#DWCCarnival Update | January 3, 2019

In-depth looks at trainers Crisford, Marnane & Seemar, as well as Thursday runners RAVEN'S CORNER, FREESCAPE, BASATEEN, EKHTIYAAR + DWC news
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• · A ‘Second Home’-coming for Crisford
• · Raven’s Corner Leads Seemar Army
• · Freescape Down in Trip, Up in Class
• · Watson Sleepers: Basateen, Ekhtiyaar
• · Vivlos Reverses Course, to Dubai Turf
• · Stormy Liberal on Quest for Al Quoz

A ‘SECOND HOME’-COMING FOR CRISFORD

Trainer Simon Crisford, the former racing manager for Godolphin for more than two decades—including more than 200 Grade/Group 1s—has returned in a big way. Once a mainstay of the Dubai racing scene, he resurfaces as head conditioner of a burgeoning yard and appears primed for what could be a game-changing winter in the UAE.

“I’ve come with 14 horses, so far,” Crisford said. “They’re not all Carnival horses, but we will be competing in some Carnival events. It’s a small, but good, team and I think I have some contenders. After we complete quarantine, we will move into Millennium Stables and have some horses for the (domestic ‘Racing at Meydan’) meeting.

“It’s a very positive new venture on our part,” he continued. “The facilities are exceptional, the prize money is fantastic and many of these are owned by Dubai nationals, while also being horses who suit this program well. That’s what encouraged us to do this. It’s just a very interesting project to undertake and also very exciting, being the first time we’ve ever done this.

“I believe the whole idea of racing in Dubai is very positive. The rewards are immense and it is a fantastic place to train a horse during the winter. I’ve been in Dubai for much of my life since 1990 and was here when we raced at Nad Al Sheba. For me, it’s a second home and this was always something I’ve wanted to do since I started training. We started off relatively small and we will try to do the best we can. Dubai Racing Club has been incredibly helpful setting this up. It’s been a great experience.”

Crisford originally entered four for Thursday evening’s opening card, but only two will race after Sultan Ali’s veteran handicapper Mutawathea was excluded from an overflow field and Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum’s newly turned 3-year-old filly Starry Eyes—a very promising daughter of Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom—was withdrawn from the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial, a conditions event over 1400m on dirt and significant step toward the UAE Oaks (G3) and UAE Derby (G2).

“The top weight is going to run, so that precludes (Mutawathea). It’s disappointing, as he’s doing well, but we’ll wait,” Crisford said just prior to declarations. “(Starry Eyes) hopefully will take to the dirt surface here. We brought her specifically here to try it and she may need the run.”

The remaining two to run are Turn ’N Twirl and Ghost Queen, who race for Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum in the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial.

“Turn ’N Twirl won first out on December 19 at Lingfield at this distance and she took a little time to come to hand, but she’s probably a little farther along than Starry Eyes,” he said. “Like Starry Eyes, we brought her specifically with the winter campaign in mind. They both need companions and Ghost Queen is training super well, so we brought her along and we hope she can run with credit.”

The proverbial big guns are still being loaded for the remainder of the Carnival, including Abdulla Belhabb’s still-improving multiple Group 1-placed Century Dream, who exits a stellar season in which he won the Diomed Stakes (G3) and placed in the Arlington Million (G1) and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1). Listed winner African Ride, a Wertheimer Et Frere-bred who now races for Nabil Mourad, has been judiciously campaigned since finishing seventh of 13 in the 2017 French 2000 Guineas (G1). Additionally, Abdulla Al Mansoori’s Group 3-winning sophomore Sporting Chance will likely stretch out once he gets suited up for the season.

“Century Dream had a fantastic run in the Queen Elizabeth and we decided not to send him to Hong Kong or the Breeders’ Cup to focus on a 5-year-old campaign,” Crisford explained. “We have a plan to start in the Zabeel Mile (Group 2, $250,000, Feb. 21) and hopefully be good enough to run in the Dubai Turf (Group 1, $6 million, Mar. 30).

“African Ride was brought specifically here to try him on the dirt, as he is bred for it, being a Candy Ride out of a Kris S. mare,” he continued. “We campaigned him lightly in Europe specifically with Dubai as a target. We are looking at potentially running him on (January) 10th. Hopefully he can adapt to dirt racing. Obviously, it takes a while to get used to it and the kickback, but once they do, it’s straight-forward. All reports I’m getting are positive with him.

“We are hoping Sporting Chance can develop into a Guineas candidate. He could start on the dirt or turf and could possibly run on the 10th. He improved as the season went by in Europe. He’s a strong colt and will hopefully stay farther. He’s doing very well and shipped over well.”

