Racing at Meydan on Thursday is highlighted by The Garhoud Sprint (Listed) sponsored by Al Tayer Motors over the same 1,200-meter dirt course and distance as the $2.5 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News.
Inaugurated in 2013, four of the first five editions have been won by horses owned by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who supplies two of this field's ten, and no less than six winners from the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival are declared in the first stepping stone toward the world's richest dirt sprint.
Dane O'Neill, retained rider for the aforementioned owner, has chosen to ride the fleet-footed Almanaara, one of three in the race to be prepared by Doug Watson. Identified as a 'horse to follow' by his trainer—winner of this race in 2016—the 5-year-old grey son of Shamardal won twice last season during what his first full U.A.E. campaign.
After a scintillating handicap victory over Thursday's 1200-meter course and distance, he was then third in a similar race behind stable companion Drafted, who is again in opposition. Subsequently a well-beaten fourth, again over the same track and trip, he returned from almost two months off to post a facile victory in March, almost exactly a year after his U.A.E. bow at Jebel Ali.
The aforementioned Drafted proved a bargain 40,000-dirham (US$10,892) purchase from the September 2017 Racing in Dubai Sale, winning twice. He actually ran at Royal Ascot in 2016 as a 2-year-old for Godolphin on just his second start when trained in the U.S. by Eoin Harty and still owns the Keeneland track record for 900 meters (4 1/2 furlongs) in 50.45, which he acquired on debut. The mount of Sam Hitchcott, he finished last season with a sixth behind Kimbear in the 1,600-meter G3 Burj Nahaar on Super Saturday.
The class of the field on rating is Kimbear. Like Almanaara, he was a horse Watson expected a lot from last season. The son of Temple City made a flying start to his U.A.E. career with victory in a 1600-meter handicap in the middle of January before running into highly regarded Godolphin trainee Boynton—the first of a pair of runner-up efforts. He bounced back in style to win the aforementioned Burj Nahaar before fading in the closing stages of the G2 Godolphin Mile, which was later attributed to a bad gash acquired during the race. The choice of stable jockey Pat Dobbs, he has finished second on both previous attempts at 1,200 meters, with 1,400 meters being the shortest trip over which he has scored. Under a penalty and from a less than ideal draw (post eight), he may find a few of these proven sprinters a bit sharp after 250 days off.
“All three are in very good shape and working well at home,” Watson said. “Almanaara has the best draw of the trio over what is probably his ideal trip, but hopefully the other two will be staying on. Looking ahead to the Dubai World Cup Carnival Watson added: “It is four weeks until the Dubai World Cup Carnival and this looks an ideal opportunity to get them back on the track.”
On his third U.A.E. outing, Kimbear chased home Raven's Corner, who established a 1,400-meter Meydan dirt track record in the process, but was then a long way behind winner Heavy Metal in the Godolphin Mile. Trained by Satish Seemar, the 5-year-old is having his first start since the Dubai World Cup card and is the mount of Richard Mullen, whom he dislodged en route to being withdrawn in last season's Garhoud Sprint. Joining him in the field is stable companion Circle Dream, the mount of Tadhg O'Shea.
Assistant trainer Bhupat Seemar said: “Raven's Corner is in very good form, but has been done no favors by the draw (post nine) and should improve for his first run back. Circle Dream is a 3-year-old taking on the older horses, which is never easy, but he is doing well at home.”
Sandeep Jadhav also runs two, with Royston Ffrench opting for rail-drawn High on Life and Xavier Ziani aboard Sutter County in the 10-hole. A 1,200-meter turf winner at Meydan last season, Ffrench's mount was victorious at Jebel Ali, over 1,400 meters, during the very first meeting of the season at the end of October, but was then disappointing three weeks ago at the same course. Sutter County was seventh in the same Jebel Ali season opener on what was his local and dirt debut.
“High on Life did not run as well as we hoped he would last time,” Jadhav said. “He has a great draw and we are very hopeful. Sutter County has been working well since his first run, but the draw was not helpful for him.”
For the record, Musabbeh Al Mheiri has saddled the winner of this sprint three times for Sheikh Hamdan and they combine with dirt debutant Ibn Malik, the mount of Ben Curtis. A winner twice in Great Britain when trained by Charlie Hills, he has often run well in the face of a stiff task, having contested races won by the likes of subsequent Group 1 winners Jungle Cat, Ribchester and The Tin Man.
Away from the feature, the handicaps over 1,400 meters, the Lincoln Continental, and the Lincoln Navigator over 2,000 meters look certain to produce some Dubai World Cup carnival clues. However, arguably the second-most interesting clash is the Lincoln, a 1,600-meter conditions race for which a dozen 2-year-olds have been declared. Heading the weights are the two previous winners and thus penalized, Walking Thunder and Superior. Both are trained by Ahmad bin Harmash for the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, a new entity who were celebrating victories with both their first ever runners. Stable jockey Connor Beasley, aboard for both the wins, sticks with Walking Thunder; Antonio Fresu picks up Superior.
Their 2.5-kilogram penalties will obviously make life more difficult, but of their opponents to have run, only Al Mortajaz has been placed. Second three times for Simon Crisford in Britain, he is having his first start for Ismail Mohammed. A son of Camacho and the only gelding in the field, he has dirt winners in his pedigree, but probably not enough to make a compelling case for him.
Of the debutants, Raayan, owned by Kimbear's Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, is one of the most interesting for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi and Fernando Jara. Bred by Godolphin in conjunction with Pope McLean, he was a €42,000 ($47,590) purchase at Goresbridge earlier this year and is a son of Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom.
Another worth a look is Lacienegaboulevard, named for the popular road that goes through Hollywood, Calif. Trained by owner Fawzi Nass, the $100,000 Keeneland purchase could be precocious, being by U.S. champion 2-year-old Shanghai Bobby, out of the Bob Baffert-trained G1-placed 2-year-old filly Lady Pecan. Christopher Hayes rides the bay half-brother to two winners from as many starters.
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