Road To Dubai World Cup 2019 - Vol.1

DUBAI WORLD CUP: Thunder Snow Ready for Return; LONGINES DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC: Cross Counter Under Consideration; DUBAI TURF: Dream Castle On Point, Benbatl out; DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN: Tato Key Continues to Impress

Road To Dubai World Cup 2019 - Vol.1

DUBAI WORLD CUP: Thunder Snow Ready for Return; LONGINES DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC: Cross Counter Under Consideration; DUBAI TURF: Dream Castle On Point, Benbatl out; DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN: Tato Key Continues to Impress


Thunder Snow
Thunder Snow Picture:Dubai Racing Club / Andrew Watkins

It was only a matter of time until the equine king of UAE racing resurfaced and such appears to have come. Godolphin’s Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) champion Thunder Snow is ready to make his 2019 Dubai World Cup Carnival debut, according to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, and is on schedule for Super Saturday’s Group 1 $600,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Mar. 9.

The son of Helmet appeared to have his head in the game on Tuesday morning when making a rare appearance at Meydan track work. Based at Godolphin’s Al Quoz training centre a five-minute drive away, the bay was joined by five others members of the ‘blue army’ and was full of himself while galloping two laps with recent Carnival winner Major Partnership and Very Talented, who lines up in Thursday’s $160,000 Curlin Handicap. Retired six-time champion jockey Kieren Fallon, who turned 53 this week, was in the saddle as the 2017 UAE Derby (G2) and UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) winner distanced himself from his yard-mates on the second lap after tracking them on the first. Many high-profile connections were there to see the spirited routine move.

Cross Counter
Cross Counter Picture:Racing and Sports

“He did his main work at Al Quoz, but sometimes I take a group of horses to Meydan to get a feel or the dirt track,” Bin Suroor said. “We show them the track and get some exercise on it. It’s just routine and he looked good on it.

“He’s going to be ready for Super Saturday, but he will surely improve from the run,” he continued. “He hasn’t raced since November of last year (when third in the Grade 1 $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs). He’s had a nice break and we are happy with how he’s moved in his work. A week before the race, he will have another blowout at Al Quoz and we will be ready to run. Whatever happens, he will need the run and improve from it.”

A horse who could possibly challenge the multi-surface Group 1 winner in the 2000m race is His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Muntazah, who is trained by Doug Watson and carries the dark blue and white of Shadwell. Exiting a one-sided victory in the Firebreak Stakes (G3) over 1600m and being a Godolphin Mile (G2) runner-up last year, he has the option of staying at the shorter distance in the Burj Nahaar (G3) on Super Saturday, as well. The son of Dubawi was originally scheduled to try a distance of ground in the 1900m Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), but tied up two days prior and was rerouted to the following week’s Firebreak.

Dream Castle
Dream Castle Picture:Dubai Racing Club

“He’s come out of his run really well and what we will likely do is enter both races and make a decision after discussing,” Watson said. “It will be up to the boss. As far as the distance, I think it’s more on breeding and what I do is try to get them there fresh and fit. He had an easy work Monday and did it well; moved great. He will have another work that’s not overly fast, but in company on (Mar. 4). So far, all is well with him.

“I will likely have (Ramzan Kadyrov’s multiple Listed winner) Cosmo Charlie in there and look forward to not taking on North America, because they have such similar styles,” Watson continued. “He likes an uninhibited running style on the front and to be on the rail.”

Golden Jaguar
Golden Jaguar Picture:Dubai Racing Club

One who has been trading blows with Cosmo Charlie the last two times they met is Hamdan Sultan Ali Alsabousi’s New Trails, who is also pointing toward Round 3 in what will be just his eighth lifetime start. The 5-year-old half-brother to Grade 2 winner Tizaqueena has been filling trainer Ahmad bin Harmash with confidence.

“He’s doing very well and is still very new and learning,” Bin Harmash said. “His (second-place finish to North America) last out in (Round 2) was only his seventh run in his life and every day he seems to improve more; every race is better than the one before. Right now, Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge is the plan and hopefully that will put us in the World Cup. Right now it’s all about the big day, but we also know he is a horse who will be even better next year.”