While Crisford, who also confirmed that another promising 3-year-old, Mohammed Sultan’s Cool Exhibit, will point to the Meydan Classic Trial ($100,000, Jan. 31), knows more about what it takes to be successful in Dubai than virtually anyone, he remains humble and realistic about the task at hand; one which will be manned locally by Paul Holley and his son and assistant, Edward.

“I don’t think we should be too overly confident, because the competition is going to be extremely tough—and as it should be,” he concluded. “It will be difficult for them all and we have to be realistic. At the same time, we have a top-class team and have tried to select the right ones who suit that style of racing. I don’t have any illusions; it’s a massive task and the Carnival has developed into as tough a meeting as anywhere in the world. It’s truly great racing and if we can come away with some wins, that’s fantastic. It won’t be easy, but we’re hoping we can build a platform for the future.”

RAVEN’S CORNER LEADS SEEMAR ARMY

The conundrum of Touch Gold Racing’s mercurial sprinter Raven’s Corner and his chances in the Dubawi Stakes (G3) hinges itself on a perplexing dichotomy. On one side, trainer Satish Seemar has dominated the race, but on the other, the racing public has no idea which Raven’s Corner is going to show up.

Will it be the Raven’s Corner who refused to load in last season’s Garhoud Sprint and was scratched at the gate or will it be the one who flashed superb promise when winning two of his first three starts in Dubai? Will it be the flashy chestnut who hopped out of the gate, losing all chance, in this season’s Garhoud (last out) or the one who blitzed local dirt en route to a 1400m track record in February?

“Most of the Dubawi Stakes cups are in my office, thanks of course to our good friend Reynaldothewizard, and Raven’s Corner has a big chance to bring that Cup home again,” a confident Seemar said. “He’s a horse who’s never had a clear run and has had problems with the gate and this-and-that. I think we have him figured out, now.”

“He just needs some luck,” Seemar continued. “But that’s racing—it comes back to you. I think he will definitely come on from his last run, which was very good, considering.”

Seemar also touched on Reynaldothewizard, who won three Dubawi Stakes and is now retired after a legendary career that saw him compete against Group-level sprinters until his 12th year of life.

“A horse like that is always a stable’s favourite,” he gushed. “Everyone in the staff loved him. He stayed with us the longest. In racing these days, horses move around a lot, but Reynaldo was one of the few horses who stayed a long time. We didn’t travel with him much, even though we had invitations to all the big sprints around the world, but we knew him well and knew he was light-framed and could only do three or four races a season. Once we figured out a horse like him, it was an easy run.”

Moving into the Carnival, Seemar looks forward to what could be a very exciting year for him. With a breadth of horses who fit nearly every angle, he appears to be in an enviable position, from established horses like Group 1 winner North America to up-and-coming Group 3-placed miler Secret Ambition, as well as new American acquisitions Behavioral Bias and Irish Freedom.

“Secret Ambition is a really nice horse; a very strong, solid horse,” Seemar explained. “We still don’t know what his level is. He comes out showing a lot of class, but then somehow he (comes off form) in his third or fourth race. We know his personality really well and last race he came into it well, but we knew while saddling him that something wasn’t right. He was too quiet. They’re living beings and they can have an off-day.

“(Behavioral Bias and Irish Freedom) are doing really well, but I would prefer to have had them a month earlier,” he continued. “I jotted them out on the (Carnival) program for the 17th or 22nd of January. They’re still adjusting to the climate, so they’ll tell us when they’re ready to run; whether it’s one of those dates, or not.”

Meanwhile, Seemar is focused on Raven’s Corner and kicking off the 2019 Carnival with another win in what is arguably his favourite race.

“I feel very positive,” he concluded. “We have some decent horses; some to prove themselves, some in-between and some already proven,” Seemar. “It’s very exciting to go into another Carnival. It’s more exciting for us local trainers, who get to compete against such international flavour.”

FREESCAPE DOWN IN TRIP, UP IN CLASS

City Equine Syndicate and McGettigan’s Management Services JLT’s Freescape will try to upend the competition on opening night in what is arguably the toughest race to dissect on paper, the 1000m turf sprint handicap for horses rated 95-110. Stakes-placed last year in the Listed Meydan Classic over a mile, he has found his best form while turning back in trip to 1200m, including a sharp win on Nov. 2 over Dundalk’s all-weather surface in Ireland.

Cutting back even more in Thursday’s handicap, he gets a serious break in weights in his 2019 bow, while having the look of a sneaky, unexposed type who may just come around keenly to this new challenge.

“He came out of his handicap win very well and he’s in the right market,” trainer David Marnane said. “We know he likes the track here at Meydan, but he’s never been over five furlongs, so it will be interesting. I’m hoping he gets on well and finishes strong. (Group 1-performing favourites) Hit the Bid and Faatinah will be very tough.”

