Thursday’s ninth and penultimate meeting of the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival was officially highlighted by the 1900m Group 3 UAE Oaks sponsored by Al Naboodah Construction Group, restricted to 3-year-old fillies on the dirt with a purse of US$250,000. Rayya, winning her second from four local starts, made all under jockey Pat Dobbs for Doug Watson, setting a leisurely pace and galloping home in 1:59.66 within herself. The half-sister to long-winded G3 winner Curlin Road displayed her stamina in spades, in the process getting revenge on favourite Winter Lightning, who had defeated her in the Listed UAE 1000 Guineas and UAE 1000 Guineas Trial three and six weeks prior.
Winter Lightning disappointed after a wide trip under Pat Cosgrave, never factoring much and finishing astern fellow Godolphin banner-mate Expressiy, who ran gamely to be second under William Buick.
Owned by Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Rayya was an ultra-impressive winner of a 1400m juvenile fillies’ maiden on her debut in December, before chasing home Winter Lighting on both subsequent outings.
“She was a lot more relaxed today than last time when we never really knew what upset her,” Dobbs said. “Halfway down the back straight I knew she was going to be very hard to beat. The one-draw is a big help and I was not going to waste it. We knew she would stay, so I was always going to be positive, but you have to compliment Doug and his team for getting her back to her best.”
Dobbs and Watson combined to win the race in 2016 with Polar River.
“She was just not herself in the Guineas, but was much better tonight and always looked happy,” Watson said. “I imagine we will have to look at the UAE Derby now but will enjoy this first.”
The $1 million Kentucky Oaks (G1), America’s top 3-year-old filly dirt event, may also be on the radar for the U. S.-bred daughter of Tiz Wonderful. “(The Kentucky Oaks) would be (a goal),” Watson said. “We have her nominated, but let’s see how she comes out of this and the (UAE) Derby.”
Also restricted to 3-year-olds, the Listed $150,000 Meydan Classic sponsored by Trans Gulf Electro-Mechanical, a 1600m turf contest, was won in style by Godolphin’s Zaman, patiently ridden by William Buick for Charlie Appleby. Runner-up in the 1400m Meydan Classic Trial, three weeks ago, he was beaten on that occasion by Wasim, but finished that race strongly after a wide trip. Drawn three on this occasion, Buick was able to settle him behind the leaders on the rail. Once he pulled him out with 300m left, they hit the front and quickened clear nicely, doing their best impression of California Chrome after a slight saddle slip.
“We went a nice gallop, so I was always pretty confident a gap would appear and it did when we wanted it,” Buick said. “He broke well today. From a good draw, I was happy to settle him in behind the leaders on the rail and wait for the split. He ran well in the Trial and has improved a lot from that outing and over the extra furlong today. He has produced a nice turn-of-foot and is a nice, young horse.”
Godolphin completed a double with Saeed bin Suroor, out of luck with Winter Lightning, gaining some consolation with Top Score, produced fast and late by Christophe Soumillon to land the Al Naboodah National Plant Trophy over 1400m on turf by three-quarters of a length over The Grape Escape. A dual course and distance winner last year, in the Meydan Classic and Meydan Classic Trial, when both races were over 1400m, it was a case of third-time-lucky at this year’s Carnival. Oh This Is Us stayed on well late for third.
Soumillon said: “We were quite badly squeezed out early on, so I was nearly last on the bend, but able to save some ground.”
Soumillon was then denied in the Group 3 $200,000 Nad Al Sheba Trophy sponsored by Al Naboodah Civil Engineering, over 2810m on turf, when he and dual Dubai Gold Cup (G2) winner Vazirabad could not catch Godolphin’s Appleby-trained Rare Rhythm and William Buick. Both horses were settled well off the pace before, almost simultaneously, making smooth progress to challenge 400m out, with Vazirabad switching to the inside to chase his rival. After a fine rally, and obviously needing the race, Vazirabad and Soumillon accepted defeat inside the final 100m, saving their best effort for their likely clash with the winner in the Dubai Gold Cup in four weeks.
“That was very impressive and I was mindful that I did not want to give him too hard a race,” Buick said. “He has not had that much racing and is a horse we have always really liked. The extra distance in the Dubai Gold Cup should suit him and he must go there with a big chance.”
Appleby, who had been contemplating a trip to Australia with the horse, added: “I have spoken to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and we have agreed he will stay here for the Dubai Gold Cup. We thought he had a big chance tonight because he was working very well and looked in great nick. Hopefully he will be very competitive on the big night in four weeks’ time.”
The meeting kicked off with the only Purebred Arabian contest on the card, the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 sponsored by Al Naboodah Facilities Management Trophy, over the same 2000m on dirt as the Group 1 Kahayla Classic on the Dubai World Cup card. Both the 1600m R1 winner, Paddy’s Day, and 2200m R2 victor, Barnamaj, were in the field, but they finished third and second, respectively, behind a resolute Ziyadd, who was given a well-timed ride by Richard Mullen. Trained by Jean de Roualle for Yas Horse Racing Management, he was never far off the pace before hitting the front early in the straight and kicking clear to the wire. Passed by several rivals turning for home, Paddy’s Day re-rallied impressively to pick up third, while the always-wide Barnamaj flatted a bit late.
“We were pretty confident that he had a big chance tonight because he has been training very well on the dirt in Al Ain,” Mullen said. “It is only his third start for us after two good efforts at Abu Dhabi on the turf. He certainly needed his first one and then he ran well in HH The President Cup when second. His dam won the Kahayla Classic, as did his brother, so we had to be hopeful the dirt would suit, but you never really know until you try them in a race. It has really suited him and, all being well, he is an exciting prospect with the Kahayla Classic the obvious option.”
De Roualle added: “It was his first time racing on dirt for us, but we thought he would be fine on it. We will give him a quiet ten days now before building him up for the big night.”
Mullen completed a double, sending Argentine G1 winner Saltarin Dubai straight to the front in the $160,000 Curlin Handicap sponsored by Al Naboodah Building over 2000m and never turning back. The pair got a bit of revenge on Godolphin’s Don’t Give Up, who had beaten him into second on their previous two outings.
Over the same trip as the $10million Dubai World Cup, this equivalent handicap was won by Curlin in 2008 en route to a popular victory in the big event. It was thus redesignated in his name and more recently won by California Chrome in 2016.
“He has always worked very well and has been running some good races in defeat,” Mullen said. “We thought to go out in front on him to keep him out of the kickback, as he has sulked at times in his races when getting dirt kicked at him. He is a Group 1 winner, so the talent is there and he has had a really hard race tonight so I guess that will be his last run this season.”
The finale, the Al Naboodah Trade School Trophy over 2000m on turf, resulted in a sharp victory by Appleby-trained Kidmenever, under a fine ride by James Doyle. After stalking well, the Godolphin charge finished 2½ lengths clear of a valiant Baroot under Christophe Soumillon, with Appleby-Godolphin stablemate Banksea another two lengths back in third.
“It was an interesting race to watch,” Appleby said. “He got a nice clear run and ran better than we expected. He travelled well and we worried about coming back a bit soon for him. He’ll go into quarantine with a bunch of horses tomorrow. He probably deserves a bit of a summer break after going to Australia and back.”
The final meeting of the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival is next weekend’s Super Saturday, on March 10th, the dress rehearsal for the Dubai World Cup card three weeks later.