Team Godolphin dominated last Thursday’s Dubai World Cup Carnival program, sweeping five of six Thoroughbred races. Even better, the results consisted of a Group 2 double of historic import, a classic trial, and handicap performances that actually pointed to the future.
The spoils were fairly divided between the Godolphin trainers. Saeed bin Suroor scored in the two co-features, thereby reaching a milestone 200 Carnival wins, and colleague Charlie Appleby rang up a triple on the card.
Bin Suroor’s double opened with Promising Run, who made history by becoming the first female to capture the Al Rashidiya (G2). Her placement here was intriguing, since the co-featured Cape Verdi (G2), in her own division, would have appeared a natural target. But her stablemate Very Special (pictured) was bound for a title defense in the Cape Verdi, where she was clearly favored to repeat.
Perhaps bin Suroor believed the added ground of the Al Rashidiya (about nine furlongs as opposed to the Cape Verdi’s metric mile) was more suitable for Promising Run. But it’s also worth noting that the Al Rashidiya wasn’t the deepest renewal ever, and with her six-pound weight break from the boys, Promising Run was in with a proper chance. Very Special presumably will get her shot versus males later in the Carnival (as in 2016), leaving this opportunity to Promising Run, and she grasped it with all four hooves.
Her cause was assisted by the fact that heavy favorite Light the Lights found himself on the early lead in a paceless race. Front-running tactics had never worked for him in the South African phase of his career. Unable to replicate his preferred stalk-and-pounce routine from the opening-night Singspiel, his successful Dubai debut for Mike de Kock, he was left vulnerable late.
To his credit, Light the Lights tried hard to give de Kock an incredible sixth straight trophy in the Al Rashidiya (and ninth overall), but Promising Run was relentless. Sporting cheekpieces for the first time, the homebred daughter of Hard Spun and Brazilian Group 1 heroine Aviacion prevailed by a half-length.
“She was a little bit slowly away,” jockey Jim Crowley told Godolphin.com, “and there wasn’t much pace on, but I kicked turning in and she wore the runner-up down nicely.
“I thought that I was going to win turning in. She may have pulled up a fraction when she got to the front, but at least there was a little left in the tank.”
“It was an excellent performance by Promising Run,” bin Suroor said. “There is no plan for her at the moment but we will look to the future and not rush her.”
This was Promising Run’s strongest effort since her victory in the Rockfel (G2) as a juvenile. She tried dirt here last season, but had to settle for best-of-the-rest behind the dazzling Polar River. Third to the highly regarded So Mi Dar in the Musidora (G3) and fifth in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot last summer, she didn’t have any success at three until venturing to Veliefendi for the Istanbul Trophy (G3), and even then she had to work hard to see off the locals. Off this evidence, her four-year-old campaign should turn out much better.
A Very Special change in tactics: Very Special responded in kind with a history-making success of her own in the Cape Verdi, becoming the race’s first two-time winner, and giving bin Suroor number 200. The only surprising aspect to her repeat was her tactical switch. Unlike last Carnival, when she crushed the Cape Verdi and Balanchine (G2) in wire-to-wire fashion, Very Special this time was cajoled into tracking early.
Once again, a de Kock runner attempted to make the running. His Argentine recruit Tahanee decided to press forward from her far outside post 10, but didn’t fare as well as Light the Lights, and ultimately got outkicked in fifth.
Very Special, drawn on the fence, had to arrest momentum when angling out for the drive. For a mare of high cruising speed who winds up, that wasn’t an ideal set-up. It was therefore all the more impressive that she was still able to top the cavalry charge to the line over British shippers Opal Tiara (who had to maneuver for a seam) and Muffri’ha (whose three-race win streak included a score over males in the Darley [G3]).
“Saeed wanted me to settle her off the lead today so I was delighted when Christophe (Soumillon on Tahanee) wanted to go to the front,” Crowley recapped.
“The pace slackened quite a bit, when we turned for home,” the rider added to Godolphin.com, “but she had the gears to get out of trouble.
“The good thing is she can make the running but she doesn’t have to and can take a lead now as well.”
You’ve got to think that bin Suroor wanted to diversify her tactical portfolio with a view toward bigger prizes. Front-running suits some circumstances, but a free-wheeling, need-the-lead type is at the mercy of events. Very Special will be a tougher customer on the world stage if she can adapt to the way a race unfolds.
“Very Special is very special, and that is how she got her name,” bin Suroor told Godolphin.com. “She has been doing really well since she was a two-year-old and has improved physically with age.
“She is getting better all the time.”
A half-sister to ill-fated Chriselliam (the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf [G1] and Fillies’ Mile [G1] winner), by Lope De Vega, Very Special still has only 10 career starts under her belt. She’s eligible to do better than her sixth in last year’s Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night, and hopefully a U.S. trip is back on the table. After her second to course record-setting Alice Springs in the Falmouth (G1) during Newmarket’s July Festival, Very Special was targeting the Beverly D. (G1). Unfortunately, bin Suroor’s yard was among those laid low by a virus gripping Newmarket, and she wasn’t seen again until now.
Tying one on: A simple tongue tie was all that Fly at Dawn needed to rebound in the U.A.E. 2000 Guineas Trial, and advertise his candidacy for the main event on February 11.
Overcoming a troubled start that caused him to get shuffled back, the Appleby pupil worked his way into a contending position, then simply cut down the front-running favorite (and hot debut winner) Cosmo Charlie. The 6 1/4-length gap back to bin Suroor’s Top Score in third, and the solid time of 1:24.48 for about seven furlongs, together underscore the merit of Fly at Dawn’s performance.
