Ed Marnane: Dubai – The 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival (DWWC) kicks off at Meydan on Thursday, highlighted by the Al Maktoum Challenge (Round 1) over 1600m on dirt, the traditional feature of the opening night of Dubai’s international equine extravaganza.
Thunder Snow, representing Saeed bin Suroor – the most successful trainer in the history of the DWCC – is the class act of the $250,000 (R3.1-million) event as the four-year-old bids to supplement last season’s UAE 2000 Guineas and UAE Derby victories.
His lack of a recent run is unlikely to be a worry as he goes well fresh, having won first up at two and three. The son of Helmet is the highest-ranked runner in the line-up and is well treated on these terms, escaping a Group 1 penalty for his victory in the Prix Jean Prat in July. Christophe Soumillon’s mount should justify cramped odds and advertise his claims for the $10-million Dubai World Cup in March.
Salem bin Ghadayer-trained Heavy Metal, a five-time winner at Meydan, went into many notebooks on his seasonal debut last month. He posted an impressive all-the-way victory in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan. He looks the main threat to Thunder Snow and is fancied to put up a bold show in the hands of top French rider Mikael Barzalona.
Satish Seemar has his team in good form after a quiet start by his standards to the campaign and North America could provide him his first victory since Surfer took this prize three years ago. North America thrived in his first winter in the UAE last season, reeling of a hat trick of wins in handicaps before taking the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes over this course and distance. You can forgive his lacklustre display in the Godolphin Mile on the Dubai World Cup undercard because he got embroiled in a pace meltdown and never looked happy in the sloppy conditions.
The chief supporting race is the 1800m Singspiel Stakes, named in honour of the 1997 Dubai World Cup hero. It has been dominated by Godolphin and Mike de Kock since it was first run in 2012.
Last year’s winner of this turf race Light The Lights is trained by De Kock and bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back renewals in the history of the Group 3 event. He has a wide draw to overcome and has fitness worries on his return from a 10-month break.
Emotionless, one of four runners sporting Dubai powerhouse Godolphin’s silks, can spoil Light The Lights’ comeback and provide Charlie Appleby with his first victory in the contest. He has been gelded in the off season and should be fully acclimatised having remained in the Emirates after last year’s DWCC.
Suroor’s duo Bay Of Poets – the mount of William Buick – and Benbatl are lightly raced but have historically done well at the carnival and command respect, while unexposed Cape Byron, winner of two of his four races, represents Roger Varian, a trainer with an impressive strike rate at Meydan, shouldn’t be overlooked.
Ertijaal, the top local turf sprinter, makes his eagerly awaited comeback in Race 2, the 1000m turf handicap. Winner of the race last year, he should start his campaign on a winning note and take his impressive tally at Meydan to six in the silks of owner-breeder Sheikh Hamdan.
Doug Watson is running away with the trainers’ title so far and has sound claims of saddling another Meydan winner in Race 3, the 1900m dirt handicap. Recent winners Active Spirit and Etijaah give him a powerful hand, with preference for the latter. He looked back to his best when scoring in Listed company here last month.
Ghadayer’s charge Frankfourfingers impressed at Jebel Ali on his seasonal debut last month, conceding weight and making all. He should be in the mix over a course where he has won.
Fast-improving Ply, formerly trained by Roger Charlton, makes his dirt debut for Ghadayer in the hands of Royston Ffrench. He clearly warrants respect if taking to Meydan’s main track. His pedigree offers plenty of encouragement, being by Dubawi whose progeny generally thrives on dirt at Meydan.
Best bet – Race 4: (4) Emotionless.
Best value – Race 5: (4) Fitzgerald.
Best Swinger – Race 2: 1×2.
R128 Jackpot (Races 4-7) – 1,4,5,14 x 2,4,7,8 x 1,2,3,4 x 1,2