DRC Notes | Vol 53 | Dubai Racing Club News & Features



Godolphin’s star pupil Benbatl will make his much-anticipated first start on dirt in Thursday’s Group 2 $450,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 at Meydan for trainer Saeed bin Suroor. While this experiment may have happened sooner had now-retired stablemate and two-time Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow not existed, its timing is no less potent, as the son of leading local dirt sire Dubawi (and grandson of Dubai World Cup winner Dubai Millennium) appears in career form following a dominant comeback in January’s Singspiel (G2) over a grassy nine furlongs.

“He’s in good form and worked really well last Thursday,” Bin Suroor said. “This is a test for him to see if he can handle the dirt and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed made the decision to run him and see if he’s going to like the dirt. He works very well on the all-weather Tapeta at Al Quoz (training centre), but that is Tapeta. On Thursday, it’ll be his first time on dirt, so we will see.”

Bin Suroor has won an incredible 11 of 26 editions of Round 2, including with subsequent Dubai World Cup winners Thunder Snow and Moon Ballad—the latter a G2-winning turf horse who won three of his five dirt tries. Still, the proverbial dice have never been rolled with such high stakes, as Benbatl is a 125-rated Group 1 winner on three continents and earner of $5,445,731.

“He needed the (Singspiel) and has improved from the race,” Bin Suroor continued. “That race was just to get him fit and he is ready to try the dirt. There’s no excuse now that he’s had a run and is fit. He’s an easy horse to train; a proper horse who has won in England, Germany, Australia and Dubai. Just a class horse.”

Another high-profile Godolphin-Bin Suroor runner on Thursday in Group company will be Laser Show, a rather unexposed sort who stamped himself as one to watch with a romp in the $100,000 Al Bastakiya Trial over 1900m on Jan. 23. The son of New Approach heads to the Group 3 $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) with only four starts, including a win at first asking at Sandown over 1400m and a second at Kempton on the all-weather over 1600m. He kicked off this year with a non-performance, finishing 14th of 16 in the $100,000 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, but has moved forward emphatically with the addition of blinkers.

“He is a good horse, but he needs a farther trip,” Bin Suroor explained. “He needs at least nine furlongs and this time we’ll run him the shorter mile trip and give him a chance now that he has the visor. The visor really helped him and I know he can run farther in the (Al Bastakiya Trial and UAE Derby).”

Reddam Racing’s multiple stakes winner Fore Left will look to land a few ‘firsts’ in Thursday’s Group 3 $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas. Already part of the first American string at the Dubai World Cup Carnival, the Doug O’Neill trainee seeks to become the earliest-ever American victor at the Carnival. Within his own career, a win would be a first beyond a sprint distance for the son of in-form stallion Twirling Candy, having won the 1100m Tremont Stakes at Belmont and 1300m Sunny Slope Stakes at Del Mar in 2019.

“He has a lot of confidence right now,” reported Leandro Mora, assistant trainer. “I think a lot of that is due to the track and how he adjusted really well to it. The distance of a mile here is tricky, but I think, with it being around one turn, horses like him think it’s a six or six and a half-furlong race and because of that I like his chances a lot.”

A winner of three from eight, he exits failed experiments over all-weather and turf courses, resulting in a third in the Golden Nugget Stakes and eighth in the Cecil B. DeMille (G3) in California. Unraced in two months, he is likely to show ample pace.

“Early on, we thought he was a legit (Kentucky) Derby horse, but that faded a little bit and we tried to change his style and that didn’t help; even tried him on turf as an experiment,” Mora continued. “We tried to rate him a little bit and I don’t think he likes that style. He wants to be forward in first or second and then go for home. Even if he’s not in front, as long as he’s up there, he has a big chance. As far as the post, I like to be outside, but being inside doesn’t matter too much, because he usually breaks really well. We ran out of Kentucky Derby hopes, but we hope he unleashes a good run for UAE Derby hopes.”

Fore Left drew barrier 14 of 16 on Tuesday morning.

Mora will have a busy Thursday evening, as he has four other races in which to saddle horses. Chief among those is the top-rated (109) of O’Neill’s 11, R3 Racing and Calara Farm’s G3 winner Blitzkrieg, who wheels back two weeks and drops in trip after a respectable fourth in the $250,000 Al Fahidi Fort (G2) over 1400m. He will now contest the $175,000 Dubai Sprint (Listed) over 1200m—his first try on a straight course.

“His best races before we stretched him out to a mile were over six and a half furlongs down the hill at Santa Anita, so I think he will enjoy the layout of the 1200m here,” Mora said. “We have a feeling he’s going to be good as gold this time and he came out of the last one really good, so that’s why he’s back in. Otherwise, we would give him more time. It is very difficult to beat Godolphin and the Europeans here on the turf and we know that, but I have big hopes for him.”

W C Racing’s Wildman Jack and One Flew South—owned by his trainer, William Strauss and Terri Tucker—have entered the 1400m turf sprint handicap, which carries a $135,000 purse and was split into two 10-horse fields. Wildman Jack is rated 98, while One Flew South is a similar 95, but both enter with very different form lines. Wildman Jack has done little wrong in five starts, all in turf sprints between 1000-1100m and never finishing out of the top three. On the other hand, One Flew South has yet to win since his Nov. 2018 debut and enters off a seventh in turf conditions company, which was his fifth consecutive loss.

