It’s been nearly a month since the Carnival kicked off, and already, we’ve seen some stars, both old and new. Tomorrow, we’re being treated to some fine racing as well as the arrival on the scene of some familiar names. Shuruq showed the boys her tail in the first round of the Maktoum Challenge – who will capture the second?
The first race on the card is the second Challenge round for Purebred Arabians. While the Round 1 winner, Naseem, isn’t entered, his runner-up is. Rabbah de Carrere finished just a length and a half behind the winner on January 9, and is looking for the big W tonight at Meydan. He’ll have to get past Versac Py, though, who is making a return to Group 1 company after a fourth place in his debut a week ago at Abu Dhabi. The seven year-old in Shadwell colors will be a formidable opponent in this race. And a horse that beat him last winter, Albar Lotois, is also entered. Evidently, France produces some very nice Arabians – 6 of the 8 in this field were bred there. One of the non French-breds (and we’re not talking baguettes) in here is Shayel Aldhabi, who was third behind Naseem in Round 1. This is a very competitive race, but I believe that Rabbah de Carrere can turn the tables and win tonight. Rabbah de Carrere – Shayel Aldhabi – Versac Py
Next up is a 1400m handicap over the all-weather. In here is Alnashmy, who is, without hesitation, my top selection. In his last start, he endured a troubled trip, coming from far back to just miss catching the winner, Zain Shamardal. He drops back down to a comfy distance and gets a different rider; all this should do nothing but help him, so long as he doesn’t get stuck behind horses on the rail! On anyone’s radar should be Tamarkuz. This son of Speightstown was fifth in his Meydan debut last out, but is 3 for 4 on an all-weather surface and proven at the distance, as well. My Freedom is also one to watch, although he’s never finished on the board in Dubai. Dragon Falls is out of a full-sister to Tiznow, Tizdubai, and won his all-weather debut at Deauville comfortably. And you can’t forget about Eastern Rules, who finished a strong third in his Meydan debut last week. Don’t worry about the quick turnaround – he did it, and won, back in 2011! Alnashmy – Tamarkuz – Eastern Rules
Another 1400m trip, although this one’s on turf, is Race 3, restricted to three year-olds. They’re headed by Journeyman, who totes 4 more kilograms than anyone else due to his nice performances in South Africa. His Dubai debut on the 16th – he finished ninth – was likely a tune-up; Mike de Kock should have him primed and ready for this race, his return to the turf. Intriguing is Eye in the Sky, who is two-for-two on the Scandinavian circuit. Can this stoutly bred son of Sinndar hang with the tough crowd in the desert? If Charlie Appleby’s Pretend takes to the all-weather, he could be dangerous. And then there’s Autumn Lily, who gets a 2 kilo weight break from the rest. She has this odd pattern of off-and-on, and she’s due for an on race. She should love the switch back to turf and the separation from her female rivals, who run in the UAE 1000 Guineas in the next race. Salvadori, who breaks from the rail, has never even started a race – a complete question mark. Najm Suhail could be a special horse on the Meydan turf, but he’ll have to overcome the outside post and a five day turnaround. I find myself putting Godolphin 1-2, but not in the order that one might expect! Autumn Lily – Pretend – Journeyman
So if Autumn Lily can beat the boys in Race 3, then she’ll really flatter many of the entries in Race 4, the UAE 1000 Guineas. The highlight is obviously Wedding Ring, who turned back the challenge of Magrooma in the trial for this race. Magrooma is back for more, as is the speedy Letterfromamerica, who finished third that day. The most dangerous new face in this field is Feedyah, Wedding Ring’s stablemate. She’s won on both turf and all weather, and her pedigree seems tailor-made for this track. She’s been allowed the winter off and should come off the layoff ready to run. Now we have Magrooma, Magroora, and Mensoora in this race; the last of those three is wheeling back rather quickly after getting thumped by Certify a week ago. The 1-2 finishers in the Guineas Trial were head and shoulders above the rest, but I’ll put Feedyah one better, as I think this a filly who could be something special. Feedyah – Wedding Ring – Magrooma
The turf routers get the spotlight in Race 5, a 2810m handicap. When they start going this long, you start to look for horses that are going to get that distance. A prime example is Statutory, who won going a whopping 3600m in his last start. He gets William Buick aboard for his Meydan debut, and, unless he scorches on the front end, there’s no need to worry about him getting tired! But Certerach looks good coming into this race off of a win here on January 23, and he’s proven he can handle the distance. Jutland was my selection in that race but to no avail; I don’t think I’ll be fancying him here, either. Star Empire gets back to a longer distance as the highweight. We last saw him chasing Sheikhzayedroad home in third. Thecornishcockney won a couple of route races over all-weather last year at this time, but flunked his 2014 when he was second-to-last behind Certerach. This seems an odd spot for Ralston Road, who seems to do his best running at shorter distances. If I sat and thought too hard about this race, it would make me crazy. Just go with it, Emily. Just go with it. Certerach – Statutory – Star Empire
Maktoum Challenge, Round 2, is a real cracker. There’s a handful of horses in this race that all deserve to win, and even more of them that may not win, but it’s still exciting to see them there. A horse in that second category is Dunaden. The eight year-old intact son of Nicobar may need a little more distance, but this is likely only his tune-up for bigger and better things to come. Also in this group is Heavy Metal, a monster on turf, but he’ll need a miracle to crack this code. Vying for favoritism will most likely be local stars Hunter’s Light and Surfer. The former is coming out of a world tour, to put it simply; the latter is highly regarded since his win last December over Mufarrh. Godolphin Mile winner African Story is intriguing as well, although it’ll be a tall order to win on his first race since a fifth-place finish behind Animal Kingdom in last year’s World Cup. Empire Storm put in a good run behind Shuruq in Round 1; can he do even better second off the layoff? Interpret is a talented half-brother to World Cup winner Invasor, but will need to step it up in a big way if he wants to compete with this bunch. Zahee jumps up after a win over 1400m; Zain Shamardal is looking for his third straight win. All this being said, I think the locals stand head and shoulders over this field, and therefore, my trifecta is a little bit chalky in this race. Surfer – Hunter’s Light – African Story
Finally, there is this 1600m handicap over turf to close out the night, jam-packed with 16 runners. El Estruendoso, who breaks from the rail, is begging for a win at the Carnival. Will third time be the charm for this handsome de Kock trainee? He ran admirably in defeat against a fast-closing Gabrial last out and may go to post favored. Mufarrh is a nice horse, but he may like the all-weather better than the lawn. Le Drakkar finished an uninspiring last in his 2014 debut behind Anaerobio; I don’t see him doing much here, either. The return to turf may suit Mont Ras very well after two unsuccessful tries on Meydan all-weather. And you can’t go wrong with the class of Dux Scholar, although his two races this year have been less than stellar. It’s extremely hard for me to see past El Estruendoso in this field – all I can wish for is that he stays out of traffic trouble on that rail! El Estruendoso – Mont Ras – Dux Scholar
Good luck to all and to all good luck!