The eagerly awaited 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival gets underway at Meydan Racecourse on Thursday evening with a star-studded seven-race card highlighted by the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 for both Thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians, each over 1600m on the dirt and upgraded Singspiel Stakes (G3).
Eight have been declared for the Thoroughbred Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 Presented by Longines Master Gents Collection (Race 5), headlined by Godolphin’s dual Group 1 winner Thunder Snow (post 7). Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, seeking a ninth win in a race first run in 1994, the winner of last season’s UAE Derby (G2) and UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) won France’s Criterium International (G1) as a juvenile before embarking on a successful 2017 campaign. Again in France, he won the Prix Jean Prat (G1) in July but finished his season with a disappointing effort on soft ground in Ascot’s prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1). Regular pilot Christophe Soumillon rides Thunder Snow on Thursday evening.
“We have given him a nice break since Ascot when the ground was very soft and did not suit him,” said bin Suroor. “He has been working well recently and we are really looking forward to running him on Thursday. We know he likes the Meydan surface, so that is not a concern and we are very happy with him.”
Jockey Pat Cosgrave rides stable companion Confrontation (post 3), who is having just his second start for the yard. Winner of the 2016 Firebreak Stakes (G3) on his local debut when trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, he failed to beat a rival in the same race last year.
Bin Suroor said: “He was disappointing last year, but is in great form at home and we wanted to try him again in good company”
Trainer Salem bin Ghadayer, whose team is in scintillating form, has both Heavy Metal (post 2) and Long River (post 1), the latter a winner of the 2000m Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday last March. Royston Ffrench rides Long River with Mickael Barzalona opting to ride Heavy Metal, successful in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile in December over the same 1600m course and distance as Thursday’s race.
Bin Ghadayer said: “Both are in great form and proven under these conditions. Heavy Metal has had the benefit of a run, which he won, this season and Long River is fresh and well after a nice break.”
Trained by Satish Seemar, who won the race with Surfer in 2015, North America (post 8) was a revelation at the 2107 Dubai World Cup Carnival, having progressed from a local debut victory in a Meydan maiden to beating Heavy Metal in a 1600m handicap and then landing the Firebreak over the same course and distance. His run of four consecutive victories ended when seemingly failing to handle the muddy track in the Godolphin Mile (G3) on the Dubai World Cup card.
Assistant trainer Bhupat Seemar said: “We have the widest draw, which is not ideal, but we are hoping he can build on what he achieved last year and he is training well.”
Meanwhile, the Purebred Arabian Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 presented by Longines Equestrian Collection (Race 1) looks wide open with the maximum field of 16 declared. Eric Lemartinel saddles two for HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, with Tadhg O’Shea choosing to ride Darius Du Paon (post1), leaving Royston Ffrench to partner RB Torch (post 7). Paddy’s Day (post 13), the reigning Darley Champion Horse of the Year in the United States, has his first start for UAE Champion Trainer Doug Watson after failing to handle the turf and right-handed track at Abu Dhabi.
Watson said: “He is a nice horse and has been going well in the mornings but the draw, out wide in 13, was not what we hoped for.”
Godolphin’s Benbatl (post 5) heads a salty renewal of the Singspiel (Race 4) in what will be his first start since a disappointing effort in Haydock’s 32Red Mile (G3) in September. The son of Dubawi was fifth in Enable’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1), an effort that followed a Royal Ascot tally in the Hampton Court Stakes (G3) and a game fifth of 18 in the Investec Derby (G1) – both in June. Oisin Murphy is in for the ride in the US$175,000 1800m turf event.
Three winners from the same opening card 12 months ago return to defend their crowns, headed by Mike de Kock-trained Light The Lights (post 15) in the Singspiel, one of the world’s top turf sprinters in His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Ali Rashid Al Rayhi-trained Ertijaal (post 4), who goes for a three-peat in the equivalent 1000m turf handicap (Race 2), and Golden Wood (post 12) in the equivalent 2410m turf handicap (Race 7).
In the evening’s third race, the 1900m Longines Conquest Classic (handicap), flourishing Watson-conditioned Etijaah (post 1) will take on the likes of come-backing Group 2 winner Frankyfourfingers (post 9), Argentine Group 1 winner Saltarin Dubai (post 8) and stretching-out multiple American Grade 1-winning sprinter Wild Dude (post 4).
De Kock-conditioned South African Group 1 winner Noah From Goa (post 7) tops the sixth race, the Longines Moon Phase Master Collection (handicap) over 1400m, taking on a Godolphin quartet, including Group 1-placed Steady Pace (post 4).
The international flavour of a spectacular Carnival launch is furthered throughout the evening with runners from England, Ireland, Norway, Bahrain and South Africa.