Rain pelts rivals and Music tops the chart in Guineas Trials
Owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum and piloted by his retained rider Paul Hanagan, Soft Falling Rain broke sharply from post 6 and had no problem angling over to the fence to set the pace. The National Assembly colt was still on cruise control into the stretch, clearly handling the step up in trip to about seven furlongs. In fact, he kicked away in a manner suggesting that he still had something in reserve.
Soft Falling Rain stopped the clock in 1:23 3/5 on the Tapeta, extending his mark to a perfect five-for-five and increasing his earnings to $104,258.
"You just never know how they will cope with the surface in a race, and he had a lot of weight to carry over a new trip," de Kock said. "I was very hopeful, but it is nice to see him win like that and we will be back for the Guineas and take it from there."
Godolphin's I'm Back was best of the rest, and Snowboarder checked in another 2 1/4 lengths adrift in third. De Kock's other two runners, Zahee and El Estruendoso, wound up fourth and seventh, respectively, in the 14-horse field.
Soft Falling Rain's first four starts had come over the turf at Turffontein. He made his career debut exactly one year ago to the day, in an about five-furlong turf maiden. After his 2 1/4-length success, the bay came right back to take a juvenile plate by 4 1/4 lengths, and captured his first stakes attempt in the Storm Bird, all going the same distance. Soft Falling Rain crowned his championship campaign with a 4 1/2-length demolition job in the Group 1 South African Nursery at about six furlongs on April 28.
Although the metric mile of the Group 3 U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas appears to be well within his compass, de Kock sounded a cautionary note about the about the 1 3/16 miles of the other two legs of the U.A.E. Triple Crown, the March 9 Al Bastakiya and the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby on March 30.
"The Derby trip would have to be a concern, and we may aim towards the Godolphin Mile if all goes well," de Kock said of an alternative Group 2 target on World Cup night.
Both had settled well off a contentious pace, fanned out for the drive, and made their moves nearly in tandem. Shuruq quickened a touch faster for Silvestre de Sousa, and was the first to pounce on new leader My Special J's. But once Music Chart hit top gear for Mickael Barzalona, she proved too strong and wore down Shuruq by three-quarters of a length.
Music Chart's final time of 1:24 2/5 was appreciably off Soft Falling Rain's clocking for the same distance. There was a gap of 5 1/2-length gap back to More Than Sotka in third, and My Special J's weakened to fifth of 10.
"We thought she would run well," al Zarooni noted of Music Chart, "and obviously the Guineas itself is the next target (on February 7). But we also have a lovely filly called Lovely Pass for that race as well."
Music Chart was last seen finishing fourth to Lovely Pass in a one-mile conditions race at Ascot September 8. She had made a winning debut in her prior start in an August 24 Newmarket maiden. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Exchange Rate has now bankrolled $38,337 from her 3-2-0-0 line.
The al Zarooni/Barzalona tandem was red-hot on Thursday, racking up three wins on the six-race program. They once again denied the bin Suroor/de Sousa team when Anatolian held on by a head from Ahzeemah in the nightcap.
The about 1 1/2-mile handicap notably marked the Dubai debut of Indian sensation In the Spotlight, who turned in a useful effort in fourth. With the high-profile Ryan Moore aboard, the multiple classic-winning mare employed her typical stalking style. Parked in second early, In the Spotlight drove to the front down the stretch, but couldn't establish separation from the field.
Anatolian, meanwhile, was picking up relentlessly on the outside and soon passed In the Spotlight. Ahzeemah rattled home late, but not in time. Star Empire and In the Spotlight were necks apart in third and fourth, respectively, in a blanket finish.
A five-year-old son of Pivotal, Anatolian had not raced since finishing 13th of 19 in the Duke of Edinburgh at Royal Ascot. The handicapper's best effort last season was a near-miss second to the progressive stayer High Jinx at Newmarket.
Earlier, al Zarooni and Barzalona combined with Laajooj in an about 1 1/4-mile turf handicap. Under patient handling, the five-year-old son of Azamour stayed on strongly to pip stablemate Naqshabban by a head at the wire.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Laajooj has now won two straight, having accounted for a Newmarket conditions race in his last appearance in August. Newmarket had also been the scene of Laajooj's biggest career score, the 2011 Fairway Stakes.
"We thought we had some nice chances," al Zarooni said, "but to win three races is better than we could have hoped for -- especially including a one-two in the second race. Hopefully we can continue in such good form."
"That was his first effort at 1,200 meters," Hanagan said, "and we hoped it would suit him after he was caught close home over 1,400 meters last week. They went very quick early on which has really helped him."
Also wheeling back successfully on short rest was Capital Attraction. A five-length winner at Jebel Ali last Friday, the Ernst Oertel trainee scored a front-running success in the opening race, a Tapeta handicap over a metric mile.
"I know it is only next Friday, but we would have to consider the Jebel Ali Mile, as he is improving rapidly and handles that surface well," winning rider Tadgh O'Shea said. "It is a Group 3 and a valuable prize, but we will have to see how he is after tonight."