While 2018 spoiled local racing fans with two of the best horses in the world in action four times each throughout the season in Godolphin’s multiple Group 1-winning pair of Thunder Snow and Benbatl, the UAE faithful will have to wait a little longer in 2019 to see said fan favourites. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor has confirmed that 2018 Dubai World Cup (G1) and 2017 UAE Derby (G2) winner Thunder Snow and 2018 Dubai Turf (G1) winner Benbatl will be pointed to defences of their crowns and a resurfacing three weeks prior.
“Thunder Snow has had an easy time so far and is doing well; happy to be back in Dubai,” Bin Suroor said. “Hopefully we can get him ready and run on Super Saturday in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Super Saturday (Mar. 9). He had a hard season and a hard race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). That’s why I gave him and Benbatl an easy time and we will get them ready for the season. I’m not going to rush them.”
Bin Suroor also confirmed that a similar second half of the season could be in order for the son of Helmet, with a focus on American Grade 1 races in the summer and fall.
“Benbatl has also had an easy time and is doing very good,” he continued. “Hopefully, like Thunder Snow, he will point to Super Saturday. He’s in training now and the (Group 1 $400,000 Jebel Hatta) is the prep for him and then the Dubai Turf. Then we will go to Europe with him.”
Like Thunder Snow, Benbatl was last seen facing some of the best horses in the world, but on the opposite side of the world. While Thunder Snow was a valiant third in America’s Breeders Cup Classic behind Accelerate, Benbatl was a game second to the great Winx in the Cox Plate (G1) in Australia. Just two weeks prior to that effort, he won the Ladbrokes Stakes (G1) on Oct. 13.
Benbatl could possibly be joined by another Bin Suroor luminary who earned a Group 1 win Down Under, Best Solution. Also a star of the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival—racing four times, winning once and finishing a smart fifth in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1)—the son of Kodiac was a bear in the second half of the season, winning three consecutive Group 1 races, including two in Germany and then the prestigious Caulfield Cup (G1) on Oct 20. He was last seen finishing eighth after missing the break by five lengths in the iconic Melbourne Cup (G1).
“He’s doing well, but he will not run in Dubai,” Bin Suroor said. “I will keep him for early April, hopefully, and point to a European campaign.
“We had a very good Carnival and season last year, but we hope it is even better this year. That is the goal.”
Thunder Snow, picture Liesl King
GUINEAS NEXT FOR WALKING THUNDER
The top 3-year-old in Dubai thus far this season has surely been Phoenix Ladies Syndicate’s Walking Thunder, who successfully shifted course from skipping the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial to racing in said 1600m event and winning it emphatically last Thursday. The nine-length victor, trained by Ahmad bin Harmash, has exited said run in fine order and is preparing to stay the course in the $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) on Feb. 7.
“He came out very well,” Bin Harmash said. “He trained today and he looks so fresh. That’s one of the reasons we decided to run him back in the Trial instead of going straight to the Guineas. From now, he’ll go on to the Guineas and then the ($2.5 million) UAE Derby (on Mar. 30).”
While Bin Harmash did not have any immediate plans for the same ownership’s ultra-impressive Jebel Ali graduate Golden Jaguar, he did say that fellow orange-silked banner-mate Superior would point toward longer races.
“We will keep Walking Thunder and Superior separated until the UAE Derby (on Mar. 30),” he said. “Superior will go to the ($100,000) Al Bastakiya Trial (on Jan. 24 over 1900m). We don’t need to run them together. They’re two good horses. We will run them until they both qualify for the UAE Derby and then they can face each other.”
ASMUSSEN-TRAINED TONE BROKE, SWITZERLAND ARRIVE FOR DWC CARNIVAL
It has been evident since the beginning of the 2018-19 UAE racing season that the bar of the sophomore class had been raised, especially with breakout performances by the likes of Walking Thunder, Superior and Moshaher. Now, with the recent invasion of U.S. trainees Tone Broke and Grecko, the waters appear to be getting deeper.
The former of the two American-conditioned colts comes from a yard well known to Dubai racing fans, Steve Asmussen, whose Curlin won the Dubai World Cup (G1) in 2008 and Gun Runner was second in the same global showcase in 2017. L & N Racing’s Tone Broke was one of two horses wearing the famous Asmussen blue saddle pad when training Thursday morning at Meydan. The other, multiple Grade 3-winning sprinter Switzerland, was also ridden by Carlos Rosas—the same exercise rider and traveling assistant who was atop Curlin and Gun Runner.
An early-arriving 3-year-old for Asmussen—whose Reride was third in last year’s UAE Derby (G2)—Tone Broke carries a lot of size to him and appears to be growing into a substantial frame. A son of Broken Vow out of a stakes-placed Smart Strike mare, he cost just $40,000 at Keeneland September (2017) and has a pair of wins from five tries—both at 1600m.
