The 19th edition of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, the Dubai Racing Club’s annual showpiece event, gets underway with a seven-race card at Meydan Racecourse on Friday.
The Carnival gets underway with the opening rounds of the 1600 metre (Dirt) Al Maktoum Challenge series, for Thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians and its main support race, the 1600m (Turf) Group 2 Cape Verdi for fillies and mares.
The card also features the first running of the Jumeirah Classic Trial; the first event in the exciting four-race Jumeirah Series which is dedicated to the Classic generation.
A full field of 14 thoroughbreds, many of them boasting big-race aspirations, will contest Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, a race of major significance and potential Dubai World Cup implications.
Arguably one of the best renewals of a race that was first run in 1994, the Group 2 contest has attracted the likes of 2021 Godolphin Mile (G2) winner Secret Ambition, Dubai World Cup fourth Hypothetical and Salute The Soldier, the Bahrain-owned gelding who won the second and third rounds of the series last season.
The full depth of the contest is driven home by the presence of two veteran former Al Maktoum Challenge winners, Kimbear (Round 1 2020) and Capezzano (Round 3, 2019) and four-time Meydan dirt scorer Thegreatcollection.
Former Godolphin-trained Imperial Empire is unbeaten in two starts this season for in-form handler Bhupat Seemar and will have the services of three-time Dubai World Cup-winning rider Frankie Dettori, who makes his highly anticipated seasonal debut in the UAE on Friday.
Seemar, who warmed up for the Carnival by saddling five winners on last week’s card, is mob-handed with five contenders in Secret Ambition (Tadhg O’Shea), Imperial Empire, Kimbear (Antonio Fresu), Kafoo (William Buick) and Avant Garde (Richard Mullen).
Assessing the chances of his quintet, the trainer said: “This is the best Al Maktoum Challenge we’ve had in years. All five are in good form and ready to run. We have a nice mix of old pros and newer horses.
“Secret Ambition has a good draw (Stall 5), is fit, healthy, and good to go.
“Kafoo is drawn 10 but is unbeaten this season. He’s doing everything right. I only hope inexperience doesn’t catch him because he’s definitely got the talent to be up there to compete against this class of horses,” he added.
“Imperial Empire is a Dubawi and is a half-brother to a Group 1 winner, so hopefully he should show up.
“Kimbear ran a good race on his debut for us but unfortunately he’s drawn a bit on the outside (Stall 11), while Avant Garde is doing really well. This is his minimum trip, he would rather go over a mile and quarter, but it’s a good place to start him.”
O'Shea backs Secret Ambition
UAE champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea has already ridden 30 winners this season, with half of them coming at Meydan, and the popular Irish rider said that he was looking forward to mixing it up with the best jockeys in the Al Maktoum Challenge when he rides the international favorite, Secret Ambition.
“His form speaks for itself and though he runs after a lengthy layoff he should run a very good race,” said the rider. “Whatever he does he will improve for it.”
Champion UAE handler Doug Watson sampled success in the 2020 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 with Kimbear and is set to saddle three contenders – Midnight Sands,, Golden Goal and Thegreatcollection.
He commented: “They’re all doing well at home. We were a bit disappointed with Midnight Sands last time but it was his first run after a long lay-off. He’s been training well since.
“Thegreatcollection and Golden Goal are both in great shape. They both ran well recently after being off for the track for eight to nine months. It looks like they’ve come on so we’re hoping they all run well.”
Emirati handler Ahmad bin Harmash sends out Listed Dubai Creek Mile runner-up and former Godolphin galloper Eastern World.
“He had his first start on dirt recently and he ran very well, so it looks like can handle the surface,” said Bin Harmash. “He’s a new horse who we got at the September sale, but he is well bred and is a half-brother to Thunder Snow. I think he will run well.”
Godolphin seek to extend dominance
The 1600m Cape Verdi (G2), a race named after Godolphin’s 1998 1000 Guineas heroine, has been won by the stable on no less than nine occasions and Soft Whisper looks primed to continue that trend on Friday.
Trainer by Saeed Bin Suroor, who has collected five Cape Verdi trophies over the years, Soft Whisper was an impressive winner of the UAE 1000 Guineas last season before having two starts at Newmarket in the UK. She won well over a mile but perhaps did not stay over an extended 2,000 metres in her subsequent outing in October.
Bin Suroor, an eight-time champion trainer at the Carnival, is looking for his first win of the year and believes that Soft Whisper (Frankie Dettori) can get him off the mark by taking out the Cape Verdi.
“She ran well last year, here in Dubai and also when we took her back to England. She won Listed races on both dirt and turf,” he said. “This looks like it is the right race to start her four-year-old campaign as she has been pleasing us at home.”
Bin Suroor also saddles three-time UK scorer Stunning Beauty under young English rider Hector Crouch, who is seeking a first Pattern race success for the Emirati handler.
“Stunning Beauty showed better form in the UK last season and has been going well at home, so I’m hoping for a nice performance over a trip that suits,” said Bin Suroor.
Watson's Mnasek a threat
The main threat to the Bin Suroor pair appears to be the Doug Watson-trainer Mnasek, winner of the 2021 UAE Oaks (G3) on dirt. She makes her turf debut with stable jockey Pat Dobbs in the saddle.
The last three renewals of the Cape Verdi have been taken out by two-time Epsom Derby-winning handler Charlie Appleby who relies on Wedding Dance (William Buick). She won her most recent start on the all-weather at Wolverhampton in November.
Appleby said: “Wedding Dance improved from her first to second run last season, winning nicely at Wolverhampton on the latter occasion.
“The plan was always to bring her out to Dubai afterwards and we have been pleased with the way she has been training out here. She will potentially come forward for this, but we feel that she is ready to have a run and should be competitive.”
The Carnival kicks off at 6.00 pm (UAE time) with the eight-runner Purebred Arabian Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R1, Presented By The Pointe. The line-up includes the last two winners of this, RB Money To Burn and Brraq, as well as exciting G2 Bani Yas winner RB Rich Lyke Me.
Exciting series for Classic generation
Elsewhere on the card, the Jumeirah Classic Trial, Presented By Palm Jumeirah, has drawn eight promising three-year-olds, led by Bin Suroor’s Home City (Frankie Dettori). He comes into the race off the back of a promising second in a 1400 metre nursery at Goodwood last October.
Appleby is represented by Sovereign Prince, who was also successful in the UK last season, winning at Epsom on his most recent start in September.
Another interesting contest is the Listed Dubai Racing Club Classic, Presented By The View At The Palm, over 2,400 metres on turf.
Appleby’s Wilko, winner of the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom in April last year, and Bin Suroor’s Passion And Glory, third in the G1 Grosser Preis Von Baden in September, look the pick of the 16 runners.