In the next few months, I will be dividing my racing research between following the Derby trail and keeping up with what’s happening at Meydan Racecourse. The Dubai Racing Carnival opens tomorrow night (the wee hours of the morning, for Americans), and it’s chock-full of very nice horses, including some names we all know. It kicks off several exciting weeks of world-class racing from Meydan that all leads up to Dubai World Cup night at the end of March.
DISCLAIMER: This is my first time handicapping Meydan…ever. I may possibly be wrong on most, if not all, of these races. Be gentle and constructive in your criticism and keep in mind that I have a lot to learn about this circuit! Anyway, on to the races…
The night starts with a Group 1 race for purebred Arabians. Seeing as I don’t know much about Arabian racing – despite me riding and showing them for several years in my childhood – I will keep this section short and sweet. First, this is an obvious stepping off point towards the G1 Kahayla Classic on World Cup night, although it doesn’t have to be for some. Areem is imposing on the outside; many of these are exiting a December 8th race at Abu Dhabi in which he won. Although finishing a lackluster 13 for 16 in the Kahayla Classic last year, he is consistent as any horse, with 10 of 12 finishes on the board. Some have not even raced since 2013’s Kahayla Classic; Af Sanadek and Nieshan are coming off an extended layoff. To me, course-record holder Areem looks to have strong favoritism over this group. (Now I shall cross my fingers and hope I don’t jinx him!)
Ah, now back to Thoroughbreds, the breed I know so well. The first race for Thoroughbreds is a 1000m handicap event on the grass. It’s attracted 15 runners, including a nice handful of European sprinters, some of whom have run with the best. The local horse I think is the best is Rafeej, who turned back a challenge last time out on all-weather to win convincingly. This horse is truly a jack of all trades, with wins on all three surfaces. Coming off a year’s layoff is Fityaan, who was a good winner at this time in 2013 but will need to be sharp to face this bunch successfully. Intriguing here is My Propeller, who actually beat Grade 1 winning filly Jwala three back in a listed stake at Ayr. Bungleinthejungle is a familiar name; last year, he was thrown in against top-notch competition with little to no success. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this new environment. Also interesting is Hototo, who drops back to a distance he seems to enjoy. My top three for this turf sprint handicap are Rafeej, Hototo, and My Propeller.
Next up is a 1900m handicap over the all-weather surface with ten runners. This was a little easier to pick apart than the previous race, despite my self-acknowledged handicapping weakness on a synthetic track. Given top weight in this field is Submariner, an eight year-old whose best days are probably behind him. Stepping out for the first time in almost a year is El Estruendoso, a de Kock trainee who ran with the likes of Soft Falling Rain last year. The added distance should do nothing but help this son of Giant’s Causeway; it remains to be seen whether he’ll be sharp enough to be competitive. My two top fancies in this field are Ottoman Empire and Busker. The former is returning to Meydan after several tries on turf last summer. The last time he was here, he won a 2000m all-weather race very nicely, but he hasn’t raced since last September. Busker is a bit fresher, coming out of a strong third to the well-regarded Haatheq on November 21. The last time he stretched out past 1600m, he was sixth of fourteen, but this son of Street Cry may be on the improve. Another hope for this race is Izaaj, for though a maiden on all-weather he may be, he fought like a warrior last out to finish second by the barest nose to Ralston Road at 2000m. My top three for this race are Busker, Ottoman Empire, and Izaaj.