Brundtland Picture:Pat Healy Photography

Meanwhile, JRA official have reported that K T Brave is pointing to the Dubai World Cup for owner Kazuyoshi Takimoto. Trained by Haruki Sugiyama, the chestnut 6-year-old exits a pair of placings in the 2100m Kawasaki Kinen (Listed) and 2000m Tokyo Daishoten (G1). This fall, he won both the JBC Classic (Listed) and Nippon TV Hai (Listed) over Group 1 winners Omega Perfume and Apollo Kentucky.

The list of possibles for the $12 million Dubai World Cup will continue to develop over the next couple weeks, so here are a few to keep one’s eye on as horses who could become probable. This by no means implies an invitation to the prestigious affair (applies to all races below, as well), but it does provide ample anticipation and hopefully a sharper perspective.

DWC Watch: North America, Thunder Snow, Seeking the Soul, Bravazo, Yoshida, Audible, Muntazah, New Trails, Cosmo Charlie, Gronkowski, Axelrod and K T Brave.


The $6 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) is one of the highlights of Dubai World Cup night and has been won by such international champions as St Nicholas Abbey, Cirrus de Aigles and Gentildonna. This year’s renewal is no different, as Godolphin look to achieve a hat trick of wins, following the successes of Jack Hobbs and Hawkbill in 2017 and 2018. The latter was trained by Charlie Appleby (former by John Gosden), who hinted that Melbourne Cup (G1) hero Cross Counter could target the race.

“His preparation is going well,” Appleby said. “He is slightly more versatile than (Dubai Gold Cup-bound Brundtland) in the trip he could run over. We have him in the Dubai Sheema Classic and obviously we have him in the Dubai Gold Cup, so I just think that we’ll let these two horses run (in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy) this week and see where we are at. We’ll just sit on the fence for a couple more weeks whilst his preparation is going ahead and just see how the field is likely to shape up, really.”

Prior to his success in the Melbourne Cup, Cross Counter raced successfully in England over distances of 1650-2400m. Twice a winner as a 2-year-old, the son of Teofilo was sent to Royal Ascot for the King George V Stakes, finishing fourth when carrying top weight. He returned to Ascot a month later to record the first win of his 3-year-old campaign over 2400m, before achieving Group success in Goodwood’s Gordon Stakes (G3). This saw him beat Epsom Derby second Dee Ex Bee, who was rated eight pounds his superior.

Cross Counter’s final run in Britain came in the Great Voltigeur Stakes (G2) over 2400m at York, where he finished second by a head to stablemate Old Persian, winner of the Edward VII Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot. A competitive field saw G1 winner Kew Gardens beaten into third. An obvious contender for the St Leger, which was won by Kew Gardens, Cross Counter was not eligible for the race as a gelding. He thus was successfully diverted to Australia, giving Godolphin its first win in the most prestigious race in the southern hemisphere.

The Longines Dubai Sheema Classic division is already inundated with class, much as it was last year when eight of its 10 runners won or placed in Group 1 company during the remainder of the season. As of now, the Japanese appear very strong, already stating that the 2410m event is the goal of champion Rey de Oro, fourth in 2018, and his friendly rival Suave Richard. Owner Kazuhiro Sasaki and trainer Yasuo Tomomichi, the team behind Vivlos, are considering 2017 Japan Cup (G1) victor Cheval Grand for the trip as well, according to Japanese press. Local horses will get their chance for a course and distance prep on Super Saturday in the $300,000 Dubai City of Gold (G2), a race Hawkbill won last year.

LDSC Watch: Cross Counter, Rey de Oro, Suave Richard, Cheval Grand, Loxley, Spotify, Prince of Arran and Wisshickon.


Saeed bin Suroor confirmed that trainee Benbatl will not be able to defend his championship in this year’s Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (Group 1), missing the $6 million affair and instead pointing to a European campaign for Godolphin. Last season, he won the Singspiel (G3) on opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival before taking the Al Rashidiya (G2) a few weeks later equally as impressively.

