Dubai World Cup (G1) contenders Frosted and Mubtaahij, both veterans of the 2015 Triple Crown, are set to kick off their 2016 campaigns at Meydan on Thursday – but they won’t be renewing rivalry just yet. While Frosted is entered in the $250,000 Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) at about 1 3/16 miles, Mubtaahij is scheduled to make his comeback in the $200,000 Firebreak (G3) over a metric mile.
The final fields and post positions will be announced on Tuesday. As of Monday’s entry stage, no fewer than eight were cross-entered to the Firebreak and to Round 2 of the Maktoum Challenge, notably the Doug Watson trio of One Man Band, Layl and Faulkner.
Frosted’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, is double-handed in both races. Elnaawi is entered along with Frosted in the Maktoum Round 2, while Confrontation and Watershed are engaged in the Firebreak. Three of those four are Godolphin runners, the exception being Sheikh Hamdan’s Elnaawi.
Among the prominent 3-year-olds of last season, Frosted captured the Wood Memorial (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2), finished second to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in the Belmont (G1), third in the Travers (G1) and fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1). The Tapit colt was last seen fading to seventh in the October 31 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland. After gearing up with a series of works at Palm Meadows, culminating in a pair of bullets, Frosted shipped out to Dubai a week ago.
Stakes-winning stablemate Elnaawi, who was third in last year’s Donn H. (G1), returned from a nearly 10-month layoff and finished second to multiple World Cup night nominee Itsaknockout in a December 31 Gulfstream Park allowance.
Their Round 2 rivals include a couple of hot horses at the Carnival. Special Fighter just set the track record at this trip when dominating a handicap, and in December, the Musabah al Muhairi trainee romped in the Entisar S.
One Man Band brings a three-race winning streak into his stakes debut, including back-to-back track records. Considering that those marks have come at this distance (subsequently lowered by Special Fighter) and over the Firebreak’s trip of a metric mile, it’s no wonder Watson’s given him both options on Thursday. Watson’s other two cross-entrants, Layl and Faulkner, are coming off commendable efforts (second and fourth) in the Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G3) at a metric mile.
Prayer for Relief was a terrific, hard-charging third in his Round 1 comeback for Mike de Kock. He’ll step up in distance for Round 2, and judging by his U.S. resume, the added ground will help Zayat Stables’ multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire.
The Satish Seemar-trained Surfer was a one-paced fifth as the defending champion of Maktoum Round 1. Although entitled to improve off that return from a nine-month vacation, the about 1 3/16-mile distance has historically been a shade too far for him. On the other hand, the Carnival veteran may be better suited to it at this stage of his career, and he remains a place chance.
The respective reappearances for Frosted and Mubtaahij make sense in light of their vastly different degrees of time off. Unlike Frosted, who was busy throughout the second half of 2015, Mubtaahij has been rested since his fourth behind American Pharoah and Frosted in the Belmont. De Kock thus sensibly starts him back over a shorter trip in the Firebreak.
Mubtaahij is a head away from being unbeaten at Meydan, his lone local loss coming in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). A dominant winner of the remaining legs of the UAE Triple Crown, the Al Bastakiya and UAE Derby (G2), Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa’s colt was unable to duplicate that form when eighth in the Kentucky Derby. While his fourth in the Belmont was better, the overall impression was that the international travel, at the back end of a sustained Dubai campaign, had taken its toll. Mubtaahij got a richly deserved vacation, with the World Cup as his main aim. The de Kock yard is in slashing form at the moment, but Mubtaahij is sure to move forward from this return.
His leading local opponent in the Firebreak could be Le Bernardin, who captured the Maktoum Round 1 with a potent move turning for home. The winner of two straight stakes at this track and trip, the son of Bernardini had previously rolled in the Dubai Creek Mile. His appearance in Thursday’s entries wasn’t necessarily expected, as he was reportedly going to wait for Super Saturday, March 5. Or is trainer Ali Rashid al Raihe’s game plan to run now, and freshen him up for the March 26 Godolphin Mile (G2)?
Ironically, Le Bernardin was originally trained by McLaughlin, who may send out Confrontation and Watershed here. Confrontation would be making his first start for new connections. Unraced since last summer, he played second fiddle to Tonalist in the Westchester (G3) and to Liam’s Map in his latest outing at Belmont Park June 19. Talented but inexperienced Watershed has finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in his stakes tries in the King’s Bishop (G1) and Malibu (G1).
As mentioned above, Watson’s cross-entered One Man Band, Layl, and Faulkner would be contenders in either race. Seemar’s Gold City is another dual entrant, but he’d probably prefer the Firebreak. Typically campaigned at around a mile, Gold City was second in the 2015 running of this race.
Thursday’s card also features the $200,000 Cape Verdi (G2) for turf distaffers, with Godolphin’s promising Very Special; progressive Prix de Flore (G3) winner Si Luna; More Aspen, who recently beat males in the Singspiel over this course; Swedish shipper Icecapada; and de Kock’s South African Group 1-placed Almashooqa, who was unhappy on the dirt last time behind Polar River, all factoring in the early entries.
There’s no shortage of intrigue in the undercard turf handicaps either, with exciting turf sprinter Ertijaal entered in a competitive dash against Saayerr and Hototo, the ageless Star Empire in the stayers’ handicap, and Elleval versus a de Kock squadron including Tannaaf and Sanshaawes in the about 10-furlong event.
Frosted photo courtesy of Bill Denver/EquiPhoto.
Mubtaahij photo courtesy of Neville Hopwood/Dubai Racing Club.