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Gronkowski returns to action

Racing at Meydan on Thursday, Dec. 5, promises to be the best meeting of the season to date, with the seven races sponsored by pillar partner DP World and highlighted by the first two Thoroughbred Listed races of the new campaign. This year’s $12 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) runner-up Gronkowski returns to action and leads a start-studded line-up that is sure to set the stage for the Dubai World Cup Carnival in four weeks’ time.

New Trials (third from left) and Gronkowski (fourth from left) race for the first time since finishing 10th and 2nd in the $12m Dubai World Cup in March (Dubai Racing Club|Erika Rasmussen)

Trained by Salem bin Ghadayer for Phoenix Thoroughbreds and Khalid bin Mishref, who has recently purchased a share in the 4-year-old Lonhro colt, Gronkowski failed by a nose to deny Godolphin’s Thunder Snow an unprecedented second Dubai World Cup victory and, over the same 2000m on dirt, faces six rivals in The Entisar sponsored by DP World UAE Region. Also runner-up, behind US Triple Crown winner Justify in the 2018 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes over 2400m, Gronkowski won four consecutive races before that big Belmont effort—all in Britain on all-weather surfaces, but has not won since. The mount of Royston Ffrench, he is pleasing his trainer ahead of a campaign expected to culminate in another crack at the Dubai World Cup, but which could also include the new Saudi Cup and/or the Pegasus World Cup.

Bin Ghadayer said: “He is training well and everything is going to plan with him thus far. We said all along we would give him a run before travelling with him and this is that prep race we identified. He is fit and ready for a run, but perhaps only 85% fit. The trip suits him and we know he stays further, so this looks a good starting point.”

For the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, Bin Ghadayer is also represented by UAE debutant Talento Puma, a 4-year-old Equal Talent colt who won two of his three starts in his native Argentina, but off the track for 375 days. Xavier Ziani rides.

“He arrived in the summer and is a nice new horse,” Bin Ghadayer said. “He is only rated 99, but we hope he is better than that. He will improve for the run, but we want to try him over this longer trip as his form is at 1400m and we think he now needs further.”

Ahmad bin Harmash saddles a fascinating rival in the shape of New Trails, a course and distance winner on his local and dirt debut at the very first Meydan meeting of last season on the first day of November 2018 and victorious over 1900m in a handicap at the Dubai World Cup Carnival. A 5-year-old gelded son of 2004 Dubai World Cup runner-up Medaglia d’Oro, New Trails ended last season finishing tenth, more than nine lengths behind Gronkowski in that race this year, having also suffered from cuts during the race. Previously, he registered a second and fourth in the second and third rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge. Regular partner Connor Beasley maintains the partnership.

“Hopefully the World Cup is the aim again and we think he is an improving horse,” Bin Harmash said. “Last season we kept him quite busy to get him rated highly enough for the big races, but this time we already have that rating, so we can be more selective with his races.”

Trained by Satish Seemar, Saltarin Dubai, now owned by Ali Haddad, is a dual DWC Carnival course and distance winner in the colours of Sheikh Mohd bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, including the 2018 Listed Curlin Handicap. He too is making his seasonal debut.

Bhupat Seemar, assistant trainer, said: “He is fit and ready for a run over what are his optimum conditions. We expect a good effort.”

One with the advantage of an outing this season is Mystique Moon, a 1400m Jebel Ali winner for Doug Watson and Mohd Khalifa Al Basti five weeks ago. A progressive 5-year-old Shamardal gelding, he is a 1900m winner at Sharjah and looked unlucky when fifth in a 2000m Meydan handicap won by Saltarin Dubai last season.

Watson said: “Obviously Gronkowski is a tough opponent, but our fellow is training well and we are very happy with him.”

Over 1200m, the Listed The Garhoud Sprint sponsored by JAFZA looks wide open. Another representing the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, Bin Harmash and Beasley, Walking Thunder looks to hold solid claims. Victorious in his first three career outings, the 3-year-old Violence colt was then runner-up in the 1600m UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and is tackling the shortest trip he has yet faced. He is unraced since finishing unplaced in the UAE Derby (G2)

“He has a lot of natural speed,” Bin Harmash said. “Last season we tried him over longer trips with the UAE Derby in mind, but that was too far. We are looking forward to Thursday over this shorter trip.”

Four of the runners will carry the Shadwell blue and white silks of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Retained jockey, Dane O’Neill opts to partner Ibn Malik for Musabbah Al Mheiri who also saddles Rusumaat for the season’s current leading owner whose other pair are both trained by Watson.

Of those, Pat Dobbs has elected to ride dirt debutant Ekhtiyaar, a 1200m turf carnival winner last season and runner-up in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint to no less than Blue Point over the same course and distance. Sam Hitchcott will ride Waady, a winner under O’Neill over this 1200m on dirt one month ago.

Watson said: “Waady won well last time and has been in great form since. Ekhtiyaar works really well on dirt, so this looks the perfect opportunity to try him on it in a race.”

Both Listed affairs are worth approximately $72,000. They go of as the fifth (8:50 p.m.) and sixth (9:25 p.m.) races and are supported by a salty card, including the first major 2-year-old conditions affair of the season and the return of exciting DWC Carnival candidates Midnight Sands and Firnas in the undercard. First post is 6:30 p.m.

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