Meydan’s Super Saturday serves up seven course-and-distance preps for the March 30 Dubai World Cup card, with reigning World Cup winner Thunder Snow the headliner in the $600,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1).
Second in this stepping stone last year to North America, Thunder Snow won’t meet his familiar foe here. North America is skipping Round 3 after dominating the Al Maktoum Challenge Rounds 1 and 2, both Group 2 events, and taking the fresh approach to the World Cup.
That leaves Thunder Snow the lopsided favorite, but his task isn’t necessarily easier. Unlike last season, when he knocked off the cobwebs by placing in Round 1, and outdueled North America in Round 2, the Saeed bin Suroor trainee is entering Round 3 off a holiday. Thunder Snow was last seen battling for third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), on the heels of a close second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), and this reappearance is designed to bring him on for his World Cup title defense.
Race-readiness is the key because on official ratings, Thunder Snow is well clear of his nine rivals. New Trails has upside in the wake of his hard-charging second to North America in Round 2. Reinstated trainer Salem bin Ghadayer, back from his one-year ban, fields the trio of Gronkowski, a new recruit hoping to recover his earlier form as the Belmont (G1) runner-up; the razor-sharp Capezzano, seeking to answer the distance question; and longshot Montsarrat who repeated in the Jebel Ali S. but his Meydan form is a cut below.
Cosmo Charlie is a wire threat if he can hustle to the lead from post 7, but a couple of others have early foot too. Charlie Appleby’s free-running Nordic Lights might be among them if he handles this dirt experiment. South Korea’s Dolkong wheels back from a 9 1/2-length rout of the Curlin H., also at this trip, but faces a class hike. Erwan Charpy’s South Americans bookend the field – Argentine Group 1 winner Logrado might need this Dubai debut, while stablemate Furia Cruzada hasn’t found her spark so far during the Carnival.
Bin Suroor also has the favorite in the Jebel Hatta (G1), the prep for the Dubai Turf (G1), in Dream Castle. So far this year’s version of 2018 Dubai Turf hero Benbatl, Dream Castle has likewise turned the Singspiel (G3)/Al Rashidiya (G2) double at this about nine-furlong trip. Yet the Benbatl parallel doesn’t help in this spot, since Benbatl was upset by Blair House in this very Super Saturday test a year ago. Dream Castle is a perfect two-for-two since being gelded, however, so that’s already a departure from the parallel.
Godolphin colleague Charlie Appleby again represents the biggest danger with no fewer than four entrants. Wootton is sure to move forward off an eye-catching fourth in the Zabeel Mile (G2); Loxley may be better over further, but the blueblood can make noise in his reappearance; Blair House must improve off a fourth in the Al Rashidiya; and First Contact might find himself in the pacesetting role.
Century Dream brings smart form for trainer Simon Crisford, posting creditable efforts in defeat in last year’s Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot, Arlington Million (G1), and Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day. His second in the Zabeel Mile could put him spot on. British shipper Forest Ranger fires fresh for Richard Fahey, so it’s clever spotting to go straight to a lucrative Group 1. Trainer Mike de Kock is double-handed with South African Group 1-placed Majestic Mambo, who presumably needs one off the roundabout trek, and Carnival veteran Janoobi, the third in this race last year who has lost his way.
Godolphin is similarly loaded for bear in the Dubai City of Gold (G2), the launching pad to the about 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on turf. Appleby’s Old Persian captured the King Edward VII (G2) and Great Voltigeur (G2) last summer, edging future Melbourne Cup (G1) winner Cross Counter in the latter. As a son of Dubawi, he’s entitled to reach a higher level this term. Stablemate Spotify is two-for-two since joining Godolphin, and his tactical speed has been lethal over the Meydan turf.
Bin Suroor’s Racing History was just held by Spotify in the Dubai Millennium (G3), but the extra quarter-mile could make a difference for the consistent type. Stablemate Team Talk could also show more on his first try at the trip. Former South African champion Marinaresco has been racing himself fit for de Kock at inadequate trips, making him an intriguing sort here.
Desert Encounter warrants respect as the Canadian International (G1) winner, although he will probably appreciate this tightener in keeping with trainer David Simcock’s pattern. Prince of Arran, third in the Melbourne Cup for Charlie Fellowes, is capable at this distance but more effective over longer. Marco Botti’s well-related Crowned Eagle has something to find on form, but might have an impact by attending Spotify early.
