Five up-and-comers to follow at 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival
You might call it Dubai’s version of “Friday night lights.” The Dubai World Cup Carnival, long a fixture on wintertime Thursdays, moves to Fridays in 2022.
Beginning Jan. 14 (first post 9 a.m. ET), Meydan Racecourse will stage Carnival meetings on seven successive Fridays as well as the Super Saturday card on March 5. Super Saturday comprises the final local preps for the spectacular Dubai World Cup (G1) program on March 26.
While the Dubai Carnival and World Cup Day represent the best of United Arab Emirates racing, the season has been underway since last fall. Meydan’s opener was Nov. 4, and the flagship facility has hosted a total of eight racedays so far on the 2021-22 calendar.
Most of the horses competing at these “domestic” meetings won’t be good enough to make a splash at the Carnival (or even qualify for it), but a few promising prospects have emerged. Here are five up-and-comers who are worth following as the Carnival unfolds, plus an update on the recent Meydan stakes action.
A Munnings half-sister to two-time champion Lookin at Lucky, Shahama has dominated both of her starts for Fawzi Nass. The $425,000 OBS April juvenile, who drilled a quarter in :21 at the sale’s under tack show, trounced a Dec. 9 maiden by nine lengths. The May 9 foal still looks pretty leggy as she circles the field, but her big white blaze stands out most of all.
Shahama again proved much the best in a Jan. 1 conditions race, billed as the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial, over the same about seven-furlong trip. But a rainy New Year’s Day turned the track into a sea of slop, and jockey Adrie de Vries had to maneuver her through traffic. Shahama didn’t get discouraged by the conditions at all, instead charging through the gap to win handily by 2 1/2 lengths.
The UAE 1000 Guineas comes up Jan. 28, followed by the Feb. 18 UAE Oaks (G3) – a scoring race for the Kentucky Oaks (G1). If Shahama keeps burnishing her credentials, might she try her luck stateside?
Lightly-raced six-year-old Mubakker could be going places in the sprint division for champion trainer Doug Watson. Formerly with Sir Michael Stoute, the Shadwell runner went 3-for-4 on the British all-weather, notably beating Glen Shiel in a Newcastle handicap in summer 2020. But Mubakker was sidelined until resurfacing in Dubai in spring 2021. His promising third in an about seven-furlong Meydan handicap, under top weight of 137 pounds, suggested that he has more to offer on the dirt here.
Mubakker more than lived up to those hopes in his Dec. 9 reappearance. Back to about six furlongs for a conditions race, the gray was slow to start, but smoothly worked into position just off the pace. The son of Speightstown and Grade 2 winner Ready to Act rallied in the final furlong, despite clinging to his left lead, and pulled 2 1/2 lengths clear.
By Curlin and out of champion Blind Luck, Kafoo was a $250,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase who never made it to the races for Bob Baffert. But Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum’s colt is now 2-for-2 since joining the red-hot Bhupat Seemar. He’ll take a class hike as one of Seemar’s quintet in Friday’s Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2). That is shaping up as a trial by fire against some salty veterans, including his Godolphin Mile (G2)-winning stablemate, Secret Ambition.
Seemar believes that Kafoo belongs at this level, with the caveat that he’s making only his third start.
“He’s doing everything right,” Seemar told Dubai Racing Club publicity. “I only hope inexperience doesn’t catch him because he’s definitely got the talent to be up there to compete against this class of horses.”
Kafoo was unveiled Nov. 18 in a maiden for three-year-olds over a metric mile. Tracking the pacesetter on the inside, the chestnut cornered like a pro into the stretch and blew the field away before they knew what hit them. Kafoo won for fun by 6 1/2 lengths.
Up in class for a Dec. 16 conditions race, Kafoo was also cutting back a furlong. That was going to be a tougher task, especially versus Watson’s recruit Prince Eiji. Kafoo also made it harder on himself by missing the break and hustling to camp behind Prince Eiji who sped forward.
