Dubai Carnival 2023: Horses to watch from the fall season at Meydan
The Dubai World Cup Carnival begins on Jan. 6, ushering in an eight-week series of Friday features that builds up to the March crescendo at Meydan. Super Saturday, on March 4, will offer the final local stepping stones to the Dubai World Cup (G1) extravaganza on March 25.
Yet the racing action has already been in full swing in the United Arab Emirates since Oct. 28. While most of the marquee names won’t be spotted until the Carnival, the fall season at Meydan unearths horses to follow in the main events.
These performers can be categorized either as promising up-and-comers or as proven horses flashing form in recent stakes. We’ll begin with the fresh new faces eligible to factor in the three-year-old events culminating in the UAE Derby (G2).
A Charles Fipke homebred from the yard of seven-time champion UAE trainer Doug Watson, Shirl’s Bee ran right up to his reputation in his Dec. 23 unveiling. The metric mile can be a challenging distance for a first-timer, and when the chestnut was rank steadying off heels early, you had to wonder if he’d flatten out. But Shirl’s Bee had speed and stamina to spare. Showing good tactical foot on the inside before having to tap on the brakes to track, he angled around the leader entering the stretch and stayed on well. Although Lahresh, coming off a third at Jebel Ali, loomed to challenge, his race fitness did not tip the scales. Shirl’s Bee rebuffed him and edged 1 1/4 lengths clear. The time was only 1:38.92, so the sum of the circumstances was more compelling.
Plans call for Shirl’s Bee to resume in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) over the same course and distance on Feb. 10. He’ll try to go one better than his sire, Bee Jersey, who was second to Thunder Snow in the 2017 Guineas. Also trained by Watson, Bee Jersey shaped with promise in his Dubai career, without winning. Later based stateside with Steve Asmussen, Bee Jersey gained the winning habit and crowned his resume in the 2018 Metropolitan H. (G1).
Stable jockey Pat Dobbs compared Shirl’s Bee favorably to Bee Jersey.
“He’s very professional at home, a naturally quick horse,” his rider said. “He’ll get further, but I’m not sure if he’ll get further yet. He’s better looking than his dad, who had a weird action and wouldn’t have been as smooth as this lad.”
Shirl’s Bee is all Fipke on his dam’s side as well, being out of a full sister to 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl, by Perfect Soul. Perfect Shirl is herself the dam of current Grade 1 victor Shirl’s Speight, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), from the immediate family of Canadian champion Lady Speightspeare.
After a green but pleasing debut fourth on Nov. 4, Morning moved forward to win handsomely in another about six-furlong maiden on Dec. 1. You can’t miss the gaudy chestnut, with his white blaze and stockings, his rather aggressive style, and his big, rounded action. The son of Munnings took charge swinging for home and drew off by 3 1/4 lengths. Magic Petition, from the first crop of Good Magic, rallied late for second. Morning’s time of 1:11.96 was faster than an ensuing handicap (1:12.33), if not quite as quick as Colour Up (see below).
Morning looks like a fine prospect for last season’s champion trainer Bhupat Seemar. An $85,000 purchase at OBS April, he is out of a Birdstone half-sister to Belle Gallantey, the 2014 Delaware H. (G1) heroine.
“He’s a horse we like,” stable jockey Tadgh O’Shea said. “He ran well the first night and he’s improved for that and made no mistake out of the gates this time. His dam’s side is all stamina, so he’ll get two turns in time, but he’s a little sharp in his mind at present.”
Seemar has another smart type in Royal Dubai, who ran away from next-out winner Seyouff, and the aforementioned Magic Petition, in a likely above-average maiden Nov. 25. The French-bred is out of an Aussie Rules mare, from the turf family of 1997 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) conqueror Peintre Celebre, so his dirt aptitude presumably comes from his sire. He’s from the first crop of Seahenge, a Scat Daddy half-brother to Grade 1 winner Max Player. Seahenge didn’t show much on dirt himself though, beaten a pole by stablemate Mendelssohn in the 2018 UAE Derby and in his two subsequent U.S. attempts on the surface.
Royal Dubai took to the dirt swimmingly in his debut, leveraging his inside post and early speed to bag the lead. Magic Petition was always handy, but couldn’t live with Royal Dubai when he blew the race apart at the top of the stretch. Seyouff, who had to sacrifice some early position to get across from post 12, did well to get up for second, albeit 6 3/4 lengths behind. Royal Dubai completed about seven furlongs in 1:24.56, faster than the preceding conditions race (1:24.76) for elders.
“He wasn’t brilliantly away but he was soon up into stride,” jockey Pat Cosgrave said. “I liked the way he put the race to bed very quickly and it was all over at the 300 (meter-marker).
“He’s got everything going for him; he’s got no quirks and he might not have to improve much to be a Guineas contender.”