“Wildman Jack has been doing great at five and five and a half furlongs, but he’s bred to go longer,” Mora said. “We trained his sire Goldencents, who was a miler, so we think he should be fine going seven furlongs. He will be in front or near it. Back at Del Mar, he was so nervous and lost too much energy, but he has been very calm and quiet in Dubai.

“We have always thought One Flew South was a good horse and he was once on the Derby trail,’ he continued. “He seems to be better on turf.”

Reddam Racing’s well-bred underachiever I Will Not completes O’Neill’s Thursday quintet. The full-brother to multiple stakes winner and Santa Anita course record setter Found Money will contest the 1400m (turf) Meydan Classic Trial and owns a sole victory from four starts.

“He’s a challenge, but he has natural speed,” Mora said. “He will jump and go to the front, but he’s still green. We are hoping he turns things around, but he’s ready to run.

“We came here to run and as long as they’re healthy and happy, we’ll run them,” he concluded. “We were second and third last week (with Truck Salesman in the G3 Al Shindagha Sprint and Fight On in the 1600m dirt handicap) and all our horses are eating and training good, so hopefully we can get a win.”

Trainer Doug Watson, whose five Dubai World Cup Carnival victories in the first five nights already ties his total from last year, has three very live shots for each of the top three races on Thursday night, led by Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 winner Kimbear. The son of Temple City will stretch out beyond 1600m for the first time since July 2017 when he engages the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge R2 over 1900m. If successful, he will annex a fourth 2020 Carnival Group win for the orange and black silks of Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi.

“He came out of his run in great shape and when I look back on his run (in the 1800m Grade 1) Santa Anita Derby (in 2017), he didn’t run a bad race,” Watson said. “He’s matured and the nice thing about him you can ride him however you want. He takes kickback and he’s just in really good form right now. We’re hopeful he’ll stay the trip, but there are a few others in the race feeling it out, as well, including Benbatl, who is trying dirt for the first time and possibly Gronkowski, who may be using it as a prep for Saudi. His coat looks great, he’s working extremely well and you can’t say those things very often about every horse going into a big race like this. We’re just really pleased.”

Watson also starts HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Dubai Sprint (Listed) favourite Ekhtiyaar, who exits an excellent handicap victory under top weight (60kgs) on Jan. 9 over the same 1200m he will tackle Thursday. Said effort was his second of the season after an unplaced effort on the dirt in December’s Garhoud Sprint (Listed).

“It was the next logical spot and I love the 28 days between races, which also gives us another 28 days to Super Saturday,” Watson said. “He’s doing great and I love the way he ran last time. If he can jump like that every time, that would be good. We had to run him on the dirt to get a race into him and give him a try on it. My only thought was that I hope it didn’t mess him up, which it didn’t, so hopefully he can keep his good form going.”

One of the newest members of Red Stables is Khalid bin Mishref’s highly regarded 3-year-old Liam’s Legend, a $325,000 Keeneland purchase who has raced twice, including a fifth over 1200m at Churchill Downs and win over 1800m at Keeneland. Thursday’s Group 3 $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas will be his first local start.

“It’s a good spot for him and I loved his runs back in the States,” Watson said. “He ran a 71 Beyer, which is pretty good for a 2-year-old at that time of year and he’s still maturing. His works have been nice and I’ve been able to get an extra work into him with not running in the (Al Bastakiya) Trial. I like the pace he showed when he went six furlongs at Churchill and he also showed pace over nine furlongs, but I’m looking forward to seeing him go longer after this.”

Watson also entered maiden Far Sky in the UAE 2000 Guineas, but he is currently first reserve and would require a defection to make the field.

While it is not exactly the path trainer Charlie Appleby would have necessarily chosen, the reigning Dubai World Cup Carnival champion trainer seems just as pleased to get Godolphin’s hard-knocking sprinter Comicas back in action this Thursday after a lengthy layoff. The late-running 7-year-old gelded son of Distorted Humor is scheduled to run in the first division of the 1400m turf handicap—his first race since finishing a closing fourth in Super Saturday’s Mahaab Al Shimaal (G3).

“I’m very pleased with him,” Appleby said. “He’s just at tricky horse to place now. He doesn’t really have the speed for six furlongs at the level he’s at, which is why we’re switching back to the turf with him now. Strictly by the book, his best form is on the dirt surface, but unfortunately there isn’t a seven furlongs on the dirt that he fits into, so that’s why we are going down the turf route with him.”

Raced 19 times with four victories, his Super Saturday effort was his only race of the 2019 season. The 2018 Dubawi Stakes (G3) winner's best effort at Meydan was arguably a second to Mind Your Biscuits in the 1200m Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News (G1) in 2017, though he does own a victory over Thursday’s course and distance when taking the Meydan Classic Trial on this very card four years ago.

“He’s in good form and he’s an older horse, but he’s still enjoying life and showing the enthusiasm you like to see,” Appleby concluded. “In an ideal world, I’d love seven furlongs on the dirt, but sometimes we don’t live there.”