Nevertheless, Kafoo’s natural talent came through as he angled out to challenge Prince Eiji, and the two drew off in a race of their own, ultimately 13 1/2 lengths ahead of third. Although Kafoo had the advantage of recency, and a race over the track, Prince Eiji had a wealth of experience on the British turf, and he maintained the upper hand for most of the stretch. Then a relentless Kafoo got up to edge his older rival in a solid 1:23.94.
Like Kafoo, Al Nefud is a two-time winner for Seemar, with plenty of upside as a newly-turned four-year-old. The Godolphin castoff is by Dubawi and out of Group 2-placed stakes scorer Albasharah, an Arch half-sister to unbeaten Group 1 queen White Moonstone. Al Nefud placed in all three British starts last spring for Charlie Appleby, including a second to the talented Bay Bridge.
His Dubai (and dirt) debut for new connections came in a Dec. 23 conditions event, where Al Nefud took charge early despite a tardy start and spurted away. Under confident handling by Tadhg O’Shea, he eased home by 6 1/4 lengths.
Al Nefud didn’t score as many style points when wheeling back Jan. 7, but he ran the metric mile a lot faster (in 1:37.26), versus better company, toting seven pounds more. Off to a better start, he had to expend more energy to grab the lead, and found Desert Wisdom a pesky challenger for the entire stretch. Yet Al Nefud remained in control by 2 1/4 lengths, with a 14-length gap back to El Patriota.
After failing to prosper as a turf handicapper for Mark Johnston, Meraas might have reinvented himself on dirt. The Oasis Dream gelding, out of Group 3 winner and Irish classic-placed Rehn’s Nest, bolted up in his local debut Dec. 23 for Musabbah al Mheiri.
Meraas made light of his joint top weight of 126 pounds in an about six-furlong sprint. Bounding straight to the front, Meraas ran them ragged in a 4 3/4-length conquest. Runner-up Dahawi came back to win a salty handicap, albeit on turf, Jan. 7.
Updates on the establishment
Several past Carnival personalities have turned in useful efforts at Meydan recently.
Long well-regarded Tuz, runner-up in the 2020 Al Bastakiya in his first start outside of Russia, finally earned a Meydan breakthrough in the Dec. 16 Dubai Creek Mile. The Seemar pupil looked better the further he went, toppling a useful cast including Thunder Snow’s half-brother Eastern World (in his dirt debut), defending champion Thegreatcollection, Midnight Sands, Ajuste Fiscal, and Panadol (who exited “mildly lame” in his left hind according to the stewards’ report).
Eastern World, Thegreatcollection, and Midnight Sands are entered back in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 on Friday.
Last year’s UAE Oaks heroine Mnasek was a fine second in her Nov. 18 comeback for Watson. Lugging top weight of 137 pounds versus males, over an inadequate trip of about seven furlongs, she closed well when just a couple of lengths behind stablemate Faithful Soldier. Mnasek was giving him 11 pounds, implying she can move forward going further at level weights. Note that the Empire Maker filly is set for a turf debut in Friday’s Cape Verdi (G2) versus familiar foe Soft Whisper from the yard of Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Former Argentine champion For the Top, sporadically campaigned for the past couple of years, snapped a losing skid in the Dec. 2 Entisar. Making his second start since switching to al Mheiri, he benefited from a change to hold-up tactics, and rolled home late over the World Cup trip of about 1 1/4 miles on dirt.
Grade/Group 3 veteran Switzerland relished the slop in the Jan. 1 Al Garhoud Sprint, splashing to a 9 1/4-length romp over Seemar stablemate Gladiator King. His margin was likely inflated by conditions, however.
Finally, Watson rejuvenated the 2019 Preakness (G1) runner-up, Everfast, who resumed from a nearly year-long layoff to win his local debut Dec. 2. Stalking early in the metric mile conditions race, he delivered the coup de grace and held by a diminishing 1 1/4 lengths.