Rebounding from a lackluster fourth in the Saudi Derby, Godolphin homebred Rebel’s Romance romped back at Meydan in Saturday’s $750,000 UAE Derby (G2). His 100-point windfall ensures the Triple Crown nominee a spot in the Kentucky Derby (G1), if connections decide to take advantage of it.
“We’ll be working back from the Dubai World Cup (G1) next year,” trainer Charlie Appleby said of the grand long-term plan, while describing the Kentucky Derby as “a nice conversation to be having.”
Also factoring into the decision is Godolphin’s strong hand stateside. Next Saturday, champion Essential Quality contests the Blue Grass (G2), and Prevalence steps up in the Wood Memorial (G2). After their final preps, Rebel’s Romance’s status could become clearer.
Godolphin was recording a ninth UAE Derby victory, and five of their previous eight winners advanced to Churchill Downs. All were trained by Saeed bin Suroor, for Rebel’s Romance was giving Appleby and jockey William Buick their first win in the about 1 3/16-mile classic.
Sent off at a generous 12-1, Rebel’s Romance was settled well off the pace set by 5-2 favorite Panadol. The Dubawi gelding ominously improved his position as the race unfolded, accosted the longtime leader in the stretch, and pulled away to a 5 1/2-length decision. Rebel’s Romance clocked 1:56.28, a time bettered only by Mendelssohn’s track-record 1:55.18 in the six editions of this race on the Meydan dirt.
“I was always where I thought I would be,” Buick recapped. “He breaks a little bit slow, so I never thought I would be up there. He doesn’t have much speed early and I was quite happy with the draw (post 11) because I knew I could control where I would be, and I did.
“Once I got out, he just bolted. I was a little bit worried I was getting there a little early; a little too quick, but that was some performance tonight. He’s really come on and he’s a big horse, but he’s still a shell. He really knows how to use his power now.”
“He is still very much a work in progress,” Appleby said, reiterating a constant theme, “and he looked much better tonight than he did in Saudi Arabia. I think the biggest attribute to him today is that he was going to stay. We were always confident he was going to stay. Stepping up in trip was going to be his forte.
“When you see your horses wide on the back of that turn, you start to worry, but he was always traveling so well into it. Down the back straight I saw half of them coming under the pump and I thought ‘don’t worry, he’s just coming good at the right time now.’”
Panadol’s trainer, Salem bin Ghadayer, was thrilled with his runner-up effort.
“I’m so happy, I mean 1:56 – the time! We got beaten by a better horse,” bin Ghadayer said. “For Panadol, this is his third start, a listed race on his second start (his Al Bastakiya victory) and now a Group 2. I couldn’t be more happier than this. I still believe in his ability, and I’m pretty sure we are going to have something amazing (in store) for him next season. He’s a small baby, this is his third start. He was a late horse, we broke him at the end of September (2020). I think he has a lot of things left to show. I am really looking forward to next season.”
New Treasure, third in the Saudi Derby, filled the same show spot. Takeru Pegasus, who scored seven points on the Japan Road, did his best work late in fourth. Second, third, and fourth were worth 40-20-10 points on the sliding scale, should connections add any of them to the Triple Crown.
Rounding out the order under the wire were Mouheeb, who might not have stayed the trip; France Go de Ina, uncharacteristically behind from the start; Speight’spercomete; El Patriota; Mnasek; Pink Kamehameha, who was unable to follow up on his Saudi Derby upset; Ambivalent; Lugamo; Fire Group; and Soft Whisper, who retreated by the far turn in a performance well below her standard.
Rebel’s Romance is now 4-for-5. A promising debut winner at Newcastle Oct. 26, he slammed a Kempton novice under top weight of 135 pounds and earned his way to the Dubai Carnival. Rebel’s Romance smoothly handled the transition from all-weather to dirt in the Jan. 14 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, but his relative inexperience might have told in Saudi.
As a gelding, Rebel’s Romance could be a Carnival star for years to come. His dam, the stakes-placed Street Cry mare Minidress, is a full sister to recent Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) winner Volcanic Sky, who trailed in Saturday’s Dubai Gold Cup (G2). This is also the family of Japanese champion Victoire Pisa, hero of the 2011 Dubai World Cup.