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Two turf records fell in the Dubai World Cup Carnival on Thursday evening as Championship, Ertijaal and Zarak prepped for Dubai World Cup day in breathtaking style.
Meydan Racecourse staged four high-class Group races in the Dubai World Cup Carnival on Thursday, headlined by the 1600m Group 2 Zabeel Mile in which Championship won going away in a course record time.
Winner of the 1400m Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, four weeks ago, the Ahmad bin Harmash-trained Championship was penalised for that success but, under stable jockey, Colm O’Donoghue, stormed clear 300m out and was never going to be caught.
Winner of the Listed National Day Cup at Abu Dhabi, also over 1600m, he has improved throughout the season with O’Donoghue keen to credit the trainer and his team.
“That was his best effort yet, especially under the penalty and Ahmad has done a wonderful job with him,” said O’Donoghue. “He has trained him with these races in mind and tonight he was ultra-fit and very relaxed throughout the race."
“He is a special horse who stays further but has the speed for shorter."
“I am not sure what the next target is but we will just enjoy this win and this horse has been great for me in my first season as stable jockey.”
Only six went to post for the Group 2 Balanchine Sponsored by CitizenK, an 1800m turf feature restricted to fillies and mares. Yet it still produced a good finish with Opal Tiara, trained in England by Mick Channon, digging deep to thwart the late challenge of Via Firenze, representing France.
Ridden by Oisin Murphy, Channon’s charge was runner-up in the 1600m Group 2 Cape Verdi three weeks ago, when beaten by Godolphin’s Very Special who, as she did successfully last year, was trying to follow up here under a penalty.
However, the Saeed bin Suroor-trained mare, under Jim Crowley, was clearly in trouble 300m from home when Opal Tiara was throwing down her challenge.
She hit the front with 200m left and was always holding the final challenge of Via Firenze and Maxime Guyon.
“We should have at least finished closer last time,” said Murphy. “But I looked for an inside run whereas she prefers to see plenty of daylight, as she just demonstrated."
“She did it well and stayed the trip nicely so perhaps the trainer will keep her at this kind of distance.”
Channon added: “We have to be delighted with that but we were pretty confident on the revised terms with Very Special.
“We will sit down and think but the Dubai Turf could be a target for her on the Dubai World Cup card.”
On the straight 1000m turf sprint course, the Group 3 Meydan Sprint sponsored by Friday was turned into a procession by Ertijaal, trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi and the mount of Jim Crowley, riding for his main employer, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Not only did they prove far too good for their ten rivals, they also set a new record for the course and distance despite, seemingly, never being asked a serious question by a clearly impressed jockey.
Twice a course and distance winner last season, he was then second in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on the Dubai World Cup card.
Again a 1000m Meydan turf winner on his only previous start this season, he is also a winner over both 1200m and 1400m so the new 1200m distant of the Al Quoz Sprint looks unlikely to be an issue.
“He is a like an aeroplane,” said Crowley. “He is a very good sprinter and with his remarkably long stride you just do not realise how quick you are going on him."
“The 1200m of the Al Quoz Sprint should really suit him; I have ridden some good sprinters but he would be right up there among the best.”
Zarak was the most comfortable of winners in the closing Group 3 2000m Dubawi Stakes under Christophe Soumillon.
Trained by Alain De Royer-Dupre the four year-old son of Dubawi was said to not be fully fit prior to the race and his handler was yet to set a firm course for the winner.
“To be fit for a Group 3 and to be fit for a Group 1 are not the same thing,” he said. “He didn’t blow after the race. He has a turn of foot, and he has learned a lot here. It was good for him. We have many options, we will have to decide with the management, the owners and the jockey.”
The Watch Time Handicap over 1400m on the dirt, was run at a furious gallop with Sahaafy setting a suicidal early pace and one, unsurprisingly, he could not sustain.
At about halfway, early in the straight, he cried enough, leaving Pat Dobbs in front on the Doug Watson-trained Stunned.
The pair stayed there, running on strongly to land the spoils relatively comfortably.
“I was in front much earlier than ideal but, the way the race panned out, I had little choice,” said Dobbs. “He is a very versatile horse who has the pace for 1200m but also stays 1600m well."
“He is still learning and seems to be getting tougher with his racing which can only be a positive thing.”
The penultimate race, a 1600m dirt handicap, The InsideOut, was won in style by the Salem bin Ghadayer-trained Heavy Metal who appeared to lead throughout under Mickael Barzalona.
Nathr, ridden by Crowley for Watson, loomed as a big danger but Barzalona’s mount kicked clear at the 400m pole and, ultimately, won easily.
“He was dropping in class today and has won pretty easily,” said Barzalona. “He enjoyed himself out in front and we were always travelling very well.”
The gulfnews.com, a 1400m dirt handicap, opened proceedings and Raven’s Corner, partnered by Richard Mullen for Satish Seemar, was seemingly never headed.
Well drawn in stall four, Mullen was soon able to get to the front and, once he committed for home leaving the home turn, they never looked likely to be caught.
Having just his second start for the yard, after finishing runner-up on his local debut over 1200m at Meydan, confidence was clearly high.
“Coming here tonight I really thought this was my best chance so it is a relief when they win,” said Mullen. “I have enjoyed a really good spell and, hopefully, it can continue.”