Sultan Ali’s Group 1-winning Capezzano, the beaten market favourite in last year’s $12 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), is scheduled to return to action on Thursday for the yard of Salem bin Ghadayer in the Group 3 $200,000 Firebreak Stakes over 1600m. The son of Bernardini was a one-sided winner of a pair of 1600m handicaps last DWC Carnival—by a combined 16¼ lengths—before dismissing Thunder Snow by 9½ lengths in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) over 2000m. Last seen finishing last of 12 in the aforementioned Dubai World Cup astern said foe, Thursday’s comeback test will be a stiff one meant to toughen him up for lucrative prizes down the road.
“I delayed this horse and didn’t use him at all in training until the end of September,” Bin Ghadayer said. “He’s a Bernardini, is always keen and I made a program for him that is just February and March to keep his big performances saved for the big nights. At the end of the day, he was invited to (the Group 1 $20 million) Saudi Cup and it’s only two weeks until that race, but he will need the race and I think the two weeks is enough time for recover.
“I think he can be 100% for Saudi and then Dubai World Cup, but this race will not be an easy race,” Bin Ghadayer continued. “We will go and try to win this race, but we must be very careful with him and his mentality. We have tried to keep him happy and relaxed, which is not easy, but he has trained and galloped well and he’s healthy and sound. Last year, he ran in a mile handicap and won just two weeks before he won Round 3.”
It will be an off-the-bench baptism by fire for the emblazoned bay gelding, but Bin Ghadayer will have reserves in the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum-owned duo of 2018 winner Heavy Metal and the consistent Matterhorn, a Listed winner looking to transfer his solid all-weather form to the sandier Meydan dirt course on UAE debut. Ten-year-old Heavy Metal, the 2018 Godolphin Mile (G2) winner, looks to improve upon two lacklustre last-place performances this season in stakes company, while also looking to win his eighth race over this course and distance.
All must go through course record-owning defending champ Muntazah, as well as a diverse cast of swift foes, including multiple G2 winner Quip, multiple G3 winner Secret Ambition and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) alumnus Ambassadorial.
“He doesn’t need the lead and does not have any problem (rating), but it’s the kickback he does not like,” Bin Ghadayer explained. “He’ll be around the front and we won’t change anything about him. He has a good draw. If he jumps and takes the lead, he will be very tough, but this is not an easy race with Muntazah and Ambassadorial in there.
“Heavy Metal will be fast,” he continued. “For me, if he shows his form, he will be fine. I won’t give up him yet and at the end of the day, he’s doing well. I know he didn’t show it in the last two races, but it’s normal and I hope he comes back up (to form) again. Maybe that will happen in the Firebreak. If I saw him fall away from his form at home, I wouldn’t run him. He has given me a lot of things and deserves special care. I believe in his ability.”
Matterhorn will try dirt in a race for the first time, but has given his connections confidence with his training.
“He trains well and deals very well with the dirt,” Bin Ghadayer said. “For me, he did well over a mile and 10 furlongs in England and his program is (focused on) Super Saturday (March 7) and will follow that. I think he will make a big name for himself. He has a lot of quality and class.”
Capezzano, picture Dubai Racing Club|Erika Rasmussen
APPLEBY DOUBLES DOWN IN BALANCHINE
Godolphin’s well-bred 5-year-old Charlie Appleby-trained mare Magic Lily has always been highly regarded by her connections and now appears to be living up it, thanks to a win in last month’s Group 2 $250,000 Cape Verdi at Meydan. In what was her third start after a 721-day layoff that nixed her entire 3-year-old season and most of her 4-year-old campaign, the daughter of champion New Approach out of English Oaks (G1) winner Dancing Rain closed resolutely, showing the same promise that inspired her connections to start her in G1 company in just her second career run at two, finishing a commendable third to six-time G1 winner Laurens in Newmarket’s Fillies’ Mile.
On Thursday, the chestnut mare will make just her sixth career start and seek her third victory as the expected favourite in the $250,000 Balanchine (G2). The race will provide her a much-needed furlong more of real estate, as she tries the 1800m trip over the Dubai oval.
“Magic Lily has come forward for that run,” Appleby said. “Obviously a step up in trip will hopefully see a bit more improvement again there. She has the (1.5kgs) penalty this time around and we’ll take that into account when taking on (Nisreen), who she just got in front of last out.”
Her toughest foe may come in the form of stablemate Divine Image, who makes her first start of the year. A 4-year-old daughter of the late Scat Daddy, she was an impressive winner on the dirt last year in the UAE Oaks (G3) before manhandling the boys in the Al Bastakiya (Listed). A disappointing 13th as the favourite in the rich UAE Derby (G2) three weeks later, she was last seen finishing unplaced in French G2 company over the summer, but has reportedly enjoyed being back in the UAE.
“Her homework has been good and we’re pleased with how she looks,” Appleby said. “She’s fit and ready. All of her starts, apart from her run on the soft ground at Deauville, have been on the Meydan dirt or the one start on the synthetic in the UK. She has action in her homework where she’s travelled well on the turf, so there’s no reason we can think that she won’t handle it. You have to put a line through her run on soft ground, but if she brings that form back from last year at Meydan, she’s going to be a player.
“Two nice fillies and both should be very competitive.”
In an eight-horse field that also includes Cape Verdi runner-up Nisreen and multiple Turkish G1 winner Peri Lina, fourth in the same 1600m contest, Magic Lily and Divine Image drew posts two and five, respectively. William Buick will ride Magic Lily, while James Doyle will be aboard Divine Image.
