Thursday afternoons rarely have a purpose other than bringing the workforce another half day closer to that Friday feeling. That is unless you’re a fan of quality flat action as those wealthy fellas out in the Emirates are about to host another weekly Carnival of racing- I have been counting down the days until I can switch from Leicester and Ludlow to Meydan!
Never short of a grand idea or two, the Dubai Racing Club turned Nad Al Sheba from wasteland in 1991 to hosting the world’s richest race four years after the racecourse was officially opened. The Dubai World Cup remains the centrepiece of the final day of the Carnival and the race’s value has increased to over eight figures, quite ridiculous in comparison to some of the Group Ones run in front of us on European soil. Since Cigar was wooed into taking part in – and winning – the inaugural World Cup in 1996, Dubai has witnessed some outstanding races as the fields have grown in quality almost year on year- Dar Re Mi’s Sheema Classic struck me personally as being one of the best Group Ones I had seen in a long time. Below the top level the value of the handicaps week in week out ensures that there is high-quality representation from Europe and the rest of the world – almost every race run at the Carnival would feature prominently on a Saturday afternoon in Britain – and with horses from places like South America, the US and Australia clashing with our own recognisable animals there is almost always an interesting feature of every race. More than likely this sounds like PR for the DRC, but I find the whole thing fascinating- I wrote on Student Racing about how I completed most of my dissertation in Ladbrokes watching what was probably the first year of racing at Meydan, and I do think that without it on the LBO screens the 10,000 words might have sent me over the edge.
The most famous race/performance at the Carnival is still Dubai Millennium’s sensational effort in the 2000 World Cup, and to be honest they could probably race in the desert for another hundred years without seeing anything like it. It’s still on YouTube and well worth replaying a few times! An immensely athletic beast who was only beaten once when a blatant non-stayer in the 1999 Derby, Dubai Millennium would in my opinion have given Frankel an awful lot to think about. My own personal favourite race from the Emirates was much more low-key and in fact when I look back at it on the Racing Post site now it was only a 40k conditions race. The event was a one mile race featuring even money favourite and established high-class performer Eagle Mountain as well as four other horses rated 110 or better. 95-rated maiden winner Skysurfers made them all look like they’d been nailed to the Tapeta and I think he became my favourite horse in training there and then. I think we were on a bit of an all-dayer at uni at the time which would probably explain the overreaction to what I thought I’d seen but I was still pretty gutted when he couldn’t beat the likes of Yaa Wayl and Penitent back on turf in Britain.
While Skysurfers was only making waves inside my flat near Headingley, today’s card features one of the most universally popular horses at the Carnival in Barbecue Eddie. The now nine-year-old Eddie lines up in the first round of the Makhtoum Challenge over a mile at 5.20 and is the general second favourite on early prices in the shops. The old boy will complete a four-timer should he get his head in front on the jam stick in the Group Two event but there is intriguing competition from Godolphin entries Out Of Bounds and Fulbright as well as another Hamdan runner in Mufarrh. BBQ backers will be hoping his fitness edge can help him overcome ex-American Out Of Bounds- a colt who apparently looked very smart when taking a Grade Three on the dirt over the pond- and also Mufarrh who was second to my boy Skysurfers in the 2011 Godolphin Mile but has only been seen once since when below his best. Fulbright brings Group Two turf form to the table and seeing as his jockey will be wearing blue it’s hard to rule out him being even better over there on his Tapeta debut. I’m not sure the Newmarket form is that great, however those colours really improve a couple of pounds out here… Marco Botti may well have travelled over in First Class after the gamble he landed at Leafy the other day and Fanunalter could go well at a double figure price despite running poorly on his last two starts. I’m not inclined to have a bet in the race but will be watching Out Of Bounds with great interest given his profile and the fact I have no idea about him. If forced then a couple of quid each way on Fanunalter could be the way to go considering he won the Summer Mile off a similar break to the one he’s had before today’s race but I doubt any roubles will be leaving my pocket this afternoon.
