Trainer Simon Crisford, the former racing manager for Godolphin for more than two decades – including more than 200 Grade/Group 1s — has returned in a big way. Once a mainstay of the Dubai racing scene, he resurfaces as head conditioner of a burgeoning yard and appears primed for what could be a game-changing winter in the UAE.
“I've come with 14 horses, so far,” Crisford said. “They're not all Carnival horses, but we will be competing in some Carnival events. It's a small, but good, team and I think I have some contenders. After we complete quarantine, we will move into Millennium Stables and have some horses for the (domestic 'Racing at Meydan') meeting.
“It's a very positive new venture on our part,” he continued. “The facilities are exceptional, the prize money is fantastic and many of these are owned by Dubai nationals, while also being horses who suit this program well. That's what encouraged us to do this. It's just a very interesting project to undertake and also very exciting, being the first time we've ever done this.
“I believe the whole idea of racing in Dubai is very positive. The rewards are immense and it is a fantastic place to train a horse during the winter. I've been in Dubai for much of my life since 1990 and was here when we raced at Nad Al Sheba. For me, it's a second home and this was always something I've wanted to do since I started training. We started off relatively small and we will try to do the best we can. Dubai Racing Club has been incredibly helpful setting this up. It's been a great experience.”
Crisford originally entered four for Thursday evening's opening card, but only two will race after Sultan Ali's veteran handicapper Mutawathea was excluded from an overflow field and Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum's newly turned 3-year-old filly Starry Eyes — a very promising daughter of Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom — was withdrawn from the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial, a conditions event over 1400m on dirt and significant step toward the UAE Oaks (G3) and UAE Derby (G2).
“The top weight is going to run, so that precludes (Mutawathea). It's disappointing, as he's doing well, but we'll wait,” Crisford said just prior to declarations. “(Starry Eyes) hopefully will take to the dirt surface here. We brought her specifically here to try it and she may need the run.”
The remaining two to run are Turn 'N Twirl and Ghost Queen, who race for Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum in the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial.
“Turn 'N Twirl won first out on December 19 at Lingfield at this distance and she took a little time to come to hand, but she's probably a little farther along than Starry Eyes,” he said. “Like Starry Eyes, we brought her specifically with the winter campaign in mind. They both need companions and Ghost Queen is training super well, so we brought her along and we hope she can run with credit.”
The proverbial big guns are still being loaded for the remainder of the Carnival, including Abdulla Belhabb's still-improving multiple Group 1-placed Century Dream, who exits a stellar season in which he won the Diomed Stakes (G3) and placed in the Arlington Million (G1) and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1). Listed winner African Ride, a Wertheimer Et Frere-bred who now races for Nabil Mourad, has been judiciously campaigned since finishing seventh of 13 in the 2017 French 2000 Guineas (G1). Additionally, Abdulla Al Mansoori's Group 3-winning sophomore Sporting Chance will likely stretch out once he gets suited up for the season.
“Century Dream had a fantastic run in the Queen Elizabeth and we decided not to send him to Hong Kong or the Breeders' Cup to focus on a 5-year-old campaign,” Crisford explained. “We have a plan to start in the Zabeel Mile (Group 2, $250,000, Feb. 21) and hopefully be good enough to run in the Dubai Turf (Group 1, $6 million, Mar. 30).
“African Ride was brought specifically here to try him on the dirt, as he is bred for it, being a Candy Ride out of a Kris S. mare,” he continued. “We campaigned him lightly in Europe specifically with Dubai as a target. We are looking at potentially running him on (January) 10th. Hopefully he can adapt to dirt racing. Obviously, it takes a while to get used to it and the kickback, but once they do, it's straight-forward. All reports I'm getting are positive with him.
“We are hoping Sporting Chance can develop into a Guineas candidate. He could start on the dirt or turf and could possibly run on the 10th. He improved as the season went by in Europe. He's a strong colt and will hopefully stay farther. He's doing very well and shipped over well.”
While Crisford, who also confirmed that another promising 3-year-old, Mohammed Sultan's Cool Exhibit, will point to the Meydan Classic Trial ($100,000, Jan. 31), knows more about what it takes to be successful in Dubai than virtually anyone, he remains humble and realistic about the task at hand; one which will be manned locally by Paul Holley and his son and assistant, Edward.
“I don't think we should be too overly confident, because the competition is going to be extremely tough — and as it should be,” he concluded. “It will be difficult for them all and we have to be realistic. At the same time, we have a top-class team and have tried to select the right ones who suit that style of racing. I don't have any illusions; it's a massive task and the Carnival has developed into as tough a meeting as anywhere in the world. It's truly great racing and if we can come away with some wins, that's fantastic. It won't be easy, but we're hoping we can build a platform for the future.”
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