Seyouff graduated next time in a Dec. 9 conditions race over a couple of last-out winners. The Flatter colt, out of a More Than Ready half-sister to Hall of Famer Tepin and Vyjack, was held up further off the pace, then delivered a late charge to win by 1 1/4 lengths. The caveats are time and weight. Seyouff finished about 1 1/4 furlongs in 1:25.79 while getting weight from runner-up Sharp Army and third Long Kiss, a Brazilian-bred who was coming off a maiden win from a nearly impossible position.
Trained by Australian expat Michael Costa, who now has charge of Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum’s Jebel Ali Stables, Seyouff was bred in Florida by Bridlewood Farm. He brought $180,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.
Although beaten in her first two starts, Asawer shapes like a filly with abundant upside. The Watson pupil was a troubled third in her Dec. 1 debut, where she was pinched back early, but made a long, sustained rally to finish an eye-catching third. Advancing to the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial over the same about seven-furlong distance Dec. 23, Asawer again did her best work late as runner-up. Winner Mimi Kakushi, who had been fourth in both prior starts, was much sharper in first-time cheekpieces for trainer Salem bin Ghadayer.
Mimi Kakushi, a daughter of City of Light and multiple Grade 2-winning sprinter Rite Moment, might continue to get the jump on Asawer in the fillies’ classics. Yet Asawer should come into her own at a mile and beyond, as a Nyquist filly from the immediate family of Cyberknife.
Several older horses have also come to the fore early in the UAE season. Of those yet to try stakes company, Colour Up is perhaps on the steepest upward curve. Unraced until the age of four, the Mehmas gelding is making up for lost time. Watson described him as “a horse who could go places” on the eve of his Dec. 1 maiden win. Improving from a hard-trying second on Nov. 4, Colour Up likely appreciated the cutback from seven to about six furlongs as well. He traveled so well that he dragged jockey Dobbs forward around the far turn and barreled to the lead despite lugging in down the stretch. Colour Up, who clocked a solid 1:11.65, came right back to win again Dec. 17 at Jebel Ali. Admittedly capitalizing on a substantial weight break in an about five-furlong handicap, he nevertheless is looking like a sprinter ready to make an impact at a higher level.
Mouheeb – Garhoud Sprint S.
Mouheeb had been a notable sophomore at the 2021 Carnival, just missing to Rebel’s Romance in the trial before capturing the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) in his absence. He didn’t have such success at the 2022 Carnival, but dropping in trip recently has rejuvenated him. Trained by Costa for Sheikh Ahmed, Mouheeb is now 2-for-2 during the current season. The son of Flatter (also the sire of Seyouff for the same connections) returned triumphant Oct. 29 at Jebel Ali, in an about six-furlong handicap, and followed up back at Meydan in the Dec. 9 Garhoud Sprint S. Mouheeb rolled past Seemar’s useful Tuz to score handily in a sharp 1:10.93. They’re set for a rematch in Friday’s Dubawi (G3), a stepping stone to the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on World Cup night.
Prince Eiji and Danyah – Dubai Creek Mile
After initially showing promise but regressing in his first Dubai campaign with Watson, Prince Eiji broke through in his comeback in the Dec. 1 Dubai Creek Mile. The well-bred son of Dubawi and Group 1 star Izzi Top was full of run on the inside, got the split, and overhauled UAE debutant Danyah. They’ll meet again in a contentious Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) on Friday, with implications for the Godolphin Mile (G2) on World Cup night. Watson has left the door open, though, for possibly stepping up in trip with Prince Eiji in the future. In his former British career, the multiple Group 3-placed performer was fourth in both attempts at about 1 1/4 miles in listed company.
Danyah has a right to move forward, since the Dubai Creek Mile was his first start off a nearly 15-month layoff. He tired to second after leading early in this debut, on a new surface, for Musabbeh Al Mheiri. As an intriguing piece of trivia, Danyah was second to Highfield Princess in the 2021 Buckingham Palace H. at Royal Ascot, and the Shadwell homebred was an upwardly mobile handicapper before heading to the sidelines.
Remorse and Bendoog – Entisar S.
Seemar had the exacta in the Dec. 23 Entisar S. over the World Cup distance of about 1 1/4 miles, with Remorse wearing down stablemate Bendoog. Remorse was progressive last Carnival. Second in a series of races from the 2021 Entisar through the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), the Dubawi gelding was a creditable sixth to Country Grammer in the World Cup.
Yet Bendoog has scope, literally, to keep improving too. The giant son of Gun Runner had yet to strengthen into his frame last year at three, but he still performed well in defeat in all three legs of the UAE Triple Crown. Bendoog won his Dec. 1 comeback in a conditions race over a metric mile, and the extra quarter-mile here was a bit too much at this stage. Note that he was part of the contested pace with First Constitution, the Chilean import (and multiple New York stakes winner) who was making his UAE premiere for Ghadayer. First Constitution, a good third in the Entisar, likewise stands to benefit from the tightener.