THE EAGERLY anticipated opening meeting of the 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival (DWCC) is finally upon us and it promises to be a cracker with a quality equine cast set to assemble under the Meydan floodlights. The first rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge, one for each breed over 1600m on the dirt, are always keenly contested and this year’s renewals look particularly spicy.

The Purebred Arabian version carries Group One status and was won last year by Brraq, at the time a first UAE winner for trainer Jean-Claude Pecout. He is back to attempt to defend his crown, something achieved by the legendary Kahayla, Kandar Du Falgas, Velte and most recently No Risk Al Maury.

The last named scored his first success in this contest when winning the first ever race at Meydan in 2010. Another Purebred legend, Alanudd, also won the race twice but not in consecutive years. Fawzi Nass dipped his toe into UAE Purebred Arabian waters in no uncertain manner when saddling local debutant RB Rich Lyke Me to score an emphatic success in the 1400m Group 2 Bani Yas eight weeks ago.

That was undoubtedly impressive and the ideal prep for this test and he has Grade One form in his native US. For Helal Alalawi, RB Frynchh Dude denied Brraq a clean sweep of the Al Maktoum Challenge races last year when defeating him in the 1900m second round, whereas RB Money To Burn will be seeking to emulate Alanudd by regaining the crown. She won the race in 2020.

The Group Two Thoroughbred equivalent looks a fascinating renewal and, again Nass has a serious contender, this time in the form of Salute The Soldier. Racing in the colours of Victorious, the 7yo Sepoy gelding was third in this last year before then winning the Group Two second round over 1900m and, on Super Saturday, the Group One round three over 2000m.

Finishing fifth in the Dubai World Cup was far from a poor effort and you would imagine a repeat effort in that 2000m contest will be connections’ ultimate aim this season. On official ratings and with Bhupat Seemar saddling winners for fun, Secret Ambition holds serious claims for ‘lucky owner’ Naser Askar. In fairness, lucky probably underplays what would probably be best described as ‘shrewd’.

Now a 9yo, the entire son of Exceed And Excel has certainly done his part in flying the owner’s flag and has ten UAE victories to his name, most recently and probably significantly the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on last year’s Dubai World Cup card.

He has a good record fresh after a break so his absence since the big night is not a particular concern. In that Godolphin Mile, he was chased home by Doug Watson’s Golden Goal who is still the 1400m dirt track record holder having won a handicap over that trip on the first night of the carnival last year. Watson’s Thegreatcollection defeated Secret Ambition in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile in December 2020 but has not won since.

That said, he has posted some sterling performances in defeat, including finishing second in this last year, ahead of Salute The Soldier. He was then second and fourth to that same rival in the second and third rounds, efforts good enough to earn him a place in the Dubai World Cup field.

He was seventh without ever threatening but does have the advantage of a run this season, third in the Dubai Creek Mile he had won 12 months earlier. Kimbear won this for Watson in 2020, denying Secret Ambition, but has been winless since.

He is now in the care of Seemar. Runner-up behind Salute The Soldier in Super Saturday’s third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge and then fourth in the Dubai World Cup, Hypothetical looks a fascinating contender for Salem bin Ghadayer who also saddled Capezzano, winner of the Group One third round in 2019 in his pomp.

The latter also beat Secret Ambition into second for his most recent success in the February 2020 Group 3 Firebreak Stakes. In contrast, the turf feature, for fillies and mares, the 1600m Group 2 Cape Verdi, looks a modest affair for the grade.

As you would expect, Godolphin are well represented and, at least on ratings, Saeed bin Suroor’s Soft Whisper looks the one to beat. Stablemate Stunning Beauty and the Charlie Appleby representative Wedding Dance complete the trio set to carry the royal blue. Turf debutante Mnasek is arguably the most interesting among the opposition for Watson. Last year’s UAE Oaks heroine ran well enough when second on her seasonal return and the switch of surface is surely worth a go.

Selections

Race 1: RB Rich Lyke Me (NB)
Race 2: Bet Law
Race 3: Wirko (Nap)
Race 4: Sovereign Prince
Race 5: Hypothetical
Race 6: Wedding Dance
Race 7: Royal Crusade