JAPANESE FILLY SEREIN ARRIVES FOR OAKS
Promising Japanese 3-year-old filly Serein has made the ambitious move from her home base to Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse and is zeroing in on the Group 3 $250,000 UAE Oaks next Thursday, Feb. 20. A daughter of champion Uncle Mo and G1 winner Tiz Miz Sue, the Mikio Matsunaga-trained Kentucky-bred exits a gritty victory in the 1800m Kuratake Sho on Jan. 25 at Nakayama, one race after her only poor showing from four starts, a 12th in the Cattleya Sho in the mud. The dark bay filly arrived locally on Sunday, Feb. 9, and stretched her legs over the local surface just after clearning quarantine on Tuesday morning.
“It was a very nice and smooth trip,” said Keita Tanaka, manager of international racing matters for owner Koji Maeda. “She has two wins so far against colts, which is very good, so we think she is capable enough to be competitive in a Group 3 (against fillies). She has been showing some speed over there, so I don’t think the pace here will be any trouble for her. On the sloppy ground, two races back, she did not like that and didn’t want to run. Apart from that race, she has had three races where she ran well and I don’t expect sloppy ground in Dubai.”
A $500,000 Keeneland September 2018 purchase by Maeda’s North Hills, she will be ridden by Yutake Take next week, who also piloted the same connections’ Lani to victory in the 2016 UAE Derby (G2) just prior to him competing in all three legs of the American Triple Crown, including a third in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
“She was an expensive purchase, but the owner is now starting to buy good, quality fillies for his stallions in Hokkaido. It’s important to do that and get good pedigrees. That team brought Lani four years ago and he won the Derby here. It’s always been a plan to buy another good dirt horse and possibly come here again. We only have good memories here. It was like a dream journey to bring a 3-year-old colt here to win the (UAE) Derby and then go straight to the U.S. to run in the Kentucky Derby. With this filly, we are trying to do the same thing.
“Japan has been successful for more than 10 years shipping across the world, though last year was (especially) successful,” Tanaka concluded. “Before that, we weren’t that successful, but sometimes things go good and sometimes not so good. Hopefully, this year, we have another good year.”
The UAE Oaks provides 85 qualification points for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 1. Rayya, winner of the 1900m test in 2018, went on to finish second in the UAE Derby before being unplaced in the Kentucky Oaks.
Serein, picture Dubai Racing Club|Liza Hendriks
QUIP SET FOR DUBAI DEBUT
Thursday’s Group 3 $200,000 Firebreak Stakes will mark numerous firsts for multiple G2-winning American import, Quip. It will be his first start of 2020 and in the UAE, as well as for trainer Doug Watson and in the orange and black colours of Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi.
“Obviously, he has the form in the States, other than those last two starts, when he went a little wrong,” Watson said. “He’s had a break and his work since coming back has been fantastic. I took him over to Meydan a couple times to breeze and he looks like he will run well fresh. He is pretty athletic and breaks well. I think everything is going for him. Whether he needs the run, I don’t know, but I think he stacks up well in this race. He came in pretty fit and it didn’t take him long to adjust. He looks great in his coat and there are a lot of positives about him, so we will just see how he goes.
“If he runs a nice race, we’d like to go on to the Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge after this,” he continued. “North America and Benbatl might be in Saudi and I think he can stretch (to 2000m). He has won over 1700m and 1800m in the States, so I think he can maybe do it. He can get into the Godolphin Mile with his rating, so there are options if it doesn’t work out.”
A son of Distorted Humor, he was previously on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2018, but previous trainer Rodolphe Brisset elected to skip the American classic because he needed more time to mature. He has since won the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) over 1800m, adding to his popular win in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) the year prior. Last June, he was second in the Stephen Foster (G2) over the same distance before finishing unplaced in his following two starts, the $1 Million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) and the Lukas Classic Stakes (G3). A break necessitated and his purchase occurred in the interim, followed by a few weeks of light training at David Scanlon’s Florida farm. Quip arrived in Dubai in mid-December.
Stablemate Muntazah, last year’s winner of the Firebreak for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, appears the horse to beat in the race. The 7-year-old gelding has historically needed a prep race coming off his long summer break and now, with such under his belt when fourth by 9¼ lengths in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) on Jan. 9, he should be a tough customer. Watson also will start Thegreatcollection, a reliable late-running sort who appears to be punching above his weight, but always comes out swinging late in the race.
“I’m really pleased with Muntazah, who always takes a run to get ready—just a big, massive animal who weighs at least 550kgs,” Watson explained. “We knew he would need that and we did as much as we could, but he ran the same way he did in his first dirt start last year. He’s a good horse and one of the best we have when he’s right. The plan is going to be to run in the Godolphin Mile after this, if all goes well.
“Thegreatcollection is training well and on his night, he can run a big race,” he continued. “He’s a quirky horse, but he takes kickback and if it all falls apart in front of him, he can run on and get a nice piece of the race. He’s a nice horse and if it doesn’t work out, we have a handicap back in two weeks. It would be nice to run a big race, so that we could get him into (the Godolphin Mile). That would be nice for the owner.”
Watson also touched on multiple G3 winner Switzerland, who makes his Red Stables bow in the same silks as Quip in the 1200m dirt handicap on Thursday. The son of Speightstown was last seen failing to hit the board in the Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News (G1) for trainer Steve Asmussen.
“He’s had two really good works over at Meydan and (jockey) Pat (Dobbs) is really positive about the horse,” Watson said. “He’s a big, heavy horse, but he’s had some good works and is as well as we could have him. He looks lighter to me than he did last year and we thought we would never get him to the races when we got him, but he’s flown along and is doing great. If he can run back close to his best, he will be right there.”