On the eve of St. Valentine’s Day – the St. dropped from most mentions, naturally – couples are planning lavish dates and singles are stocking up on chocolate and rom-coms. In Meydan, however, another terrific card will line up under the lights. Three Group 3 stakes are up for grabs, and familiar names pepper the racing form. Yes, February 14 may be the end-all-be-all for the lovey-dovey folk out there, but February 13 is where it’s at – for the Meydan Maiden, at least!
Last week was a little brutal for me. The race I was reluctant to pick – the Arabians – was the one where I sorta hit the trifecta. (If I had boxed it.) The Thoroughbred races slaughtered that glimmer of good luck towards the beginning. Will I have more luck tonight? Let’s hope so.
Race 1 is a 2000m handicap on all-weather, featuring Busker, a horse I’ve come to love. He’s a lot better on all-weather than on turf, but still put in a good performance to finish fourth of fourteen on January 30. Now he’s back on the fake stuff in a hefty field of sixteen, and he’s my top selection. Could that pick be sentimental at heart? Absolutely. But he’s proven on this track and surface and is better than ever in 2014. Invasor’s little half-brother Interpret is here after a dull performance behind Prince Bishop last Thursday; this is a favorable drop in class for him. Energia Davos is back after a distant third behind Cat O’Mountain on January 16, but it was clear that no one was getting past that monster that day. In solid Godolphin blue is Tha’ir, who is making his first try on the all-weather. I much prefer his stablemate Winterlude, who is two-for-two on all-weather and might take swimmingly to this new course. Layali Al Andalus is crying out for a win here after two second place finishes at the meeting, including a heartbreaking loss to Windhoek last time out. Start Right was third behind Ottoman Empire in his last start, but has yet to finish closer than third at a UAE track. Busker – Layali Al Andalus – Winterlude
Next up is the UAE 2000 Guineas, the 1600m precursor to the UAE Derby on World Cup night. Entered here are the 1-2-3 finishers in the Trial, naturally – Emirates Flyer, Safety Check, and My Catch. Out of those three, I like Safety Check the best. He weaved his way through the field to barely miss victory Emirates Flyer, and I think he comes out the better from it…more suited to the longer distance, as well. Mike de Kock must be confident about Wednaan, who comes off just one win in one start. He is by Dubawi, though, and we know how Dubawis handle this track. (If you didn’t already know, they handle it very well!) Very intriguing is Long John, a Group 1 winner in Australia who may take very well to the all-weather in Meydan. Asmar has two thirds on this track, but may not be up to the level of the rest of this field. Journeyman has shown little this year in Dubai. Ignore Paximadia at your own risk – as I am doing – as he also comes from Australia, this time from a Group 2 win. My tips for the three year-old races at Meydan are always shots in the dark, but I do my best! Safety Check – Long John – Emirates Flyer
Race 3 is an 1800m handicap on turf, and I find it hard to look past Gabrial here. He gave us a thrilling run on January 23, just beating El Estruendoso by a head. His runner-up is also entered off a brutal beat to Mont Ras last week. Can he bounce back after just a week? Certainly! This handsome son of Giant’s Causeway is all but begging for a win…or, at least, his fans are. Daddy Long Legs is in this group; he always makes a strong appearance in the post parade, but not so much on the racetrack. I ignored him last out, and I’ll ignore him again tonight. Tarbawi was third behind Gabrial last out, but I feel like he’s more at home on the all-weather. Vercingetorix could very well be a monster runner in here, although he’ll have to adjust to the layoff and the ship up from South Africa. He is putting an undefeated four-for-four career on the line in this race. Al Waab is intriguing as well; he was a runner-up to Irish-bred Planteur in a Group 3 last August, and makes his first start since an off-the-board finish to Cirrus des Aigles at Longchamp in October. I’m willing to take a chance on Vercingetorix, but I don’t think he’ll be able to get past my top two, who have already proved their worth over this course. Gabrial – El Estruendoso – Vercingetorix
Our second Group 3 of the night is the Firebreak Stakes, contested at 1600m on all-weather. It’s got some nice horses entered, including Mars, who kept horses like Dawn Approach and Al Kazeem company last year. This son of Galileo switches over to the de Kock barn, but will he take to the new surface? That remains to be seen. Next to him in the gate is Haatheq, who is looking to bring his A game after some nice races at Jebel Ali on the dirt. He was second in last year’s Godolphin Mile to the undefeated Soft Falling Rain. Variety Club comes into this race with an impressive resume – in 19 races, he has only finished off the board once. A multiple stakes winner in South Africa, he is looking to do good work on the all-weather, and might just show everyone up here. Fulbright was a nice winner on the all-weather two back, but may not appreciate the extra distance here. Mufarrh has proved dull thus far this year at Meydan, and is a toss for me. Capital Attraction could be back to his best after a third place finish on the 23rd behind Alexandra Palace. He is certainly proven over this course. Haatheq – Variety Club – Capital Attraction
Another stakes! The Al Shindagha Sprint is contested over 1200m on the all-weather, and it basically boasts everybody but Reynaldothewizard, who began his 2014 campaign rather inauspiciously in the Dubawi Stakes. Russian Soul, who finished 2nd in the Dubawi, and Krypton Factor are unluckily positioned on the outside; they’re a little tough to support here. Dubawi victor United Color, however, drew perfectly in the #3 stall and should be hard to beat here. Roi de Vitesse gives all-weather a go after finishing behind Anaerobio twice this season. The fleet-footed Bello in Godolphin silks may be one to watch out for. He’s another shipper from Australia, and you know how they like their sprinters! Also entered for Godolphin – another Aussie – is Complicate, who stumbled along in his Meydan debut last out, finishing 8th of 16. Rafeej put in a great run in the Dubawi last out to finish third; he’s worth a look for a place spot. On the rail is Jamesie, who stormed home for Ireland on the 23rd to win by a length. It’s a step up for him, but he shouldn’t do too poorly here. United Color – Jamesie – Rafeej
Last up is a race over my favorite distance, 2435m on the turf. (2435 meters? It’s like they drew numbers out of a hat! Yes, yes, I know, course configuration and all that…) Meandre looks rather strong here – did I mention he’s a multiple Group 1 winner? This gray six year-old is a warrior, and enters this race off a third to Ralston Road on the all-weather last December. The only sticky point is that he will break from the far outside in this field of fourteen, but he’s got 2435m to adjust. On the contrary, Empoli found himself at the mercy of Meandre in his last start, and will break from the rail. Sheikhzayedroad scored a popular win on the 16th of January at 2000m. Can he stretch out, as he has before, and do it again? His runner-up Aussie Reigns didn’t do so hot in his start after that, so that form remains a little shaky. Zip Top was a nice juvenile in 2011, playing second-fiddle to the likes of Camelot, and makes his second start after quite an extended layoff, eighth of ten to Windhoek last out on the all-weather. Songcraft is a winner over the course and distance but will really have to step up his game off the layoff. Topclas was second to Certerach last out and will definitely be worth the look here, especially going the same distance as he did in his last start. Some fancy Dormello, but I’m not seeing what’s to like. Maybe I’m blind. “Perfect name award” goes to Adroitly; I so love that word! He’s a winner at 3200m (!!) so you won’t see him puttering out towards the end. Tanfeeth went a little too far for his liking last out (2810m) and he’ll be more cozy in this run. Can you tell I like the Certerach form? Meandre – Topclas – Tanfeeth
Good luck, happy racing, and tell your loved ones that you love them! Because if you didn’t, they wouldn’t be your loved ones, right?