June 24, 2024

Rebel’s Romance dominates Dubai Sheema Classic

Rebel's Romance rolled in the Dubai Sheema Classic (Photo by Dubai Racing Club/Liesl King)

Overlooked at 15-1 in a deep renewal of the $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on Saturday, Godolphin’s Rebel’s Romance parlayed an advantageous trip into a two-length victory at Meydan.

The pre-race buzz had been all about star Japanese filly Liberty Island and last-out Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Auguste Rodin. The two sparred for favoritism at 9-5 in the market, but the anticipated clash never materialized on the course. Auguste Rodin went through the motions in last, as though he were still mentally on vacation at Ballydoyle, while Liberty Island was a belated third after being left far too much to do.

Rebel’s Romance, in contrast, benefited from a heady ride by William Buick. When Auguste Rodin’s pacemaker, Point Lonsdale, was urged forward, he didn’t set a demanding tempo at all. Rebel’s Romance was perched in a tracking second, ready to fire at the right moment. Shahryar, the 2022 Sheema victor, was the only other principal in a decent position in third. The rest found themselves napping, and it was soon apparent that they had conceded an insurmountable edge.

Given Rebel’s Romance’s back class as the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, and his current form coming off back-to-back wins at Kempton and in Qatar, the Charlie Appleby veteran was quick to capitalize on the scenario. The Dubawi gelding swooped past Point Lonsdale in the lane, sprinting his final quarter in :22.29 to complete about 1 1/2 miles in 2:26.72 on the good course.

Shahryar likewise made the most of his placement by holding second, a length ahead of Liberty Island, who edged Justin Palace in a sweep of the exotics for Japan. There will be what-ifs in the aftermath; Justin Palace in particular, as a strong stayer, would have been better served to race handier. Emily Upjohn was a close fifth. Point Lonsdale had enough left to finish sixth; few would have forecast that he’d be well ahead of stablemate Auguste Rodin, who checked in last of the 12.

“It was a bit of a non-event really,” trainer Aidan O’Brien said of Auguste Rodin’s lackluster run. “The race just developed into halves, so we just want to put a line through the race really. Ryan (Moore) just said he felt he wasn’t happy where he was or anything. They just never activated at all so it was a bit of a non-event. It was just one of them where it didn’t happen.” 

It didn’t happen for Rebel’s Romance in last year’s Sheema, where he was seventh behind the all-conquering Equinox. In fairness, he had missed his prep run, and it took time to regain his old form.

Rebel’s Romance, who paid $32.20, has now won twice on World Cup night, having taken the 2021 UAE Derby (G2) during his days on the dirt. Failing to pan out on that surface in the 2022 Carnival, he reinvented himself as a turf horse and rattled off five straight wins culminating in the Breeders’ Cup. That had faded from the memory in a setback-marred 2023, but the six-year-old turned the corner of late.

“We went into the race as a longshot, which shows the depth of the race,” Appleby said. “We had a bumpy road last year, went to Kempton to bring up his confidence (in the Dec. 13 Wild Flower S.) and then Qatar (for the Feb. 17 H.H. The Amir Trophy [G3]) to bring him back to where we wanted him to be.”

“He showed in Qatar what a versatile horse he is,” Buick said following his record fifth win in the Sheema. “His best form has usually been when he’s held up, but in Qatar I tried something new. I was keen today to adopt a similar tactic and I got a lovely slipstream from the leader.

“He’s a very good horse on his day and he showed that today. I’m absolutely delighted; he’s a great horse and I’m so glad he’s back to his best.”

Out of the Street Cry mare Minidress, Rebel’s Romance is a half-brother to Jan. 26 Jebel Hatta (G1) scorer Measured Time, who was fourth in Saturday’s Dubai Turf (G1).