This year’s Dubai World Cup Carnival officially opened with a 7 race card on Thursday, 11 January 2018.
Al Maktoum Challenge presented by Longines Equestrian Collection
The meeting opened with the 1600m US$60,000 Al Maktoum Challenge for Purebred Arabians on dirt, presented by Longines Equestrian Collection.
A champion and multiple Grade 1 winner in America, Paddy’s Day, was having his first start for UAE Champion Trainer and U.S. expat Doug Watson and ran out the winner by a neck from Barnamaj.
Paddy’s Day, who had failed to fire on five previous UAE outings on the turf at Abu Dhabi, seemed much more at home back on dirt and running left-handed. Well away under Pat Dobbs, he tracked early leader RB Torch until he weakened 500m out, leaving Paddy’s Day at the head of affairs and he eventually secured victory by a neck.
“I rode him once at Abu Dhabi and it just did not suit him, but he was very professional tonight,” said Dobbs. “I was left in front too soon, but he had plenty left and I think if they had come to him, he would have found more because he is all heart.”
An emotional owner Scott Powell added: “We always believed he was a competitor for the worldwide stage and he has proved it tonight. Doug and all his team have done a great job with him and we are truly delighted. We are just taking his campaign one step at a time and this was the perfect first step.”
Longines Ladies La Grande Classique
The first Thoroughbred race, the US$160,000 Longines Ladies La Grande Classique over 1000m on the turf, was won for the third consecutive season by track record holder Ertijaal (Oasis Dream – Shabiba), who is trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. A full field of 16 faced the starter, but Ertijaal was never headed under retained jockey Jim Crowley. Chased throughout by gallant Irish challenger Hit The Bid, the pair drew clear of the field, but the 7-year-old held on well to the joy of the local crowd. Best of the rest was Dutch Masterpiece, who finished 3 lengths back in third.
“My horse was giving away a lot of weight on his first run of the season and the runner-up is a very useful sprinter,” said Crowley. “The front two pulled well clear, so we have to be very pleased with that. He was a bit fresh, as you would expect, but now at seven he is hopefully at his prime as a sprinter and we will work towards (Dubai) World Cup night and the Al Quoz Sprint.”
Longines Conquest Classic
Frankyfourfingers, winner of the 2015 G2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2, proved in a class of his own in the US$135,000 Longines Conquest Classic, a handicap over the same 1900m dirt course and distance.
After finishing second in a 1600m carnival dirt handicap won by Heavy Metal at the end of January 2017, Frankyfourfingers was not sighted for the rest of the season, but made an impressive winning appearance at Jebel Ali two weeks ago.
He was also too good for his eight rivals on this occasion, going straight to the front under Barzalona and never looking in any danger.
“These conditions really suit him and he has done that very well,” Barzalona said. “He beat (subsequent Dubai World Cup winner) Prince Bishop when winning the second leg of the Maktoum Challenge, so his class is apparent. We were very disappointed when he was injured last year and missed most of the season, but he is back to something like his best now and these two wins will have done wonders for his confidence.”
Singspiel Stakes presented by Longines Ladies Master Collection
South African hopes rested on Mike de Kock pair Light The Lights and Sanshaawes in the US$175,000 G3 Singspiel Stakes presented by Longines Ladies Master Collection, over 1800m on turf. However, the finish was dominated by Godolphin. The well-regarded Saeed bin Suroor-trained favourite Benbatl asserted his class and bounded clear under Oisin Murphy, finishing with plenty left to defeat Charlie Appleby-trained Emotionless and jockey James Doyle in a speedy 1:46.99. The pair looked set for a battle at the top of the straight before Murphy’s mount quickened well, putting the race to bed in a matter of strides. The Classy 7-year-old Earnshaw rallied well for third. A third Godolphin horse, Appleby-trained Bay of Poets had to fight his way through traffic and rallied well for sixth under William Buick.