While Bin Suroor will not have his star turf runner, he has a more than capable back-up in Dream Castle, who has tread a similar path and is training extremely well as he prepares to attempt to sweep all three of the major course and distance preps in next weekend’s $400,000 Jebel Hatta (G1). The son of the great Frankel already won the same two preps Benbatl did in 2018 and appears a horse very much on the upswing.

“Like Best Solution, Benbatl had a very hard season last year, running from January until November,” Bin Suroor explained. “We will try to keep him fresh for the European season and he will miss the Dubai Turf, but we have Dream Castle, who is doing very well. We will prepare him for the Jebel Hatta and Dubai Turf and he will try to do what we did with Benbatl did last year.

“They are very similar horses,” he continued. “Dream Castle has improved this year. He is not as keen in the race and he likes the nine-furlong distance. Physically, he has looked very good and mentally he has changed for the better. He shows a lot of class in the mornings.”

Fifth in the classic 2000 Guineas (G1) in May 2017 in his third start, the highly regarded charge had not won in nearly 22 months when taking both of his starts this year. He is now 2-for-2 since being gelded and teamed with Christophe Soumillon.

Otherwise, the Japanese are once again dominating the news for the Dubai Turf, including Almond Eye, Japan’s top-rated horse. She has returned to serious training after time off on Northern Farm. Versatile over many trips, the once-beaten filly will be a heavy favourite.

DT Watch: Almond Eye, Dream Castle, Vivlos, Deirdre, Mythical Magic, Wootton, Marinaresco, Deauville and Without Parole.


Multiple Grade 2 winner Tato Key (above, right) has made a smart impression over the last few weeks during morning training at Meydan Racecourse, hinting that the David Marnane pupil may be sitting on a much better effort when he runs on Super Saturday. The swift sprinter is scheduled to take part in the Group 3 $350,000 Mahab Al Shimaal, in which he will look to turn the tables on conqueror Drafted, to whom he was second in the Jan. 31 Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) over the same 1200m distance. Both are preparations for the world’s richest dirt sprint, Dubai World Cup night’s $2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News (G1).

“Physically, he looks like he’s developing all the time, which is quite good,” Marnane said. “At the end of the day, he’s still a young horse who has done really well and has stepped up with every breeze. At this stage, we’re very happy. He seems to do what you ask him to do and in the race he’s the same way.

“The two of them, hopefully they lock horns again,” he continued. “I’m under no illusions and know Drafted is a good horse. Hopefully we can improve. All we can do is worry about our own horse and at the moment, he’s doing well and could certainly be a lovely horse for years to come. I think he’ll come on from the run, as he was away seven months (before the Al Shindagha Sprint). Hopefully his progress transfers to the race.”

Owned by Yu Long, the son of Key Deputy has won 12 of 15 starts, including the Classico Cuidad de la Plata (G2) and Classico General Manuel Belgrano (G2)—both over 1200m. He also has two Grade 3 wins and five Listed victories. His only finish outside of the top two was when third in Grade 3 company over 1300m—his only try past 1200m.

The local contingent will get its chance to shine in the aforementioned Super Saturday prep. They will take on the proverbial big guns on Dubai World Cup day, including dual U.S. champion Roy H, two-time runner-up X Y Jet and multiple Grade 1 winner Imperial Hint. Japanese sprinter Matera Sky, fifth in 2018, is also reported as aiming for a return to Dubai for the world’s richest dirt sprint.

DGS Watch: Roy H, X Y Jet, Imperial Hint, Drafted, Tato Key, Matera Sky, Lavaspin, I Kirk and Switzerland.


Phoenix Ladies Syndicate’s Golden Jaguar has lofty aspirations, but such is understandable considering how impressive his first two starts have been. Overcoming an impossible start in on debut at Jebel Ali over a straight 1000m, he won for fun in the end over its all-weather course. A few weeks later, the Ahmad bin Harmash-trained son of Animal Kingdom shifted to the turf with aplomb, winning the Meydan Classic Trial like the real deal, putting away the likes of Group 3 winner Sporting Chance and winning with something in reserve.

