Thursday's Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2, the second of three prep races for the US$10m Dubai World Cup features three Group 1 and three Group 2 winners among a quality field of 16.
Three-time Group 1 winner and 2011 Melbourne Cup star, Dunaden, Durban July victor, Heavy Metal, and Hunter's Light, winner of the final two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge in 2013 head up a classy field in the Group 2 contest held over 1900m of Meydan's all-weather track.
Group 2-winning horses African Story, Battle of Marengo and Prince Bishop also face the starter in the $250,000 feature on the seven-race IPIC-sponsored card.
The fifth Dubai World Cup Carnival meeting of 2014 could also be a landmark occasion for Godolphin trainer, Saeed Bin Suroor, who will be attempting to land a record tenth victory in this round of the Al Maktoum Challenge.
The Emirati, the most successful trainer in the history of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, claimed an eighth victory in the opening round of the Al Maktoum Challenge with Shuruq on January 9. And he holds a strong chance of continuing his impressive legacy in the prestigious three-race race series by sending out Hunter's Light, 2012 Godolphin Mile winner, African Story and Group 2 winning Prince Bishop this evening.
If Hunter's Light wins tonight (Thursday) he will become the third horse to win two consecutive Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 contests, following in the footsteps of2001 and 2002 winner, Best Of The Bests and Jack Sullivan, who repeated the feat in 2005 and 2006.
Yet jockey, Silvestre de Sousa, who rode Hunter's Light to victory in this race last term, has deserted the horse in favour of African Story, who was fifth in the 2014 Dubai World Cup, two places ahead of Hunter's Light on the big night.
It is William Buick who rides Hunter's Light with Kieren Fallon aboard Prince Bishop.
“All three are having their first start this year but are going nicely at home and like the surface,” said Bin Suroor.
“African Story has the worst draw of the three but seems in really good form. Silvestre has chosen him and he should run very well. Of course, Hunter's Light won this race and the final round of the Al Maktoum Challenge last year.
“He worked well the other day and Prince Bishop always tries very hard. I expect them all to be competitive in a strong race.”
The Bin Suroor-trained Moon Ballad won this on his way to Dubai World Cup success in 2003.
Fellow Godolphin handler, Charlie Appleby, relies on Artigiano, a good third in the Listed Singspiel Stakes on his local debut and first start since November 2012.
“We were very pleased with that comeback run over 1600m on turf,” said the trainer. “We really think the switch to the all-weather and step up in trip will help but are not well drawn and this is obviously a better race.
“Hopefully he can at least run into a place.”
South African trainer, Mike De Kock is a three-time winner of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 and Zahee, a winner just last week, arrives in great heart. However, De Kock sounds hopeful rather than confident.
“It is never ideal running back so quickly but with his new rating of 111 my options are somewhat restricted,” he explained. “It was only a handicap he won last week but we think he is worth his place at this level. It looks a strong renewal but at least he has shown his wellbeing and is fit and well.”
The 2011 Melbourne Cup winner, Dunaden, Surfer – runner-up in this last year for Satish Seemar – and former Ballydoyle inmate, Battle Of Marengo, having his first start for reigning UAE Champion Trainer, Ernst Oertel, are just three others of interest in a fascinating contest.
Like Hunter's Light, last year's winner of the Purebred Arabian equivalent, the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2, Albar Lotois is back to defend his crown for UAE-based French trainer, Eric Lemartinel.
Versac PY chased him home 12 months ago and should go close again, while Awam (3rd), Takaamul (4th), Rasikh (5th) and Ghalib (6th) are all hoping to reverse that form.
The main support race, the Listed 1600m UAE 1000 Guineas, carries prize money of $250,000 and is another contest dominated by Godolphin trainers, especially Bin Suroor who is seeking an eighth win in the race and his Ihtimal looks the one to beat.
Third in the Group 1 Fillies' Mile on her most recent start, she was a Group 2 winner at Doncaster prior to that. Bin Suroor said: “She is a lovely filly, not the biggest but very tough. She is in good form and we expect a big run.
“Her form in England is very good, she has a good draw and works well on the surface so she has a lot in her favour.”
Appleby saddles two, with Mickael Barzalona aboard Wedding Ring, winner of the 1400m trial three weeks ago. Martin lane rides stable companion and local debutante, Feedyah.
“Wedding Ring should be fine over 1600m at Meydan and clearly relished the surface when winning the trial. This is obviously a stronger race and Ihtimal looks the one to beat.
“This was always the plan with Feedyah who needs at least 1600m and will hopefully develop into a filly for the UAE Oaks.”
De Kock, seeking a second win in a race he won in 2011 with Mahbooba, saddles three with Christophe Soumillon choosing to ride Mensoora, well beaten against her elders in last week's Cape Verdi.
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