“He has really turned it on the last two months,” said Michael Levinson, racing manager and part-owner of L & N Racing. “He started out a little slow, but he is such a big, tall horse, he just needed a few races to get his feet under him. We think he will love the Dubai setup.”
In his stakes debut last out, the $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile Stakes (Listed) on Dec. 16, Tone Broke finished strongly and stamped himself as a horse worth watching. Away toward the tail of the field, he found himself 10th of 11 with half the race remaining. Six-wide turning for home, losing ground, he closed willingly and ultimately checked in fourth by 3¼ lengths.
“Our plan is to run him in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) on Feb. 7 over a mile and see how he does before deciding what to do next,” Levinson continued. “We’ve always wanted to run in a race in Dubai (on World Cup night). From what we have heard, there is no better racing event in the world.
“We would like to thank everyone at Meydan for giving us the chance to send a horse over to run in the Carnival. We’re looking forward to the race on the 7th and hopefully he’ll be in the UAE Derby in March, but we are just taking it one race at a time.”
While no concrete plans are set for Switzerland, his likely first race of the DWC Carnival will be the $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) over 1200m on Jan. 31. Others likely for what could be a fantastic renewal of said race are defending champ My Catch, Dubawi (G3) winner Raven’s Corner, Garhoud Sprint (Listed) winner Drafted and multiple Argentine Group 2 winner Tato Key.
FURIA CRUZADA CUTS BACK IN CAPE VERDI
Unlike in seasons’ past, Avaz Ismoilov’s 7-year-old iron mare Furia Cruzada has hit the ground running—quite literally—early for trainer Erwan Charpy in 2018-19. The three-time Group 1-winning granddaughter of Storm Cat is entered to make her third start in four weeks’ time in Thursday’s $250,000 Cape Verdi (G2) and will be dropping back to the 1600m turf distance for the first time since July 2017.
“She’s doing very well, she’s running against her own gender and I thought there wouldn’t be a lot of horses running, so this seemed like a good spot for her,” Charpy said. “The aim has been the (Group 2, $250,000) Balanchine (on Feb. 14) and she’s really been working well on the turf.”
After a sub-par comeback in The Entisar (Listed) on Dec. 20 over 2000m on dirt, the two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) alumnus (over the same trip) shifted back to the turf for Dubai World Cup Carnival opening night, finishing eight of 16 in the Singspiel (G3) over 1800m against the boys. She now shifts back to the fillies for the first time since finishing a nose second in last year’s Balanchine astern Promising Run (winner of the preceding Cape Verdi).
“She ran alright in the Singspiel,” Charpy continued. “I don’t think a mile will be a problem for her. The small field is nice because there aren’t so many horses, but at the same time, it can be a tricky race. One thing is she did work great on the turf on Saturday and is coming into the race great. She had the full summer off, put some weight on and right now needed a couple races to get her ready.”
Overall, the Chilean-born charge has seven victories from 36 starts. She will look to return to the winner’s enclosure for the first time since winning 2017’s Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) over subsequent Godolphin Mile (G2) winner Second Summer.
HONORABLE TREASURE, HARLAN PUNCH HIT GROUND RUNNING FOR MCPEEK
Trainer Kenny McPeek has come to race. Shipping in a quartet of horses for the Dubai World Cup, he will make history in becoming the first trainer from America to race as early as mid-January in Dubai. His four are made up of Argentine Group 1 winner Grecko, graded stakes-placed turf horse Harlan Strong, Grade 3 winner Senior Investment—second in the 2017 Preakness Stakes (G1)—and Honorable Treasure (pictured above), who was second to Pegasus World Cup (G1) runner Audible in November’s $200,000 Cherokee Run Stakes.
“This is unique in that the horses I’m sending are ideal for the (Dubai World Cup Carnival races),” McPeek said. “Champion Grecko is on schedule for UAE Derby and Harlan Strong and Senior Investment headed toward longer dirt and turf handicaps. Honorable Treasure is a nice six or seven furlong to a flat mile horse and should fit well in handicaps.”
McPeek has sent seasoned assistant trainer Otto Draper to Dubai with his quartet. Draper, on hand when the quartet cleared quarantine on Tuesday morning, was pleased with what he saw in their morning exercises—especially with Harlan Strong, who is already entered to run this Thursday in the $135,000 2000m turf handicap for horses rated 95-105.
“I was very impressed with how Harlan Strong is doing,” Draper said. “He looked great going around there this morning. I think he’ll be competitive and it looks like he’s in a good spot. All four of these horses that Kenny brought over are horses who look like they should fit really well. I don’t know just how tough the competition is going to be, but I’m sure they’re not going to be pushovers.”
While Harlan Strong, who will be piloted by Dane O’Neill, is owned by Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables and McPeek’s Magdalena Racing, Honorable Treasure runs under the banner of Harold Lerner and partners. The son of To Honor And Serve was a troubled third last out to highly regarded Copper Bullet in allowance company and chose to run in Thursday’s $135,000 1200m handicap for horses rated 90-105 in lieu of the equivalent class over 1600m.