Returning on Thursday as the favourite in the Listed Meydan Classic, a one-mile turf race worth $175,000, the handsome chestnut could try may dive into even deeper waters, if all goes well. Bred well for traditional dirt, being out of a Craft Prospector mare, he could attempt such a surface and the addition of a second turn for the first time in the $2.5 million UAE Derby sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) on Mar. 30.

“He doesn’t know he’s the favourite for Thursday,” Bin Harmash said. “This is his first big step and just his third run. He’s been training well and all his work has been strong. The more distance, the better and his breeding says he could handle the dirt. We have Superior, who will run in the Al Bastakiya (Listed) on Super Saturday and Walking Thunder also for the Derby, so it will depend on how he runs.”

Amer Abdulaziz, principal of Phoenix Thoroughbreds, added: “I hope he wins. He’s a horse who has been very impressive. He can run on both surfaces and he’s one of the horses we would hope to have in the UAE Derby. Right now, we have Superior and Walking Thunder, too.

“His last race was really impressive, where he closed from the outside after breaking from the 15,” Abdulaziz continued. “Hopefully after this we can look toward Royal Ascot, as well. He’s training well and we have high hopes that he’s going to be a very good horse. He has the right pedigree to eventually be a stallion and is the sort of horse you hope for. We’re in a good position.”

Two other races to watch for UAE Derby hopefuls are the Patton Stakes (Listed) on Friday at Dundalk in Ireland. Ballydoyle will likely tip its hand as to possible runners for Dubai World Cup night, as they did last year with Mendelssohn. Additionally, the aforementioned Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday should clear up the local picture, headlined by Estihdaaf.

“We will run him in the Al Bastakiya,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor confirmed. “He is training very well and came out of his UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) win well. (Group 1 winners) Royal Meeting and Royal Marine will focus on the European season.”

Trainer Doug Watson also expressed excitement to see the resurfacing of Moshaher, who could not overcome a poor start in the aforementioned Guineas. Prior to that, he was an ultra-impressive winner on debut over the same 1600m trip.

“It was a horrible run for him in the Guineas,” said Watson. “The horses broke and then they all avoided the rail. Since Moshaher didn’t break well, he went outside, but they all came out to where he was trying to run and he took a lot of their kickback. The rail was open and Estihdaaf went straight up it and eventually won the race. What happened to him was similar that happened to Razeena in her (UAE 1,000 Guineas) before the (UAE) Oaks, where she didn’t break well and just got a bad trip after that,” he continued. “She came back and ran a nice race in the Oaks (finishing third). I don’t think the Al Bastakiya will be a big field and I look forward to running him. I think you’ll see a much better horse this time around.

UAED Watch: Golden Jaguar, Walking Thunder, Superior, Estihdaaf, Divine Image, Grecko, Tone Broke, Tabarak, Al Seel Legacy’s, Swift Rose, Art du Val, Moshaher and Bila Shak.


His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Ekhtiyaar will head to Super Saturday to attempt to punch his ticket to the $2 million Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1) on Dubai World Cup night in the $300,000 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3). The race is just 16 days after an immense performance last Thursday in handicap company in which he blitzed his foes by 5¼ lengths.

The 1200m course and distance turf dash will attract a quality field, with the Doug Watson trainee possibly facing fellow Shadwell colour-bearer and Meydan Sprint (G2) second Faatinah. David Bunyan’s Exceed And Excel speedster Hit the Bid will also be poised to take his shot, having finished second on both his Meydan outings, most recently to Mazzini, another who will likely line up. Ekhtiyaar’s victory was in only his second run for Watson and was his fourth win from 13 lifetime starts.

“He came out of his race really well,” Watson said. “He’s been doing well this whole time and he acclimated really well once we got him this year. We ran him the first time and we were hemming and hawing about running him back over seven furlongs or keeping him at six. We wondered if he stayed or he didn’t or he just needed the race. We decided to wait for the six-furlong race once we decided on that. Six is his trip for now and he showed that on Thursday.

