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Opal will need to shine brighter than ever to defend her Tiara


SECOND 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival fixture of the weekend and all eyes will be focussed on Opal Tiara, attempting to defend her crown and become the first dual winner of the featured Group 2 Balanchine Stakes, restricted to fillies and mares over 1800m on turf. Some of those eyes were scheduled to be smiling blue ones, but more about that later. Inaugurated in 2004, Mick Channon saddled Opal Tiara to land this on her second UAE outing last year, having finished second on her local debut in the 1600m Cape Verdi, the other carnival race for the fairer sex, This year she was fourth in the Cape Verdi, having already filled the same berth, against the boys, in the Group 3 Singspiel Stakes, over this 1800m.

She looks sure to run well again but this appears a stronger renewal and she has not won since landing this 12 months ago. The Cape Verdi was won by Godolphin’s Promising Run, who will attempt to become a fourth Balanchine heroine for Saeed bin Suroor and, in the process, register her own third Meydan victory having won the Al Rashidiya, beating the colts, on her 2017 carnival bow. She has five career victories to her name, including the two big race Meydan victories, as well as a Group Two as a juvenile in England and, as a 3yo, a Group Three in Turkey. She does have a penalty here though and, thus, is conceding weight to those she beat on level terms in the Cape Verdi. Her stable companion, Very Special, managed to shrug off an identical party in 2016 but could not 12 months later when just fifth of six behind Opal Tiara.

Runner-up on that occasion was Rehana, who is absent from this, one place ahead of Aljuljalah, with Opal Tiara, Smiling Blue Eyes, Icecapada, Singyoursong and Absolute Blast completing the eight strong field three weeks ago, in that order. All are seeking revenge with Aljuljalah, trained by Salem bin Ghadayer, staying on in a manner suggesting the extra 200m will suit, as it should Opal Tiara. However, it was the fifth, Smiling Blue Eyes, who looked the biggest danger in a race her trainer, Mike de Kock, can boast a record five winners, but sadly, a late setback ruled her out. That caused the race to be reopened with Erwan Charpy taking the opportunity to add Furia Cruzada to the field.

Winner of the 1900m Group Al Maktoum Challenge R2 on her local debut last year, she returned to UAE action in the same dirt feature, last Thursday, when looking in need of the race and finishing fourth. She is actually a Grade One winner, on turf, in South America and is interesting on the switch of surface angle alone, not to mention her proven ability. A new name among the eight declared, basically replacing Rehana you could say, is Tiaemah, representing Saudi Arabia and Neil Bruss. A 7yo homebred, by Premium Tap, second in the 2007 Dubai World Cup for the same connections, she will be making her turf debut. However, she at least arrives in form, having won her two most recent outings, in early December and the middle of January.

Bruss’ only two previous UAE runners, Paris Perfect and Muller, were third and fourth in the 2009 World Cup. A 1600m handicap winner on this weekend last year, Heavy Metal heads the weights in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes, over the same dirt course and distance. Trained by Bin Ghadayer, who entered five, he can boast seven victories on the Meydan dirt, the latest six over 1600m, the most recent in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 on the first night of the 2018 carnival. Also winner of last year’s Group 3 Burj Nahaar on Super Saturday, he was third, just last week, in the 1900m second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge. Over a trip always likely to stretch his stamina and unable to get to the lead, very much his regular modus operandi, he actually ran well.

If over those exertions and able to get to the front, he has proved on numerous occasions he is a hard horse to pass under these conditions. The trainer also declared Richard Pankhurst but he looks very much the stable’s second string. With three wins, Bin Suroor has the best record in a race first contested in 2009 but his name was absent among the entries when released on Monday, but Godolphin do have Bravo Zolo in the field. Charlie Appleby’s charge will be having his third outing of the year, having finished second in a 1400m handicap on the opening night, when his stable companion, D’Bai, broke the track record. He was then third, over 1800m, in the Group 2 Al Rashidiya a fortnight ago.

Yet to run on dirt, he reportedly trains well on it and, for Jeremy Noseda, won four times on the all-weather, twice apiece at Wolverhampton and Kempton. Bruss again adds intrigue to the contest, this time with Fantastic Four, a 1600m dirt winner late last month on what was his first outing since December 2016. A November 2015 Grade One winner in his native Argentina, he looks a fascinating contender. Another familiar face among the field is Cosmo Charlie who missed the Al Maktoum Challenge R2 last week, seemingly to wait for this. A winner three times for Doug Watson, he was impressive winning over this track and trip, in December but has twice been beaten by Heavy Metal since, including on the first occasion when that rival was penalised as he is today.

The best of the handicaps is on turf over 1200m and an opportunity for Sheikh Hamdan’s Faatinah to confirm the exciting impression he created winning on his local debut. Over the same track and trip as this assignment, he represents Australia and David Hayes for whom he has a Group One second and Group Two victory on his CV. His winning UAE bow was achieved by a neck, from Godolphin’s Baccarat, trained by Appleby and who will be hoping to reverse the form. There should be little between the pair again on the revised terms. Also representing Godolphin, this time the Bin Suroor yard, is Steady Pace, denied by the narrowest of margins, over this turf 1200m, two weeks ago by Jordan Sport who could well advertise the form on the Thursday card here at Meydan.

Seeking a first carnival winner, Richard Hannon must be hopeful Tupi can provide that after a very promising return to action when fourth behind Jordan Sport, Steady Pace and Sir Maximilian. Having missed the break, Hannon’s charge caught the eye staying on from the rear and was also fourth, on Super Saturday, in last year’s Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint. A reproduction of his best form in Europe, a third in the 1300m Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest last August among it, would see him go very close in this.

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27 Sep 2018
Issue Number: Issue 648
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Dubai playing a key role in British racing, says Jockey Club boss
Busybody Tadhg looks to scale mountains after climbing Hills
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