Marnane continued to express confidence in his Dubai team this season, including Laurence O’Kane and Ms. Melanie Marnane’s in-form Alfredo Arcano, a winner of his last two and four of his last seven. He also brings Dennis McGettigan’s Royal Ascot winner Settle for Bay—who was covered in last week’s DWC Carnival Update—as well as arguably the most exciting of his quartet, 12-for-14 multiple Group 2-winning Argentine dirt sprinter Tato Key.

“This is the best team we have sent to Dubai,” he said. “They are all winners last time out and Alfredo Arcano has had a good break and come back and won easily. He’s a horse who could switch to the dirt later on in the year. I hope he gets in on the 10th over the six furlongs on the turf.

“Tato Key is a really exciting horse from South America,” he continued. “He’s a Group 2 winner who has never been in a Group 1 and he’s a well-bred horse whose brother is a Group 1 horse. We certainly like him and we’ve had him a while. He’s a lovely, tough horse and we’ll point to the (Group 3 $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint) on January 31st. Every week that goes by, he seems to improve.”

WATSON SLEEPERS: BASATEEN, EKHTIYAAR

It is difficult to ever say without second-guessing oneself that a horse trained by six-time champion UAE conditioner Doug Watson is flying under the radar, but that seems to be the case with two who carry the colours of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum on opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Both wisely placed in their races, new acquisition Ekhtiyaar and long-time barn favourite Basateen line up in wide-open affairs with no shortage of back-class.

“We just got him, but Ekhtiyaar is a really nice horse who should like the seven furlongs (1400m),” Watson said. “He’s by Bated Breath and I’m hoping he can run well. He’s never been beyond 1200m, but I think he can get further. We’ll give him a chance. He’s done well in his work for us.”

In the top-three in seven of his 11 tries, Ekhtiyaar is a half-brother to New Providence, who placed in three Group events at 1400m, while winning a pair of Group 3s at 1200m. The 100 rating is far below the 114 of top-rated (banner-mate) Janoobi, but if past results are any indication, Watson is quite live with new imports.

While Ekhtiyaar is in the sixth and final race of the evening, Basateen opens the card in the 2410m turf handicap in which his 100 rating is seventh of the 11 entered. A Dubai World Cup night alumnus, he appears to be returning to form after a good second last out at Abu Dhabi over 2400m.

“He is having his best season, so far, soundness-wise,” Watson said. “He always struggled with that and he’s a funny mover who gets body-sore. Right now, knock-on-wood, I have him in a good spot. He likes it around there and ran credibly with a top weight at Abu Dhabi. Plus, he needed that run. I know Godolphin will bring good horses and it’s tough, but he’s doing great.”

VIVLOS REVERSES COURSE, TO DUBAI TURF

Much to the chagrin of her rivals and cheers of her fans, it was announced that 2017 $6 million Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1) winner Vivlos will indeed not be retired and will now point for another victory in the 1800m turf affair.

A gallant second last year in her defence attempt, the daughter of Deep Impact will make what will likely be her swan song in the race that was her greatest triumph. Owned by retired Major League Baseball star Kazuhiro Sasaki, the black filly is trained by Yasuo Tomomichi.

“Instead of our original plan, we want to run her one more time and will keep her in training until Dubai,” said Sasaki, an ex-Seattle Mariner. “The competition will probably be strong, but she does very well in ‘away games.’”

Vivlos could likely be joined by her old friend and rival Deirdre, who was third in the Dubai Turf of 2018, but has since improved her form, finishing second in the Hong Kong Cup (G1) in December.

STORMY LIBERAL ON QUEST FOR AL QUOZ

Two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Stormy Liberal’s connections are unbothered by his upset on New Year’s Day in the Joe Hernandez Stakes (G3), reporting that all is well with the 2018 Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1) runner-up. Appearing a likely winner throughout most of the running, the talented charge provided little answer for hard-closing Caribou Club in the final yards. The 12-time winner is still on schedule for his quest to win the Al Quoz Sprint.

“All systems go,” said Brian Trump, co-owner of Rockingham Ranch and manager of said ownership. “He’s definitely being pointed to Dubai. There are not many Grade 1 turf sprints here in the U.S. and he has shown us that he belongs with the top turf sprinters in the world. We will take it one prep at a time, but ‘Stormy’ wants the Al Quoz Sprint title.

“This race was by no means a must-win for him,” Trump continued. “The race came up very difficult and the downhill course at Santa Anita always offers a different aspect to the race.”

Stormy Liberal, who is co-owned by Rockingham and David Bernsen, is among the expected finalists to be announced on Saturday for the Eclipse Award for champion American turf horse.