Today’s second meeting of the 2019 Dubai World Cup Carnival is a fascinating one, highlighted by the opening round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, as well as a pair of stakes for the rising sophomores, the inaugural running of the Dubai Trophy on turf and the 2000 Guineas Trial on dirt.
A trio of rich and competitive handicaps support the top events, as well as the Purebred Arabian Al Maktoum Challenge, which is contested over the same 1600m as its Thoroughbred counterpart.
Already expected to be an exceptionally evening, thanks to a salty renewal of the Gr2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 , the second night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival got another serious boost this week when trainer Saeed bin Suroor entered Group 1 winner Royal Marine in the $100,000 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial.
Highly regarded would be an understatement for the son of Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Raven’s Pass and his connections hope he can carry on the positive momentum of his career thus far.
After disappointing as second choice on debut in a Newmarket maiden—a race won by subsequent Middle Park (G1) runner-up Jash—the Godolphin homebred came back to smartly defeat a pair of well-intended John Gosden trainees, Turgenev (twice a winner since) and Buffalo River, at Doncaster. Said effort gave his conditioner the confidence to try Group 1 company three weeks later in France’s top 2-year-old race, the 1600m Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1), where he scrubbed past Group 2- and 3-placed Broome in the final furlong to win by a well-earned neck. Others in the field included very highly regarded Freddie Head-trained favourite Anodor and Richard Hannon’s previously unbeaten Listed winner Boitron.
“He’s a very good horse who showed he is Group 1 horse in France last time,” Bin Suroor said. “He came back well and has had a nice rest. He has done very well since he came to Dubai and has been training well at Al Quoz. He handled the Tapeta track (at Godolphin’s training centre) really good.”
Synthetics, or all-weather surfaces like the Tapeta at Al Quoz, are often used to transition horses accustomed to turf courses to the looser and deeper dirt surfaces, as seen last year when Aidan O’Brien-trained Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Mendelssohn used a victory over Dundalk’s all-weather Polytrack en route to a tour de force in the UAE Derby (G2). Luckily for the blaze-faced Royal Marine, such a surface makes up the main training track on Bin Suroor’s aforementioned training grounds.
“It’s going to be his first run this year and we will try to see how he handles the dirt,” Bin Suroor continued. “Whether he is a Guineas or (Kentucky and UAE) Derby horse, we don’t know. We’ll see how he does, but he’s a very good horse, like I said, and the race will tell us what we need to know.”
One fact that may provide his connections a bit of confidence is that half-brother Secret Ambition, who trains across town at Satish Seemar’s Zabeel Stables, placed in last season’s Burj Nahaar (G3) over the same trip Royal Marine will try on Thursday. The son of Exceed and Excel also has four Meydan surface wins over the past two Meydan seasons. Dam Inner Secret, a daughter of Dubai World Cup winner Singspiel, is a half-sister to multiple G1 performers, including Listed Al Bastakiya (Polytrack) winner Secret Number.
Bin Suroor also took the time to provide an update on the other Group 1-winning 2-year-old of 2018 in his yard, Royal Meeting. The Criterium International (G1)-winning son of Invincible Spirit, who is actually rated a couple pounds higher than Royal Marine, was entered for Thursday, but did not declare.
“There are races for him in the future,” he said. “There’s no plan for him, yet. I want to see a final (serious) work before he runs.”
He might be nine years of age, but fan favourite Heavy Metal is loved like a new-born by local fans and has fully earned his title as the horse-to-beat in tonight’s $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2)—a race he won impressively last year for owner His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
Trained by Sandeep Jadhav, the son of Exceed and Excel will once again be ridden by Mickael Barzalona when he makes his first start—and 60th lifetime—since winning the Godolphin Mile (G2) on Dubai World Cup day. Like the purse of the race, which has increased from $250,000, the competition will also amplify in 2019, with rivals such as Gold Town, Kimbear, North America and Muntazah to tackle.
“He’s training really well and galloping well,” Jadhav said. “He’s just nice and fresh and there’s really nothing to worry about with him. He’s in good form.
“North America is there and he is a very good horse, but our horse is in good form and hopefully we can hit the front,” he continued. “If he gets to the front, he should be okay.”
Unlike last year, when the 15-time winner had a run over the 1600m course and distance—one over which he now owns seven local victories and four Group stakes wins—he had no such prep this year. Coming in fresh does not bother his connections.
“I don’t think it’s a problem for him,” he said. “He loves the Meydan track and I don’t think there are any doubts about him. He always runs big when he runs fresh. It’s no problem. The plan is to maybe stay at this distance. He’s a good miler, but we will see.
“He is fit, but should improve from the run,” he continued. “He stayed here all summer, but he was doing little exercises like water treadmill and never lost his fitness. (Barzalona) is a good rider for him and is a big international jockey with a lot of experience. He knows the horse and he comes every morning. I trust him a lot.”
Jadhav also expressed confidence in Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum’s UAE 2000 Guineas Trial runner Power Link, who makes his local bow after a quartet of races in England for James Tate, capped with a victory in September over Newcastle’s all-weather. The grey gelding is a three-quarter brother to the incredibly quick multiple dirt Grade 1 winner The Factor.
“He looks like he could be a nice horse,” Jadhav said. “He came from England, is a U.S.-bred and he loves the dirt. He’s galloping well. I’m excited about him.”