South African hopes Light The Lights (Christophe Soumillon) and Sanshaawes (Colm O’Donoghue) finished 5 3/4 lengths and 22 lengths respectively.
“Saeed gave me an open book as how to ride him and they are a very straightforward team to ride for,” said Murphy. “I just looked for a bit of cover and then when I asked him, he picked up very well. He was a bit keen early on but he tends to be and, if you look after the line, he was still running away. He is a very nice horse, progressive and is going to get better. I am very grateful for these opportunities on such nice horses on big nights, especially with His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed here.”
“I’m delighted,” Appleby said of his pair. “(Emotionless) was crying out for a trip there. He was fresh and well at home and that’s why we decided to let him have a run tonight. He’ll come on a nice bit from this run. We’ll probably head toward the Dubai Millennium Stakes (22 February). (Bay of Poets) ran on well and we’ll have options with him. Benbatl is a good horse.”
Al Maktoum Challenge presented by Longines Gents Master Collection
The card feature was the 1600m dirt US$250,000 G2 Al Maktoum Challenge presented by Longines Gents Master Collection and the race was won in emphatic fashion by Heavy Metal (Exceed And Excel – Rock Opera), producing a second winner on the night for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum. Saddled by Salem bin Ghadayer and partnered by Mickael Barzalona, Heavy Metal made full use of his low draw, stall two, going straight to the front and staying there to claim victory over favourite and multiple Group 1 winner Thunder Snow with jockey Christophe Soumillon by the best part of 5 lengths.
Heavy Metal had won on his seasonal debut three weeks ago over the same course and distance in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile. He also notched three wins during the 2017 Carnival over the same course and distance.
“These conditions really suit him and he has done nothing but improve, especially over the last year,” said Barzalona. “He relishes this dirt surface and is showing on the track what he has displayed to us in his work at home in the mornings. He has always worked like a very good horse and has such a great, willing attitude. He is easy to ride. We had a good draw and he broke well, so I was always going to go to the front and he enjoys those positive tactics. It has been a very good evening for the whole team and long may it continue throughout the year.”
On the runner up, jockey Soumillon commented, “He jumped out quite okay. I was quite happy with my position. For the distance today, with that pace, it was probably a bit short for him, but he finished the race quite well. It’s encouraging for the future. He gave me a good effort in the straight and he’s a horse who needs to be 100% fit and wasn’t today. The big target is in the future in a few more weeks and we’re going to see much better next time.”
Longines Moon Phase Master Collection
The 1400m US$160,000 Longines Moon Phase Master Collection turf handicap produced a one-two finish for Godolphin, with William Buick weaving through on D’Bai to deny James Doyle on stable companion Bravo Zolo.
Appearing to have nowhere to go 300m from home, Buick found a gap and D’Bai duly obliged, quickening impressively and breaking the track record in the process in a time of 1:22.32.
South Africa’s 2015 Cape Guineas winner, Noah From Goa finished a very promising 2 1/4 lengths third under Christophe Soumillion with stablemate Suyoof and Jim Crowley a further 2 lengths back in 5th place.
Winning trainer Charlie Appleby, who saddled both the first two past the post, said: “We thought they both had a good chance, but you need a bit of luck in these big field handicaps. D’Bai has all the ability in the world, but just needs everything to fall right for him and William has given him a peach of a ride. The horse has such tremendous acceleration, as you saw there but again. Credit William, who has found the gaps and produced him with a perfect challenge.”
Longines Gents La Grande Classique
The meeting closed with the Longines Gents La Grande Classique, an ultra-competitive 2410m turf handicap worth US$160,00, won with a brilliant ride by European win record holder Soumillon on Golden Wood. The Nicolas Caullery charge out-willed a pair of Bin Suroor-trained Godolphin runners in the process. Gold Star looked a winner in the mid-stretch and stayed on well to be denied by a nose, while top-rated Best Solution was another length back in third.