Opening night of the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival was highlighted by the US$250,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G2), presented by Longines Gents Master Collection, over 1600m on dirt and won emphatically by Heavy Metal, a second winner on the card for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, who was present. Saddled by Salem bin Ghadayer and partnered by Mickael Barzalona, Heavy Metal was able to take full advantage of his low draw, stall two, going straight to the front and staying there en route to a nearly five-length victory over favourite and multiple Group 1 winner Thunder Snow with jockey Christophe Soumillon.
Heavy Metal had won on his seasonal reappearance three weeks prior over the same course and distance in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile. He was also victorious on three occasions at the 2017 carnival over the same track and trip.
“These conditions really suit him and he has done nothing but improve, especially over the last year,” Barzalona said. “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.”
“He jumped out quite okay,” Soumillon said of the runner-up. “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.”
Earlier, stable companion Frankyfourfingers, winner of the 2015 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), 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 as that big race win. Having made an impressive winning reappearance at Jebel Ali two weeks ago, he was far 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.”
Frankyfourfingers was not seen last year after the end of January when finishing second in a 1600m carnival dirt handicap won by Heavy Metal.
Godolphin dominated the US$175,000 Singspiel Stakes (G3), presented by Longines Ladies Master Collection, over 1800m on turf. Well-regarded Saeed bin Suroor-trained favourite Benbatl asserted his class and bounded clear under Oisin Murphy, finishing with plenty left and defeating Charlie Appleby-trained banner-mate Emotionless and jockey James Doyle in a swift 1:46.99. The pair looked set for a real battle at the top of the straight before Murphy's mount quickened well, putting the race to bed in a few strides. Classy 7-year-old Earnshaw rallied well for third. A third Godolphin horse, Appleby-trained Bay of Poets suffered through a crowded trip and rallied well for sixth under William Buick.
“Saeed gave me an open book as how to ride him and they are a very straightforward team to ride for,” Murphy said. “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 (G3, Feb. 22). (Bay of Poets) ran on well and we'll have options with him. Benbatl is a good horse.”
Godolphin also supplied both first and second in the 1400m turf handicap, the US$160,000 Longines Moon Phase Master Collection, with Buick weaving through on D'Bai to deny James Doyle on stable companion Bravo Zolo. Seemingly with nowhere to go with 300m to go, Buick was able to find a gap and his mount shot through, quickening impressively and breaking the track record in the process with a time of 1:22.32.
Both are trained by Appleby, who 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.”
The first Thoroughbred race, the US$160,000 Longines Ladies La Grande Classique at 1000m on the turf, was won for the third consecutive season by track record holder Ertijaal, who is trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The maximum field of 16 may have gone to post, but Ertijaal was never headed under the retained jockey Jim Crowley. Chased throughout by gallant Irish challenger Hit The Bid, the 7-year-old held well to the pleasure of the local crowd. It was more than three lengths back to Dutch Masterpiece 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,” Crowley said. “The front two have 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.”
The meeting opened with the US$60,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G1, Purebred Arabians), presented by Longines Equestrian Collection. Like its Thoroughbred counterpart, it was contested over 1600m on the dirt.
A champion and multiple Grade 1 winner in America, Paddy's Day, having his first start for UAE Champion Trainer and U.S. expat Doug Watson, ran out the winner by a neck from Barnamaj. It was a fourth win in the race for the handler.
Well away under Pat Dobbs, he tracked early leader RB Torch until that one weakened fully 500m from home, leaving him in front. He quickened, opening up a sizable advantage before appearing to get a bit lonely in the closing stages. His five previous UAE outings had all been on the turf at Abu Dhabi, where he failed to fire, but was much more at home back on dirt and running left-handed.
“I rode him once at Abu Dhabi and it just did not suit him, but he was very professional tonight,” Dobbs said. “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.”
The meeting concluded with the Longines Gents La Grande Classique, an ultra-competitive 2410m turf handicap worth US$160,000 and won with a brilliant ride by European win record holder Soumillon on Golden Wood, who repeated in the race. The Nicolas Caullery trainee out-willed a pair of Bin Suroor-trained Godolphin runners in the process. Gold Star, second by a nose, looked like a winner in midstretch and stayed on well to lose narrowly, while top-rated Best Solution was another length back in third.
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