“Mike’s a magician!”

So intoned the voice of Meydan, Terry Spargo, after Mike de Kock sent out his third winner on last Thursday evening’s Dubai Carnival card. Not only did the South African horseman record a treble, beginning with the opportunistic Alareef in the opener, but he maintained his stranglehold on the Al Rashidiya (G2) with a near-trifecta, and later swept the top three placings in a turf handicap.

De Kock was winning the Al Rashidiya for the fifth consecutive year, and eighth time overall. This result was especially pleasing because it was all about the future: once-beaten Forries Waltz outkicked Cape Derby (G1)-winning stablemate Ertijaal late, and the lightly-raced colts pulled right away from a useful yardstick in Earnshaw. De Kock’s veteran Mujaarib, who kept the trainer’s streak alive when taking this race in 2014, left himself too much to do and missed third in a photo. Earnshaw’s nose was just in the way of a de Kock clean sweep. The winner’s final time of 1:47.85 for about nine furlongs on the turf underscored the race’s merit.

Forries Waltz was coming off a metric mile handicap win in his January 14 comeback. The South African-bred son of Greys Inn thus had a recency edge over Ertijaal, who hadn’t raced since finishing second to eventual South African champion French Navy in the Daily News 2000 (G1) at Greyville last May. (Remember, this is the Australian-bred Ertijaal, not the Irish-bred turf sprinter Ertijaal.)

But Forries Waltz also had two questions to answer in this spot: he’d never tried about nine furlongs, or Group company. While the first figured to be in his wheelhouse, the second needed proving. He did so by deploying a superior turn of foot for Christophe Soumillon, and extending his career record to 5-for-6.

Still, Ertijaal emerged with great credit and reaffirmed his status as a proper World Cup night prospect. Aside from any rustiness here, the lanky chestnut strikes me as more of a 10-furlong type (maybe even longer), and he was arguably just beaten for finishing speed at this trip. Moreover, both on pedigree and running style, Ertijaal looks like a dirt horse who’s adept on turf. (I think James Willoughby made a similar point on the Racing UK coverage.) The son of Hard Spun is a forwardly placed, relentless galloper, pummeling rivals into submission rather than outsprinting them.

“Fitness prevailed over class tonight,” de Kock said on his website. “Forries Waltz got the better of Ertijaal, but the runner-up was impressive too and he will make big improvement after this. He has a sand pedigree, being by Hard Spun, and we’ll keep the sand in consideration when we plan the rest of his campaign.”

 

“Ban” lifted: Just when I was beginning to lose hope of Banaadeer ever making good, de Kock found the key by stepping him up from five to about seven furlongs, and he responded by nearly wiring a handicap. Only a desperate finish by elder statesman Anaerobio robbed him at the wire. The final time of 1:23.13 wasn’t far off Safety Check’s new course record of 1:22.77, so Banaadeer wasn’t hanging about. Whatever Carnival path he plots now, Banaadeer could be a sprinter to go to war with in Europe this season too. Group 1-placed at two, by More Than Ready and from a mouthwatering Australian family, he’s got stallion appeal if he can step up to the plate internationally.

 

But heartbreak in the de Kock camp too: A pall was cast over an otherwise successful night when de Kock lost two stable stalwarts. Royal Ridge, a grand servant who rounded out the de Kock trifecta with Anaerobio and Banaadeer, died of a heart attack shortly after the race. In the nightcap, Rock Cocktail was eased with what turned out to be multiple pelvic fractures, and later euthanized at the hospital. Another fatality was the Doug Watson-trained Muaanid, who was eased in a dirt sprint and subsequently collapsed.

Jungle Cat a lion among sprinters: Godolphin’s Jungle Cat missed the second half of his sophomore campaign due to injury, but judging by the way he routed an about six-furlong turf handicap in his return, he’s determined to make up for lost time. The Charlie Appleby trainee attended the early pace before stamping his authority and widening his margin to 3 3/4 lengths in a sharp 1:09.65.

