lead.

Thunder Snow also flashed speed from post 11 to secure good position, but once Soumillon sized up that North America was in the controlling position on the inside, he eased into a tracking spot. Next came the plot twist that Gronkowski, devoid of early foot since early in his career, rediscovered his old tactical spark in this second start for trainer Salem bin Ghadayer. Advancing on the outside to press North America, Gronkowski proved the unexpected gadfly.

Nevertheless, North America appeared to be traveling comfortably in the dictating role that has suited him over the past three Carnivals. When Gronkowski was the first to be encouraged, one might have thought that North America was the one with more up his sleeve. The opposite was the case, however, as Gronkowski responded to head North America turning for home, and the early leader succumbed without a fight.

Meanwhile, Thunder Snow had been drafting just behind them, and Soumillon sent him on after “Gronk” upon straightening for home. Although Thunder Snow ranged alongside, his rival showed all the toughness of his just-retired New England Patriots namesake.

For the length of the stretch, Gronkowski refused to yield. Thunder Snow finally forced his nose in front, but Gronk tried to come again as they reached the wire in unison. After the tense time to await the camera’s final verdict, Thunder Snow was hailed as the winner by the closest margin in a World Cup on dirt. The only other nose winner, Gloria de Campeao, came on Meydan’s old Tapeta in 2010.

Gunnevera fared best of the closers and of the American shippers. Leaving himself a lot to do as usual, the Antonio Sano warrior rolled along for third. Pavel finished fourth for the second straight year, while Audible got going later than expected and snatched fifth from Yoshida. North America checked in seventh, followed by Seeking the Soul, Axelrod, New Trails, Dolkong, and Capezzano. Japan’s K T Brave was scratched after coming down with colic.

Thunder Snow, who clocked about 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.87, still owns the track record of 2:01.38 set on a glibber surface here last year. The son of Helmet is also a two-time Group 1 winner on the French turf, in the 2016 Criterium International (G1) and 2017 Prix Jean Prat (G1), and he now boasts earnings approaching $16.4 million. Third to Accelerate and Gunnevera in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), he’s likely bound for another try at Santa Anita.

Quotes from Dubai Racing Club

Trainer Saeed bin Suroor after his record ninth World Cup win: “He is a such a brave horse. I wasn’t sure if he had won, but we had the best jockey in the world on board and he knows him so well. He has won the UAE Derby and now the Dubai World Cup twice on him from wide draws and they are a great team.

“I think this is my 191st Group 1 winner but it ranks very highly, probably along with Dubai Millennium in 2000 when he won this race.

“As for Thunder Snow, I will have to speak with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, but I would like if he could run in America again. Maybe in New York, in Saratoga with the final plan being the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.”

Winning rider Christophe Soumillon: “Last year I won by five, six, even more lengths, and today Thunder had to fight hard. I really want to say a big thank you to Saeed bin Suroor, and also to HH Sheikh Mohammed, just before the race they said to me in the paddock you should have so much confidence and do everything right. Thanks to Thunder Snow, because without him I would not be able to do such things.

“It was very hard, I was more looking like a Cheltenham jump jockey in the end than an American style jockey but you need to get him going and sometimes you need to do something different. The thing is, I promised to Saeed that I will just have the trophy and he will have the money so I’ll have to come back next year!”

Amer Abdulaziz of Phoenix Thoroughbreds on near-misser Gronkowski: “He’s run a great race, I can’t believe he was so close. When you come that far and you get beaten by such a narrow margin, it is so frustrating, but this is also a victory for us. In the end, we were beaten by a better horse but our horse is a great horse. We knew that he was going well, we tried to keep it hush-hush but he’s been working so well at home.

“Salem has done a tremendous job with him, the best of any trainer who has had him so far. When he came here, he had a lot of issues and we had to build him up from scratch. We had to clear his mind and he’s done it. I can guarantee you this horse will be back here next year – and hopefully, he can go one better.”

Gronkowski’s rider, Oisin Murphy: “I thought it was a very brave effort. We were nearly good enough, just not quite.

“Nobody wants to finish second, but what a brave effort. I was very privileged to ride the horse for Phoenix Thoroughbreds. Salem bin Ghadayer did a terrific job conditioning the horse for this race. This was his target since he left America, we hit the cross bar but he tried hard.

“I spent 10 minutes warming him up and I gave him a dig out. I just thought the fancied horses would be ridden prominently and why give them a head start. It nearly worked out.

“I knew I was beaten. He’s a much bigger horse than Thunder Snow but Christophe’s body was in front of mine.”

Jockey Emisael Jaramillo on Gunnevera’s third: “My horse ran a very, very good race. My position in post number one was no good, but my horse is a beautiful, beautiful horse. It was a very good finish. He finished so good even with the position no good. He gave me everything. He tried so hard.  He has so much heart. He gave me all. He was excellent.”

Joel Rosario who rode fourth Pavel: “He showed me no speed early so I let him do what he wanted to. He was fighting at the death but the winner and second had gone on. It looked for a second like I was going to do something but it was a good effort.”

Jockey Flavien Prat on Audible in fifth: “It’s too bad I could not keep my spot on the back. He made a nice move. The only excuse is that I couldn’t keep my spot but there is nothing you can do about it.”

Jose Ortiz, rider of sixth-placer Yoshida: “The horses inside of me came out a bit and Thunder Snow obviously has some speed so I got squeezed a bit in the start but no excuses. He got a good position after that, he made a good move after the 600m pole but turning for home he gave me what he had but the horses in front just kept going. I thought they would slow but they kept going. Congratulations to Sheikh Mohammed and Christophe.”

Jockey Richard Mullen on North America’s tiring to seventh: “We were dictating nice fractions but at the furlong pole he emptied. We’re going to get him scoped. He just hasn’t put in his race. He traveled extremely well, I was extremely happy until we turned in. I have no explanation. It was a below par effort.”

Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith on Seeking the Soul in eighth: “I’m kind of lost for words – he just seemed tired. He didn’t run his race.”