“We won’t do much with him between now and Super Saturday,” Watson continued. “It’s back in 16 days and I’m trying to keep him fresh. I know he’s fit, so there’s not much to do with him. He’s going to have to step it up one more time. You don’t see sprinters run off like that at the end here, especially from a bad draw. Most like to be in the middle or near the outside rail. It was impressive.”

Doubled in purse this year, the Al Quoz Sprint could attract an all-star global cast, with all points leading to current favourite and runaway Meydan Sprint winner Blue Point.

AQS Watch: Blue Point, Faatinah, Hit the Bid, Ekhtiyaar, Sands of Mali, Mazzini and Stormy Liberal.


This week’s $300,000 Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) sees a quintet of Godolphin-owned horses attempt to lodge their $1.5 million Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2) claims. Trainer Charlie Appleby is responsible for two of those representatives and looks to win the race for the second year in succession, following a maiden victory courtesy of Rare Rhythm in 2018.

Brundtland holds the highest rating of any horse in the race and with good reason, following a busy Autumn campaign last year that saw him record three consecutive black type wins. In only his second run, he achieved Listed success over 2400m before winning the well-regarded Prix Niel (G2). Appleby then stepped the son of Dubawi up in trip for another successful French venture, the Prix Chaudenay (G2) over 3000m. In Brundtland’s final run, he was tested at Group 1 level in the Prix Royal-Oak, finishing fourth within a length of the winner Holdthasigreen. The 4-year-old is having his first fun this campaign with bigger things to come.

“Obviously the autumn campaign in France was busy, so needless to say after the Royal Oak he had a well-deserved break and has been lightly trained throughout his early winter in Dubai. This race is a stepping stone towards the Dubai Gold Cup. He has pleased us in the way he has developed over the winter. With respect to his fitness level and whatever he does on Thursday, there should be some marked improvement having had a race.”

Stablemate Ispolini is on the crest of a wave since recording his first success at Meydan on Jan. 17. Second in the Classic Trial (G3) over ten furlongs on his first start as a 3-year-old, beating Hunting Horn and Chilean, Ispolini finished fourth in two further Group 3 races before being gelded. The son of Dubawi had his first appearance in 221 days, finishing second at Meydan on Jan. 3 and his talent is not being ignored with bigger plans to come.

“We were delighted with Ispolini’s last start,” Appleby continued. “He’s certainly opened up more opportunities for himself now having seen out that trip. We’re certainly hoping for a big run this week. He has match fitness on his side and I think he’s a horse who is progressive over this trip now. The likelihood is that Ispolini will be heading down to Sydney after this run for the Sydney Cup.”

Others who appear to have their hearts set on a run in the Dubai Gold Cup on Dubai World Cup day are Red Galileo, Bin Battuta and Suspicious Mind—all in the lineup on Thursday—as well as America-based Platinum Warrior, a G3 winner over 2400m earlier this month. Prince of Arran, third in the Melbourne Cup (G1) and a lesser horse when off the board in the Dubai Gold Cup last year, is also under consideration, as is would-be favourite Cross Counter, who is also under consideration for the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, as aforementioned.

DGC Watch: Cross Counter, Ispolini, Brundtland, Prince of Arran, Suspicious Mind, Platinum Warrior, Bin Battuta, Sharpalo and Dubhe.


According to trainer Ahmad bin Harmash, hard-trying 1400m specialist Rodaini will get his chance to earn his way into the $1.5 million Godolphin Mile sponsored by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City—District One (G2), following his hard-fought win in handicap company last Thursday.

“He may try the (Burj Nahaar) on Super Saturday over a mile,” Bin Harmash said. “He is a talented horse, but sometimes he is very good and other times very bad. He likes seven furlongs, but he runs well with pace (in front of him) like on Thursday. Hopefully he will get that on Super Saturday and finish and hopefully be able to go to the Godolphin Mile.”Racing And Sports

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