The rest of the card contains plenty of interesting runners:
3.05: Akeed Wafi– Looked potentially smart when he won his maiden in Ireland for John Oxx and was second fav for a Irish 2000 Guineas trial over there when second to Furner’s Green. Fifth (and last) to Takar in dismal ground the only other time he’s been seen and his mark of 102 is likely to be higher by the end of the Carnival.
Oasis Dancer – Much more thoroughly exposed than Akeed Wafi and had a rocky 2012. Had threatened to be better than a 102 horse when winning an all-weather Listed sprint in the early part of the year but form collapsed in a bit of a heap over the same trip afterwards. Gave a glimmer of hope that he was turning a corner when beaten four lengths by Belgian Bill over 7f at Kempton last time and could pop up in Dubai.
3.40: A couple in the race from abroad who can be filed in the ‘could be anything’ bracket in Govinda (Germany) and Benji’s Empire (Hong Kong). The market prefers the Asian challenger and to be honest I don’t know anything about either so couldn’t say if either is well handicapped.
Temple Meads: Looked a sprinter with loads of potential when he won the Mill Reef in 2010 but had a horrid 2012 after missing the whole of 2011. Ran alright behind Ballista at Leicester in September and on old form 105 would be very appealing.
Bear Behind: Very smart for one who has only won once. Mark of 104 looks fair considering his exploits behind Ballesteros and slightly in front of Hamish McConagall (when disqualified and placed second) and as with plenty before him he found everything happening too quickly on fast ground in the Epsom Dash. May need it today but could make up to be a very nice type.
4.15: Rocks Off and Farrier have tidy form figures out in the Middle East and could both be well handicapped. Again I’ve got no real grasp on the form out there so I’d be guessing but no surprise if one of them was good enough. Mark Johnston’s Universal was progressing very nicely until possibly undone by the heavy ground at Chester on his last run and 9/1 is quite appealing. Kassiano is similar to Rocks Off and Farrier in that his form figures (completed hat-trick last time) look nice but I really don’t know about their worth while one of the other Godolphin runners Royal Empire has only had five runs and is likely to end the Carnival off a mark a fair bit higher than 100. The rest are exposed to varying degrees except for Mushreq at the top of the weights, and while he’s been running in Group Ones he’s been beaten far enough. Start Right would interest me at 20/1 on the piece of form he produced at Goodwood but the Tapeta isn’t overly conductive to hold-up tactics and if I were to have a punt I’d probably side with Universal at 9/1.
4.50: Sharestan: has the potential to be really smart for Godolphin having looked good in winning Listed races in Ireland last year. Ran Famous Name to a head and on the figures is a worthy 11/8 shot. although after his absence I’d rather not be involved. While plenty of horses improve dramatically in these colours at the Carnival more than the odd one has tailed off completely so I’d rather watch in this case.
So Beautiful: Unexposed French Group Three winner. That’s about what I know so far having never seen her race. None of the three to chase him home did too much for the form next time but he adds another interesting element to the race.
Red Duke: Could benefit from the ease in grade as he’s competed in much better races than the rest of these – bar Al Shemali – according to the book. Maybe surprising that he’s an each way price and is one of the few tempting bets on day one.
6.00: Just a fair ending to the day by the looks of things. Amanee won a Grade Two in South Africa and a mark of 102 could wildly underestimate her if similar past Mike De Kock runners are anything to go by. Otherwise the highly regarded Arnold Lane is of interest off 105 having been third in the Newmarket Group Two won by Fulbright and Don’t Call Me’s first and second in big Ascot handicaps at the end of the turf season suggest he could keep improving at six-years-old. Lockwood – the Godolphin second string – has a French Group Three on his CV and was highly regarded enough to be sent off 6/1 for the Maurice de Gheest. 9/1 off 109 is semi appealing.