LAST WEEK’S opening meeting of the 2020 Dubai World Cup Carnival was certainly ‘not too shabby’ but the quality goes up a notch this week with a pair of Thoroughbred Group Two contests, both set to be contested by defending title holders, not to mention a Group One for the Purebred Arabians. In the official feature, the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge R1, North America and Richard Mullen will try and emulate Le Bernardin, the only previous dual winner of the 1600m dirt highlight, landing the spoils in both 2016 and 2017. An 8yo gelded son of Dubawi, the star for Satish Seemar at Zabeel Stables, he absolutely blitzed eight rivals in this year, before winning the second, 1900m, round of the Al Maktoum Challenge.
In doing so, he became the first horse to be the ‘title holder’ in all three legs at the same time having won the third round, over 2000m, in March 2018. In fact, his local record is impressive; seven victories from just a dozen outings with his pair of most notable disappointments registered in the two most recent renewals of the Dubai World Cup. Proven to go well fresh, as well as over course and distance, he will surely at least go close though, obviously, he is not getting any younger. Meanwhile, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Heavy Metal will be seeking to achieve something never before done, regaining the crown he earned in 2018, but he failed to beat any of his eight rivals in this 12 months ago.
Trained by Salem bin Ghadayer, the 10yo does have the advantage of a run this season, over this 1600m dirt track and trip he has already won seven times, albeit a disappointing one, last of seven in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile. Forced to work hard to get to the front, his preferred way of racing, he was also reported ‘mildly lame’ afterwards. That Dubai Creek Mile was won by Seemar’s Secret Ambition, chased home by Kimbear for Doug Watson and both in opposition again. A length between them on that occasion, for which Secret Ambition was carrying a penalty having won last year’s Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile, on ‘weights and measures’ he should confirm the form but Kimbear was forced to challenge wide.
Watson also saddles Muntazah, sporting the world famous blue and white silks of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid. Homebred, the 7yo Dubawi gelding was third in this last year, behind North America and Kimbear before beating Secret Ambition in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes. He then landed Super Saturday’s Group 3 Burj Nahaar, in the process smashing this 1600m course and distance track record. He finished his campaign finishing third in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on the Dubai World Cup card, when Heavy Metal was second trying to defend his crown having been chased home 12 months earlier by Muntazah. If not complex enough already, for the record Kimbear was fourth and Secret Ambition fifth in the 2019 Godolphin Mile. Basically, old and regular foes clash again and have all proven they can beat one another.
The Purebred Arabian equivalent carries Group One status and we are guaranteed a new name on the roll of honour. It looks tricky and those playing the tipping competitions could spend hours scratching their heads. No strong opinion but Aatebat Al Khalediah, a 7yo mare, is a mare we have followed in these pages and looks a live contender for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi. For fans of ES Ajeeb the unthinkable happened last time; the star of Sharjah was beaten on ‘home dirt’ over 1200m. If he stays this 1600m, he beat the aforementioned Al Rayhi mare over 1400m here at Meydan prior to that, he will be thereabouts but, in this company, that is a big if. Christmas may be over but the Group 2 Singspiel Stakes, over 1800m on the turf, threatens to be a belated cracker with Saeed bin Suroor aiming the two most recent winners of the race in this direction for Godolphin.
Last year it was Dream Castle and Christophe Soumillon who landed the spoils, 12 months after Benbatl under Oisin Murphy. In each instance they then went on to win the Group 2 Al Rashidiya, following up in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta before in the former’s case failing to fire in the Group 1 Dubai Turf, a race the latter did win that year. Interestingly and probably significantly, with Murphy in Japan, Soumillon partners Benbatl this time.