Thursday, 23 February 2017 saw South Africa’s Mike de Kock saddle 5 runners on the 7 race Meydan card and conclude a satisfactory evening’s work with a win and two places.
While Suyoof’s win in the last of the evening’s card was pleasing, it was Mubtaahij’s prep in the 2000m Curlin Handicap Sponsored by Al Nabooda SUNWIN Buses that would have heartened South African supporters.
The card opened with a 10 furlong Purebred Arabian race, the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 Sponsored by Al Naboodah Peugeot, in which Francois Rohaut-trained Handassa became the third dual winner of the 2000m dirt feature. His victory denied 2015 victor, Versac PY, the honour for Erwan Charpy, but for owner, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, it was a memorable result as he owns them both. Victory looked far from certain with Handassa, slow into stride as the stalls opened, under pressure from Jim Crowley and clearly resenting the kickback. However, once moved out wide, he was much happier and made smooth progress down the back straight to track the leaders on the home turn.
Versac PY hit the front 300m from home, but despite a gallant effort, was challenged and then passed by Handassa, but held on gamely for second. Commenting after the race, Rohaut said, “He was disappointing last time but is a nice horse and is best suited by a strong gallop to aim at. It is still four weeks until the Kahayla Classic and he will improve from this outing.”
The 7f Meydan Classic Sponsored by Al Naboodah Goodyear was dominated by the Godolphin racing operation which supplied the first three home in the Listed turf feature for three-year-olds. However, the win came from the least fancied of the stable’s runners, the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Top Score, who landed the spoils with Adrie de Vries, with Charlie Appleby inmate Fly At Dawn and Saeed bin Suroor-trained Really Special grabbing second and third respectively.
It was an exciting finish, with all three in contention with 200m to go, before Top Score quickened in style to take the honours. His win made Top Score the first winner of the course and distance Meydan Class Trial to follow up in the big race.
“It was a stronger race than the trial,” commented De Vries. “We actually missed the break but, as it transpired, that has probably helped us as I was able to get a nice lead. I did not want to hit the front too soon but I know this horse has plenty of speed so would quicken so waited on him. I am sure he would stay an extra 200m comfortably.”
Another Godolphin 1-2-3 followed in the Al Naboodah Harley-Davidson® Trophy, a 2000m turf handicap won by the Appleby-trained Viren’s Army from stable companion Kidmenever, with Bin Suroor’s Huge Future in third. Ridden by Colm O’Donoghue, Viren’s Army hit the front early on, but was headed by First Selection 1400m from home, before regaining the initiative at the top of the straight. He then skipped clear and never looked likely to be caught.
“He disappointed me last time but perhaps did not stay,” said Appleby. “Colm has given him a great ride and Kidmenever stayed on strongly and is really better over 2400m.”
The Group 3 UAE Oaks Sponsored by Al Naboodah – Ashok Leyland, over 1900m on dirt, was won in style by Nomorerichblondes, runner-up in the UAE 1000 Guineas at her previous start.
That 1600m contest was won by Nashmiah who was a non-runner on Thursday evening following a respiratory problem but her Saudi Arabian connections at least saw the strength of the form advertised by the Ahmad bin Harmash-trained Nomorerichblondes and jockey, Antonio Fresu.
“We were unlucky last time in the Guineas but I knew this extra 300m would suit her,” said Fresu. “She is still a bit green and learning about the game because she had a good look around when we hit the front. However, when the other filly came to us she really responded gamely but I thought she would as I knew she had plenty of left. She should improve from this and maybe even deserves a crack at the UAE Derby over the same course and distance.”
A game victory by Beautiful Romance in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy over 2810m on the turf, produced the third winner on the card for the Godolphin string. Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, she was ridden positively by Oisin Murphy who, clearly worried about the sedate early pace being set by Los Barbados, sent the mare about her business a good 700m from home. Last year’s winner, Sheikhzayedroad, tried to go with her but was outpaced and it was left to last year’s Dubai Gold Cup winner, Vazirabad, to give chase under Christophe Soumillon. The pair appeared to be travelling strongly and closed to within a length of Murphy’s mount, but Beautiful Romance quickened again to score by 1.5 lengths. Vazirabad finished second with Sheikhzayedroad a further 3.25 lengths back in third.
Speaking after the race, Murphy commented, “She is a lovely mare for a jockey to ride because you can put her anywhere in a race knowing she will settle and do what you want. I was keen to be positive on her and went for home a long way out because I knew she would just keep galloping and find plenty if I asked her again. That was a good performance because it was a strong field so Saeed and the team have done a great job to have her ready for this tonight.”
All eyes were on Mubtaahij in the Curlin Handicap Sponsored by Al Nabooda SUNWIN Buses over 2000m. The 2015 UAE Derby winner and 2016 Dubai World Cup runner up was last seen on a racetrack in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes at Belmont Park on 8 October 2016. However, he acquitted himself well under Christophe Soumillon to finish second, particularly given trainer Mike De Kock’s warning that his stable star was not fully primed. Mubtaahij was also conceding weight to all eight rivals, including 7kg to eventual winner Etijaah, who snuck up the inside rail under Sam Hitchcott and simply looked sharper on the day.
Mubtaahij and Christophe Soumillon eased into contention and looked a winner as the runners rounded the turn for home. However, Sam Hitchcott on the Doug Watson-trained Etijaah were tracking, and took the lead 300m from home and were not for the catching, providing Sheikh Hamdan his second winner on the night.
“This is such a great horse and a proper dirt performer,” said Hitchcott. “He is just so genuine and is happy to face the kickback which makes my job so much easier as I was able to follow Mubtaahij, knowing he would give me a tow into the race. I was then able to pull inside and pass him when I wanted after which, with our low weight, I was never worried. Basically, every fell into place tonight and it is great for the horse and everyone involved.”
Mike De Kock was reportedly delighted with Mubtaahij, who is unlikely to have another outing before the World Cup.
The evening’s meeting concluded with the final handicap of the 2017 Dubai World Cup Carnival, the Al Naboodah KAESER Compressor Trophy, over 1400m on turf. Mike de Kock saddled two runners, but it was won in style by the Australian-bred Suyoof, who mounted a powerful late run under Jim Crowley to overhaul Godolphin’s Bravo Zolo by a neck with stablemate Tahanee a short head further back in third in a rousing finish.
The result delivered a treble for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, as well as a double for jockey Jim Crowley and the Mike De Kock import should have a bright future, as he reversed placings with Bravo Zolo on his recent Dubai debut.
Double-winning Jim Crowley said of Suyoof: “He’s not a slow horse and we were a bit better off at the weights with Bravo Zolo. It’s a pity it’s all coming to an end now as he’s probably peaking. He’s got a lot of good attributes.”
The Dubai World Cup Carnival returns for Super Saturday on 4 March, the official dress rehearsal for the US$30m Dubai World Cup on Saturday, 25 March.