“The plan this evening was to go forward with Fly at Dawn,” Appleby told Godolphin.com, “but Mickael (Barzalona) got squeezed out of it between a couple of bigger horses.
“Full credit to the horse and to Mickael, who got close enough to the pace that he wasn’t getting too much kickback, which is a key thing around here.
“We applied a tongue-tie tonight and that has allowed him to get his breathing right and his head down in the right position on this dirt.
“He is a very game horse and I was pleased to get the run into him last month because experience on this surface is such an asset.”
Fly at Dawn had been second in his Meydan debut on December 29, when enduring a wide trip and spotting stablemate Van Der Decken three pounds as the 131-pound highweight. That result was comprehensively overturned at levels here, as Van Der Decken was a well-beaten fifth.
The winner of the same Kempton nursery that Appleby had employed for Hawkbill, the future Eclipse (G1) hero, as a juvenile, Fly at Dawn also scored twice at Newmarket last year. His overall consistency (7-4-1-1) and versatility as a winner over turf, dirt, and synthetic are admirable qualities.
Still, this trial didn’t draw all the notable sophomores on the circuit. De Kock’s Fawree looked a serious prospect in his maiden victory, following his debut second to Appleby’s Capezzano. And bin Suroor has his Criterium International (G1) romper, Thunder Snow, penciled in for the U.A.E. 2000 Guineas (G3). It’s anyone’s guess if Thunder Snow will transfer his outstanding turf form to the dirt, but if he does, he’ll take some beating as the class of the field. Then start thinking about the potential Japanese contenders for the U.A.E. Derby (G2) on World Cup night, and Fly at Dawn begins to come into a different perspective. He may well be capable of emulating his sire, Discreet Cat, who won the 2006 U.A.E. Derby for Godolphin, but I’m not getting carried away yet.
Tipping his hand: For the second straight year, Baccarat returned from a layoff to win a turf sprint handicap at Meydan. His comeback at the 2016 Carnival was more dramatic, since he was premiering for Appleby after a 16-month absence. Last Thursday, Baccarat resumed from a mere four-month holiday to edge stablemate Jungle Cat by a neck. Third and fourth Final Venture and Steady Pace give the form further solidity, having finished one-two in a similar event January 12.
“We came into this race with a strong hand,” Appleby told Godolphin.com, “and I just felt Baccarat would strip a bit fitter than Jungle Cat, but there was not much in it at the line.
“I am delighted with both of them and Jungle Cat should come on for the race. We will look at dropping them both back a furlong for the Meydan Sprint ([G3] on February 16) and then maybe having a crack at the Al Quoz Sprint ([G1] on World Cup night March 25).”
Formerly trained by Richard Fahey, Baccarat landed one of Royal Ascot’s heritage handicaps, the six-furlong Wokingham, in 2014. He’s yet to break through at a higher level, either for Fahey or Appleby, albeit from a limited number of attempts. Since Baccarat is now at the ripe old age of eight, it’s unlikely that he has that much room for improvement.
But it’s an entirely different story for the five-year-old Jungle Cat, who may be on the verge of a breakout 2017. He’s compiled a series of major placings throughout his career, along with a pair of fourths in last year’s Al Quoz Sprint and King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot. With the Al Quoz being lengthened from about five to six furlongs this season, Jungle Cat stands to be the biggest local beneficiary of that change.
On the Trail to Australia: Appleby is mapping out a totally different path for progressive handicapper Gold Trail, who parlayed a favorable trip into a one-length defeat of highweight Prize Money at about 1 1/2 miles.
“He ticks all of the boxes for racing out here – a flat track on quick ground over a mile and a half is his gig,” Appleby told Godolphin.com. “He is a total gentleman and that was Adam’s fourth win on him, so he (jockey Kirby) knows the horse.
“All being well, the plan is to go to Australia with Gold Trail. I haven’t spoken to connections yet but we had it penciled in that we would go for the (March 25) Mornington Cup which is a ‘win and you’re in’ race for the Caulfield Cup ([G1] in October).
“The ground will be quick out there and I think he will be a useful horse in Australia.”
While Gold Trail will spend his World Cup Day Down Under, runner-up Prize Money may be the type to consider the about two-mile Dubai Gold Cup (G2). After all, bin Suroor had nominated him to the St Leger (G1), but he didn’t make it to the Doncaster classic after disappointing over the summer. The son of Authorized was subsequently gelded, and the operation may have done wonders for his attitude. He promptly won his next start, a well-endowed Doncaster handicap, and gave game chase for the length of the straight here under the top weight of 132 pounds. Barring radical improvement, Prize Money appears a cut below the standard required for a prime Sheema Classic (G1) contender, so a step up in trip may be a worthwhile experiment.
Supporting act: Salem bin Ghadayer was the only trainer to stop the Godolphin juggernaut, sending out the exacta of Heavy Metal and Frankyfourfingers in a dirt mile handicap. The tailed-off Wildcat Red sadly came up lame in his right fore, according to the stewards’ report.
Brutally frank postscript from de Kock: In his website recap, de Kock pulled no punches about the state of his Carnival.
On Light the Lights: “simply wasn’t good enough. He ran his heart out but was beaten. I’m not sure he will be good enough for the Dubai Turf either.”
On Tahanee: “She’s a talented filly and she also ran a game race, but she was beaten by four higher-rated fillies and again, I have to say, as good as she is, she wasn’t good enough.”
Summing it up: “We don’t have the firepower to be as competitive as usual at this Carnival, we just haven’t got the stock at the moment, our older horses are well in their place and the competition gets stronger every year.
“Things are not looking that good for the rest of the term, barring Mubtaahij, Fawree and perhaps Noah From Goa we’ll be lucky to have runners on World Cup night.”
Very Special photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins