Super Saturday, an evening sponsored by pillar partner Emirates, lived up to its name at Meydan Racecourse. The dress rehearsal for the world's richest race day, the $35 million Dubai World Cup card, boasted seven races worth $2.65 million, including two Group 1 affairs, a Group 2, triad of Group 3s and a wide-open Listed event—all course and distance preps for corresponding Dubai World Cup night fixtures. The evening was topped by the return of 2018 Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) winner Thunder Snow, who competed in the evening's richest race, the $600,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R3.
The Al Maktoum Challenge R3 (G1) was turned into a procession by Capezzano, who was sent straight to the front by Mickael Barzalona and was never headed for trainer Salem bin Ghadayer. Owned by Sultan Ali, he fended off a stiff challenge from favorite Thunder Snow and sauntered in style by 9½ lengths at the wire. The 5-year-old gelded son of Bernardini arrived here having won both his previous outings this year, highlighted by his impressive 14-length win last out at Meydan, but was winning over a classic distance for the first time.
Godolphin's Thunder Snow, second in this last year to North America before landing the Dubai World Cup, seemingly loomed as a big danger entering the straight under Christophe Soumillon, but as their challenge faltered, Barzalona and Capezzano shot clear.
“He's an honest horse. Even when he won over a mile, he ran an amazing race,” Ghadayer said. “We thought why not try him over 10 furlongs. If you go back, when he was three and ran in the Al Bastakiya and there were (also) signs in his pedigree. This horse really is amazing when he decides to run. His problem is he's a little bit tricky of a horse and he needs to keep calm and relax. He has a big future.”
Barzalona added “He does it very well. I wasn't very confident about the longer trip, but Salem told me to try it. I made a strong effort to lead the race and I was lucky (because) he was breathing well in the (middle) of the race. Just before I asked him to go, the last three furlongs, he really picked up nicely.”
Soumillon was pragmatic about the loss: “I'm very happy with second place. The winner, I knew before the race that he would be tough if he got to the lead with a steady pace and that's exactly what he did. I'm very happy with 'Thunder.' He always improves from his runs. If you look at last year, at the same period of the season, (this effort) was even better than then (when second in the same race). I'm very confident with him.”
Saeed bin Suroor, in much the same tone, was pleased with the runner-up effort: “He got tired, just like we said (he would) before the race. He will improve from the race and will be ready for World Cup night. He'll be fine.”
The Simon Foster-trained South Korean horse Dolkong finished third, with French jockey Olivier Doleuze pleased with the effort, given a massive step up in class and a mere nine-day turnaround from his romp in the Listed Curlin Handicap on Feb. 28.
“We were beaten for speed straight away,” Doleuze said. “The pace was very fast and we got a lot of kickback, so I had no choice but to let him see some light. I knew the way we were going there was a chance they may stop in front, but he still came at the end and give me a good run in straight. I think I am more tired than him. After that effort, I hope he can get into the (Dubai) World Cup. He deserves it because we were only half a length off (Thunder Snow). On this performance, he deserves to go. It means a lot to the Korean fans and me, too. I really dream he can participate in the biggest race in the world. We will see. Meanwhile, we keep dreaming.”
New Trails, Gronkowski, Nordic Lights, Logrado, Furia Cruzada, Montsarrat and Cosmo Charlie completed the order of finish.
The evening's other Group 1 was the Jebel Hatta for those aspiring to compete in the $6 million Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1) in three weeks. The race turned into another example of why Godolphin's Dream Castle is arguably the top turf horse in the UAE, vanquishing his foes for his third consecutive win over the 1800m trip of the Dubai Turf. Under a heady ride by Christophe Soumillon, the son of Frankel tracked Wootton and jockey William Buick before running down that pair with authority and hitting the wire 1¼ lengths the best.
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor was over the moon with the horse's effort: “The trip (and the gelding) really helped him. Last year, we thought maybe he could be a sprinter, but I believe he's a nine furlongs-plus horse. This year he has shown he's a class, Group 1 horse.”
“The last two runs were quite impressive,” Soumillon added. “I was really confident with him today—even with that draw. The race went well for us. We had a nice pace. When I saw I was behind Wootton, I was very confident, because I knew he was going to take me quite far. When I asked him to go, he really quickened sharply. When I hit the front, he was looking around for a while. He's a really different horse compared to last year, when he was a colt.”
Charlie Appleby-trained Wootton showed another step forward in his effort, as the pair stretched nearly three lengths clear of yard-mate First Contact, who made the running, in third with Mickael Barzalona.
“His race was even,” Buick said of the runner-up. “He had a three-wide trip, but that's just how the race developed. To be honest with you, I was pretty happy with him throughout the race. I knew he was going to pick up the horse in front of him and I knew Christophe would be following me. He got the nine furlongs and I think he might even get 10.”
Barzalona added: “(First Contact) was travelling very strongly in front and he was fighting a lot until the end. I'm very pleased with him.”
The Jebel Hatta order of finish was completed by Century Dream, Loxley, Majestic Mambo, Forest Ranger, Janoobi, Muzdawaj and Blair House.
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