Thursday's fifth meeting of the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival was highlighted by the US$250,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R2 sponsored by Gulf News (G2) over 1900m on the dirt. Won by Godolphin's multiple G1 winner Thunder Snow, whose appropriately named half-sister Winter Lightning had landed the UAE 1000 Guineas earlier in the evening.
Victorious in both the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and UAE Derby (G2) last year, Saeed bin Suroor-trained and Christophe Soumillon-ridden Thunder Snow always looked likely to come out on top on this occasion. Second in the 1600m Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G3) on his seasonal return last month, when seemingly outpaced by gate-to-wire victor Heavy Metal, he was settled in third behind North America, who denied doubtful stayer Heavy Metal the front with aggressive urging up the inside early from jockey Richard Mullen. North America and Heavy Metal both came under pressure at the top of the straight, whereas Soumillon always looked happy on the eventual winner. His mount gathered up the other pair in the final 200m to the delight of his jockey.
“Basically, I think he was the best horse in the race and I rode him accordingly,” Soumillon said. “His stamina was never an issue, whereas the other pair are quick horses who had more early speed. My horse actually wanted to go after them earlier in the back straight, but I was happy to take my time and wait until the home straight. He then won well in the style of a good horse. I actually said to Saeed he gives me a better, more natural feel, on turf whereas, on dirt, I think his class gets him home.”
Very rarely will you see a race meeting start with a Classic, but such was the quality of the card on Thursday evening at Meydan. The action kicked off with the US$250,000 UAE 1000 Guineas sponsored by Friday (Listed) over 1600m on the dirt and restricted to 3-year-old fillies.
Anyone who witnessed the 1400m trial three weeks ago could be forgiven for any sense of déjà vu because, in a virtual carbon copy of that race, only Rayya and Winter Lightning were in serious contention from a long way out.
Rayya and Pat Dobbs tried to make all yet again, as no other pacemaker was willing to go, which left them to be stalked by Pat Cosgrave and budding arch rival Winter Lightning. This time, though, as opposed to the Trial when they edged ahead and were forced to fight all the way to the line by Rayya, they forged clear with 200m to go and held a game Rayya at bay. To complete the symmetry from the Trial, Godolphin's Expressiy was third.
“She is just a lovely filly to be involved with and makes my job very easy,” Cosgrave said. “She just gets on with things, breaks well, relaxes, travels strongly and quickens when I ask. She is improving and, if connections want, I see no reason why the extra 300m of the Oaks would be a problem.”
It was a tenth win in the race since its 2001 inauguration for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Rayya's trainer, Doug Watson, was soon in the winner's enclosure however, saddling first and second in the WHEELS Handicap over 1900m with pupil Street of Dreams besting stablemate Galvanize. Adrie De Vries was aboard the winner and he completed a double in the second 3-year-old only race on the card, the US$100,000 Meydan Classic Trial sponsored by getthat.com, a 1400m turf conditions race. Riding for his main employer, Ismail Mohammed, he was always going better than any of his 15 rivals aboard Wasim, whose sole previous career win was on debut over 1400m on the Doncaster turf last July. This was his fourth UAE outing and he had run well on each of his three previous local starts, all on dirt, but clearly relished this return to grass.
Having tracked the early pace, he and De Vries sauntered to the front halfway up the straight and, despite seeming to tire, were always holding the challenge from Godolphin's favoured Zaman.
“I only had two rides this evening so to win on both is brilliant,” De Vries said. “This horse had been running very well on dirt, but tonight, from a good draw, he has travelled and then quickened like a good horse. He is a horse with plenty of natural pace and stays 1600m if connections want to step up.”
The Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint sponsored by gulfnews.com, over 1200m on the dirt looked a particularly strong renewal being littered with Group 1 winners, but none of those factored in the procession of impressive gate-to-wire victor My Catch, trained by Watson. Dobbs was in the saddle in the easiest of winners, while race favourite Comicas closed to pip fan favourite and 12-year-old ageless wonder Reynaldothewizard on the line for second.
“The last couple of weeks this horse has really come back to himself and started working much better,” Dobbs said. “That low draw really suits him because that is the way he likes to race; from the front and quickly throughout.”
Watson added: “When we saw the draw, in one, we were delighted because it is ideal for him. He has not ever really run a bad race, but things have transpired against him a few times. He has really started working well over the last couple of weeks, so we were very hopeful and he has not disappointed.”
The Watch Time Handicap, over 1000m on the turf, was won emphatically by Hit the Bid, quickly away under Oisin Murphy and never headed for trainer Darren Bunyan. Having made his UAE debut on the first night of the 2018 Carnival over the same course and distance, when giving track record holder Ertijaal a sgood fight, he was always going to be hard to beat here.
A first carnival runner for trainer Darren Bunyan, he has repaid his trainer's patience in the best possible way.
“He needed that first run, fitness-wise, and we have just brought him along steadily,” Bunyan said. “That said, it was a very good effort a month ago and, to be honest, we would have been disappointed if he was beaten here. We still have something to work on, regarding fitness, so it is very exciting.”
Murphy added: “This is a big win for a small team and, all credit to them, they have brought him along slowly and been very patient. He is probably still not 100% fit, so you hope there is more to come. He has shown in Ireland he is just as good at 1200m so stepping him up in trip is not likely to be an issue.”
In the nightcap, the REACH by Gulf News Handicap, bin Suroor-conditioned Leshlaa was a dominant winner of the 2000m turf event under Cosgrave. The chestnut son of Street Cry completed a 1-2-3 for Team Godolphin, as Appleby-trained Blair House closed resolutely under William Buick to edge yardmate Banksea.
“He's a very smart horse,” Cosgrave said. “Saeed had him spot on for tonight. He's quite a smart horse, like I said. He definitely has the ability to be a Group horse.”
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