“He’s good at both (1200m and 1600m), but is actually best at seven-eighths (1400m),” Draper said. “The first time out here, we thought the 1200m would be better for him because of that. You always have concerns when you ship in anywhere, but sometimes you can run (well) right off the truck and other times you don’t.”
Draper also confirmed that Senior Investment will likely go in next Thursday’s $135,000 2000m handicap on dirt, while the $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2) are squarely on Grecko’s radar.
“There’s a spot on the 24th of January for (Senior Investment) over 2000m. I don’t know what there will be for him afterward, but there will be a couple spots,” he said. “The plan is the UAE Derby if all goes well (for Grecko). He looks like he can fit with these horses. He’s only started two times and won both starts in Argentina on a different kind of surface, but he looks like a very nice horse. He’s not a big horse, but he’s very compact and it’s all about mechanics and he has great mechanics. We’re looking forward to it.”
BLUE POINT AIMS FOR MEYDAN SPRINT
Godolphin’s Blue Point (center) was squarely the horse-to-beat before last year’s Al Quoz Sprint (G1) and remains the same in 2019 as he prepares to right the wrongs of a Dubai tenure that did not exactly go to plan. Trained by Charlie Appleby, he was narrowly beaten in a massively entertaining renewal of the 1000m Meydan Sprint (G2) in February by two-time track record-setting fan favourite Ertijaal—a race for which he was naturally short on fitness. A month and a half later, as the favourite in the Al Quoz Sprint, he was found to have a trickle of blood on his nose, prompting a veterinary scratch from behind the gate in the 1200m Al Quoz Sprint.
“He’s doing very well,” Appleby said. “He’s pointing toward the two races he did last year, being the Meydan Sprint and Al Quoz Sprint. He just got touched off (pictured above) in the Meydan Sprint and unfortunately wasn’t able to run in the Al Quoz. Those are the two targets for him.”
Fortunately for his faithful, the son of Shamardal came back to win the prestigious King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot in June, defeating subsequently crowned champion European sprinter Mabs Cross and the highly rated Battaash. Blue Point has been unseen since finishing third in the Nunthorpe (G1) at York in August and carries a record of six wins from 15 starts.
Blue Point at Sha Tin, picture Liesl King
NEW TRAILS HIKING UP IN CLASS
Nearly lost amid an extremely exciting second night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival on Jan. 10 was the explosive performance of New Trails in the 1900m Special Olympics Cup, a handicap for horses rated 90 and up. Sitting kindly in mid-division—a bit farther off the lead than in previous efforts—the large son of Medaglia d’Oro inhaled his rivals turning for home, ultimately scooting off to a dominant 10½-length win. Ridden by Connor Beasley for trainer Ahmad bin Harmash, the half-brother to multi-surface graded stakes winner Tizaqueena will now step up in class.
“He’s doing very well and I was very happy with his run last Thursday,” Bin Harmash said. “That’s the kind of horse we thought he was when we started with him. We won a handicap with him in November and then we ran in the Listed (The Entisar on Dec. 20), where he finished second (to Cosmo Charlie), but his rating (99) wasn’t high enough for the Maktoum Challenge. Now he has a good enough rating and we will run him in the (Al Maktoum Challenge) Round 2.”
The Group 2 $450,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R2 over the same 1900m will be the Hamdan Sultan Ali Alsabousi-owned 5-year-old gelding’s most challenging test thus far and will likely feature a rematch with Doug Watson-trained Cosmo Charlie. An ex-Andrew Fabre trainee, New Trails returned to action with his three most recent starts (of six total in his career) after a 549-day layoff.
QUICK HITS: Unfortunately for fans of Japanese wonder horse Le Vent Se Leve, a popular winner of last month’s Champions Cup (G1), the grandson of Sunday Silence will be unable to race in the Dubai World Cup or his intended prep, the one-mile February Stakes (G1). While the setback is unfortunate, Tuesday’s statement left the door open for 2020 when the once-beaten superstar will be a 5-year-old… Hong Kong’s Leighton Handicap (Class 2) winner Elusive State is under consideration for a run or two during the Dubai World Cup Carnival, per statements from trainer Tony Millard… Australian Group 1 winner Comin’ Through has settled in well in Dubai and is on schedule for a possible run in the Al Fahidi Fort (G2) on Jan. 24... David and Ben Hayes-trained Australian Shadwell colour-bearer Muraaqeb breezed on the training track turf course on Tuesday morning, picking up nicely in the lane. Last out, he was third in the Eclipse Stakes (G3) at Sandown over 1800m… England’s George Scott-trained Another Batt impressed in his strong gallop over the training track’s turf course on Tuesday morning and remains a possible for the Al Fahidi Fort, as well.