“There isn’t a great deal for him over six furlongs on turf during the rest of the Dubai World Cup Carnival – there is one more handicap option,” Appleby told godolphin.com. “He showed a lot of natural pace this evening and it would not worry me if we had to drop him down to five furlongs.”

Yet I’m not entirely sure about that. Jungle Cat would face a much faster group of dragsters over five, and he didn’t spurt clear until well inside the final furlong here. Indeed, he has never raced at less than six furlongs, so the cutback would have an experimental look. Of course, it’s understandable that connections would want to give him a shot in the Al Quoz (G1) on World Cup night.

And Jungle Cat does have back class. Trained by Mark Johnston as a juvenile, he flashed real ability when just missing to Muhaarar in the 2014 Gimcrack (G2) and also placing in the Coventry (G2), July (G2) and Richmond (G2). Jungle Cat raced just three times for Appleby in 2015, notably finishing second to the classy Adaay in the Carnarvon. It all went wrong last time in the June 19 Commonwealth Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, where jockey William Buick said “he lost a shoe and ripped some of his hoof off as well.”

 

Cowboy rounds them up over an extra furlong: Cool Cowboy was second in all three of his seven-furlong tries earlier in his career in the U.S., but the mature 5-year-old enjoyed the added ground to win a handicap well. Covering the move of Scandinavian shipper Giftorm turning for home, and spotting him six pounds, Cool Cowboy overpowered him down the lane.

The Watson charge, who was most recently a closing second to Reynaldothewizard in the about six-furlong Dubawi, is eyeing a further stretch-out.

“(Jockey) Pat (Dobbs) said he was dossing in front and we will think seriously about trying him over 1600 meters,” Watson said. “The Godolphin Mile ([G2] on World Cup night) could be the race for him as he has the quality.”

 

Angels sing: Team Europe finally notched a victory this Carnival in the nightcap, in a finish dominated by two gray sons of Dark Angel. The Marco Botti-trained Fanciful Angel overcame traffic problems to nab Brendan Powell’s Dark Emerald by a neck, clocking a smart 1:36.21 for the metric mile on turf.

Dark Emerald didn’t have an easy trip himself, parked out wide from post 12 throughout and punching the breeze, as they say, without cover. As a 6-year-old, though, he’s pretty much reached his ceiling.

The 4-year-old Fanciful Angel may have more scope for improvement. Runner-up in last season’s German 2000 Guineas (G2) and sixth in the Premio Vittorio di Capua (G1) when last seen in September, he’s been reveling in the Dubai sun, according to Botti. 

In other footnotes to this race, Farraaj put a couple of disappointing efforts behind him in a good-looking third. He may be finding his way at last for Dhruba Selvaratnam. De Kock’s South African import Liquid Mercury (the very light gray) finished with interest for fifth over an inadequate trip, making him worth watching on the presumed stretch-out next time.

 

“Green” Creek has backers singing the blues: Godolphin’s blueblood Triple Crown nominee Blue Creek made heavy weather of finishing second in an otherwise forgettable Saturday handicap. Green as grass, he was a bit slow to go, and once securing a position, had to be scrubbed along to maintain it. The Street Cry-Blue Bunting colt began to get the hang of things in the stretch, but you’d never call it eye-catching. While these were older rivals, they’re an indifferent bunch, and Blue Creek was getting lumps of weight.

No wonder Appleby wasn’t tempted to pitch him into the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), preferring to give him this outing before stepping up in distance for the March 5 Al Bastakiya and March 26 UAE Derby (G2). The raw ability is in there somewhere, but mentally, he wasn’t ready for prime time. So much for my hoping that he’d actually learned something from his trial race and his official debut romp January 1.

According to the stewards’ report, jockey Buick explained that Blue Creek “is immature at this stage of his career and also would be better suited by a longer distance.”

 

Photo of Forries Waltz (left) and Ertijaal courtesy of Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club.