Appleby called an audible to pitch Blue Point into the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3). Scratched at the gate as the favorite in last year’s Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night, he floored Battaash in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot, and made a smashing return to Meydan February 14. After drubbing Faatinah over five, Blue Point was expected to train up to the Al Quoz, only to pop up in this prep going an extra panel.
Ekhtiyaar was a revelation second time out for Doug Watson, romping all over Riflescope and a few other in-form rivals. Fawzi Nass’s Mazzini also enters in razor-sharp form. Although he meets the classy Hit the Bid on worse terms, Mazzini edged him at his optimal trip, and the rematch occurs at a distance more amenable to Mazzini.
Gifted Master, the second-highest rated in the race after Blue Point, is a wild card in his comeback. The Hugo Palmer veteran has no shortage of back class, and he’s still got ability, as evidenced by his Stewards’ Cup victory under joint top weight of 131 pounds.
Considering the flux throughout the three-year-old division all Carnival, it would be no surprise for there to be a surprise in the Al Bastakiya, the prep for the UAE Derby (G2).
Bin Suroor’s Estihdaaf worked out the best trip in the February 7 UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), a tall order to duplicate from post 13 here. Manguzi similarly capitalized on his beneficial passage in the January 24 Al Bastakiya Trial, beating Estihdaaf, and he too faces an entirely different set-up in post 12.
Appleby’s Divine Image, still a work in progress in her UAE Oaks (G3) victory, tests the waters ahead of a possible UAE Derby tilt. The Scat Daddy filly gets in light at 117 pounds but must avoid her past mistakes. Ken McPeek’s Argentinean Group 1 hero Grecko, an encouraging fourth to Manguzi in the Al Bastakiya Trial, is eligible to do much better, but his 131-pound impost is an anchor. Moshaher, a terrific debut winner for Watson, deserves a mulligan for his Guineas flop, while Steve Asmussen’s Tone Broke could improve with blinkers back on. Promising maiden winner Tabarak would have been more interesting but for post 14.
Like Gronkowski in Round 3, Axelrod debuts for bin Ghadayer in the Burj Nahaar (G3), a stepping stone to the Godolphin Mile (G2). The Phoenix runner probably prefers this trip, judging by his scores in the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Derby (G3) and Smarty Jones (G3), and his second to McKinzie in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) gives him the highest rating in the race.
The local contingent features the top five from the Firebreak (G3) – Muntazah, Secret Ambition, Heavy Metal, Kimbear, and Behavioral Bias. Muntazah is in the ascendant after his romp, but the off-pace type will need luck on the rail, and it could be significant that Watson thought long and hard about stretching out for Round 3.
Stablemate and defending Burj Nahar champion Kimbear, a subpar fourth in the Firebreak, may have an excuse. He exited his prior race, a second to North America in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2), with a left front foot problem. Kimbear could be sitting on more characteristic effort, if he can overcome post 11.
Course specialist Heavy Metal, the Godolphin Mile winner, could be rounding into form for bin Ghadayer. Yet he is nine now, and his best days are likely behind him. Satish Seemar’s Secret Ambition should be involved in the finish as usual, and stablemate Behavioral Bias, who had useful form for Al Stall Jr., regressed second out but might factor in his third try.
Honest place chance Ibn Malik adds blinkers, the unexposed Moqarrab figures to appreciate the extra furlong after almost catching seven-furlong aficionado Rodaini, and Turkish star Good Curry likewise stretches out.
The super Saturday card kicks off at 7 a.m. (EST) with the Mahab al Shimaal (G3), the dirt sprint that will sort out the local team for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1).
Watson’s Drafted is poised to follow up on his Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) score, and the late-running gray should get plenty of pace to set him up. Argentine import Tato Key, an excellent second off the bench in the Al Shindagha, was done no favors drawn widest of all in post 10 here. Appleby’s Comicas has a similar style to Drafted, if not as straightforward, and has to bounce back from disappointing runs in Australia last year.
Switzerland hopes that his third try of the Carnival is the charm, and the Asmussen speedster is now at level weights instead of giving the progressive Lavaspin 14 pounds like last time. Others likely to contribute to the early speed scenario are Sweden’s I Kirk, who ran his foes off their feet in his Carnival comeback; veteran My Catch, who would have preferred an inside draw; and Thammin, successful in his dirt debut at Jebel Ali.