November 27, 2021

Dubai Carnival: Will Benbatl try dirt on World Cup trail?

Benbatl outclassed a short field in the Singspiel (Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen)

After Godolphin’s Benbatl flaunted his class in Thursday’s $250,000 Singspiel (G2) at Meydan, trainer Saeed bin Suroor hinted that he might not stick to the Dubai Carnival turf series.

“There could be options,” bin Suroor said.

That comment raises the fascinating prospect of a dirt experiment that could launch Benbatl as a Dubai World Cup (G1) contender.

Bin Suroor emphasized to Dubai Racing Channel that Sheikh Mohammed will make the decision where Benbatl goes next. But his cryptic comment suggests that the Godolphin brain trust has been thinking about his program.

Benbatl’s prowess on turf is already established. After crowning a nearly perfect 2018 Carnival in the Dubai Turf (G1), the homebred added more Group 1 laurels in Germany and Australia, and placed second to the mighty Winx in the Cox Plate (G1). Benbatl earned an extended vacation in 2019, skipping the Carnival and most of the European season until returning with a sensational victory in the Joel (G2) at Newmarket. His subsequent flop in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day is a toss-out, on account of the heavy going at Ascot, and he looked as good as ever in this comeback.

Only four overmatched rivals were left in the Singspiel, following the scratch of stablemate and defending champion Dream Castle due to a foot bruise. Benbatl went straight to the front, rebuffed a brief bid by Famous Wolf, and opened up by 4 3/4 lengths. For the Top edged Majestic Mambo and Famous Wolf for runner-up honors, and Gm Hopkins rounded out the quintet.

Benbatl’s final time of 1:52.18 for 1800 meters (about nine furlongs) reflects his modest early tempo, but he quickened through his last 600 meters in :33.27, according to Trakus.

“He ran really well,” bin Suroor said. “I’m happy with him. He showed plenty of speed and was travelling really good. It didn’t matter about the ground. The way he finished his race made me really happy. He was around 90 percent (fit).”

Jockey Christophe Soumillon noted that it was more like a piece of work than a race:

“He went to the front really easily. I was quite surprised to see someone chasing me turning (into the stretch) because the pace was quite good; wasn’t too slow. I was like, ‘what’s going on here,’ but then my horse had a good blow. He really dominated the race. It was a good run for him.

“He always runs good fresh, but it’s nice to build on this and get him as fit as possible for the big race. To be honest, it wasn’t the best lesson for a horse to have him in the front as the big favorite, you take some risks, but today was like a morning gallop on his own. Next time, if he has a chance to get cover, it’ll be better for him. Today he was the best horse in the field and probably Dubai at the moment.”

Soumillon also offered his judgment on the dirt question:

“He has a very low action, which is why he doesn’t like soft or heavy ground on grass. It is quite difficult to know whether a horse will handle dirt until you try. It is not an easy question to answer, but given the way he gallops on turf, I would say he is better on that.”

The key for me, and possibly Sheikh Mohammed, is that you don’t know until you try. As others have pointed out, Godolphin doesn’t have an obvious successor to two-time Dubai World Cup champion Thunder Snow, now retired to stud at Darley Japan.

Two things make a dirt trial worth a shot for Benbatl – his male line and running style. Benbatl is by Dubawi, a son of 2000 World Cup legend Dubai Millennium, and himself the sire of World Cup winners Monterosso (2012 on Tapeta) and Prince Bishop (2015 on dirt). Benbatl’s tactical speed on turf isn’t the same required on dirt, but it does imply he can secure a sensible early position. In other words, he’s not bound to settle far back and rally furiously, a turf style that doesn’t bode as well for dirt.

If Benbatl does transfer his ability to dirt, he has an opportunity to enhance his resume beyond whatever he’d achieve by sweeping the Carnival turf series. To get really far ahead of ourselves, he’d open up additional options for a U.S. campaign in the footsteps of Thunder Snow. And if Benbatl fails on dirt, he can pick up right where he left off on the turf.