After that easy little breather, in came this race, one of those events that leaves me scratching my head and squinting my eyes. A 1400m all-weather handicap, it features a full field and some also-eligibles as well…or as the Emirates Racing website calls them, reserves. Luckily, I hopefully find myself going in the right direction here after a quick peek at the Dubai Race Night site. (If you haven’t been there already, check out this wonderful website – it’s full of wonderful information that you should love to absorb!) I found myself liking My Freedom quite a bit, even after a glance at his poor Meydan record. He’s won two of three on an all-weather surface and his pedigree screams to me that he’ll love it here. Maraheb ran into some buzzsaws at the Carnival last year, and his last race on December 5 may have been what he needed to succeed here. Fulbright showed some promise last year on all-weather, finishing third to Barbecue Eddie and second to Moonwalk in Paris. Could his return to that surface be a recipe for success? Mont Ras makes his Dubai debut after winning nicely on all-weather in his first try last out. My top three for this race are My Freedom, Maraheb, and Mont Ras. (A triple M trio for the first night of Meydan! Yes, I am a little superstitious…)
Next up is a listed stake at 1800m back on the grass. (Cue Emily’s sigh of relief…) There are some really nice horses in this field, one of which is Artigiano, who is coming back off of a layoff that stretches back to 2012’s Breeders’ Cup. He chased the likes of George Vancouver, Dawn Approach and Olympic Glory as a two year-old, and now seeks to make a name for himself as he turns four. He’ll have to get past the imposing Mushreq, however; de Kock’s five year-old gelding is making his first start since an off-the-board performance in the Dubai Duty Free last year. Mushreq got the better of Master of Hounds in his prep for that race, and looks to come back strong for another great Carnival this year. Also here are Dux Scholar, who looks to stretch his speed to 1800, and David Livingston, a very nice Galileo stallion who is making his second start at Meydan. Tarbawi, who has a nice classic turf pedigree, takes a leap in class after breaking his maiden on all-weather last out. While Mushreq looks tough, I’ll opt for the slightly sharper David Livingston, who has a ton of back class, including a win over recent Hong Kong Cup winner Akeed Mofeed. My top choices are David Livingston, Mushreq, and Artigiano.
My most anticipated race of the night is the 6th, the first of several Al Maktoum Challenge races leading up to the Dubai World Cup. This Group 2 event is run at 1600m over all-weather and has drawn some names that we all should know. The first is Daddy Long Legs, 2012’s UAE Derby winner. After a disastrous trip to the States, in which he did not finish the Kentucky Derby, he hasn’t been quite as good of a horse as he was in the past. Nevertheless, Mike de Kock is taking a chance with this handsome son of Scat Daddy, so more power to him. Another name you should know is Barbecue Eddie, a popular 10 year-old horse that was running way back when Nad Al Sheba was around. (Ok, not WAY back…but you know what I mean!) Many of these horses are exiting last year’s Godolphin Mile won by the superb racehorse Soft Falling Rain, who should make an appearance in the next couple of weeks(?) Another common race between these is a December 19 race won by the highly regarded Surfer; Mufarrh and Samurai Sword, 2nd and 3rd respectively in that event, are entered here. Samurai Sword, in particular, impressed me in that race when he made good headway up the rail to finish a closing third. Brendan Brackan is a nice horse, but must run well here to prove himself on synthetic, as he is a maiden on the surface. Steeler must also take to the all-weather to have a shot here. Intriguing is the filly Shuruq, with 2 wins and 2 seconds on all-weather and a Grade 3 win on this track. Upon watching that race won by Surfer, I liked how Samurai Sword came home better than I did watching Mufarrh. Even though the latter might be a classier horse, I’m willing to take a chance on a longshot here. My top three selections are Samurai Sword, Mufarrh, and Shuruq. And hey – let’s root for the old fella Barbecue Eddie, just for the heck of it!
The night ends with a 1400m turf handicap that’s drawn sixteen runners – yep, way to end my night with another doozy! Catching my eye almost immediately is Complicate, who won his last two races down under. Australia knows how to breed very fast horses, so if this son of Commands ships well, you may do well to watch out for him. He’s also in the capable hands of Saeed bin Suroor, so that should help him even more. Roi de Vitesse makes his Dubai debut after winning a Grade 3 in Qatar last out. Now Spun, a son of Hard Spun who has a win over this course, drops down in distance for the first time, but it should be no problem if he takes after his speedy sire. A strong candidate for this race is Nawwaar, who won over Derbaas last out at Abu Dhabi. While maybe not sharp enough to win, Anaerobio could get a piece of it off the extended layoff. And don’t count out the old veteran Iguazu Falls; he proved he’s still sharp at nine years old with a win on dirt in his last start. So, now I sit here, the beginnings of a headache emerging, wondering just who will I pick from this large field. Suddenly, it occurs to me – just go with your gut. I have nothing to lose, right? This is all a learning experience, and I’m ready and willing to learn. Without further ado, my top three choices in the nightcap at Meydan tomorrow are Complicate (don’t let me down Australia!), Nawwaar, and Now Spun (I have a good feeling about this young guy).
We shall return with Meydan’s next card, and push on and on until we get to that glorious racing night – Dubai World Cup evening. Or, you know…early, early morning for Americans. But Dubai World Cup early early morning doesn’t have as good of a ring to it. To recap, I’ll be cheering for Areem, Rafeej, Busker, My Freedom, David Livingston, Samurai Sword, and Commands tomorrow. That is certainly all for now; I hope you enjoyed this read as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Meydan Maiden, signing off.