North America Defends Crown

Thursday’s eight-race, $1.31 million Dubai World Cup Carnival card at Meydan Racecourse features the most exciting matchup of the UAE season thus far, as well as the return of one of the top-rated turf horses in the world.

NORTH AMERICA winning the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 Presented By Longines Conquest V H P
NORTH AMERICA winning the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 Presented By Longines Conquest V H P Picture: Dubai Racing Club

Two Group 2 affairs top the night, while the classic generation on both surfaces will get its chance to shine and Group 1 Purebred Arabians clash to kick off the evening. A trio of super-competitive handicaps add depth to the night and the entirety of the meeting is sponsored by pillar partner Longines.
Race 6 (9:25 p.m.)—Group 2 $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (1600m)

The rematch so many have been awaiting, as Satish Seemar-trained defending champ North America  clashes with course record holder Muntazah, from the yard of Doug Watson. North America is unseen since finishing seventh in the $12 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), while Muntazah bounced like a rubber ball in the Godolphin Mile (G2) after scorching the track record in Super Saturday's Burj Nahaar (G3). North America is rated 118, second-highest of any dirt horse in Dubai, while Muntazah is 116. Even more intriguing in this octet of competitors is that Muntazah drew the rail under Jim Crowley and Richie Mullen must break from the outside post eight on North America. Both appear to do their best running while freewheeling on the pace.

NOTES: Satish and Bhupat Seemar Discuss North America's Preparation and Post Position

Kimbear, also from the Watson yard, won the 2018 Burj Nahaar (G3) and his conditioner believes he is sitting on a big race now that his troublesome feet are back in order. UAE's leading trainer also believes that improving campaigner Thegreatcollection is due a little luck and has been progressive enough to be owed a shot in this spot. Pat Dobbs has the mount on the former, while Sam Hitchcott takes the reins on the latter.

VIDEO: Watson Chats About Muntazah, Kimbear and Thegreatcollection

Secret Ambition, a G3 winner and last-out victor over Kimbear and Thegreatcollection in the Dubai Creek Mile (Listed), is once again a bit overlooked under Tadhg O'Shea and could prove to be the form horse on the strength of recent showings. Finishing in proximity to him last out was Ahmad bin Harmash-trained Rodaini, who has a seasoning edge over all in what is his fourth start since October under Connor Beasley.

NOTES: Bhupat Seemar Discusses Secret Ambition

Heavy Metal, at age 10, is bordering legendary in Dubai and appears to be hoping to give it one more shot this season for Salem bin Ghadayer. Last of seven in the Dubai Creek Mile, he defied his age last March when nearly defending his title in the Godolphin Mile (G2), pipped in the final strides by Coal Front. The son of Exceed and Excel won this race over Thunder Snow, with North America in third, in 2018. The early pace will definitely be interesting, as the confirmed frontrunner drew barrier three; two outside Muntazah and five inside North America.

Completing the field is Godolphin's Team Talk, who is unraced since finishing last in the Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2) over 3200m on turf. This will be his first start on dirt since taking up the caboose in the Al Maktoum Challenge R3 (G1) two years ago. 

Race 4 (8:15 p.m.)—Group 2 $250,000 Singspiel Stakes (1800mT)

The past two winners of this race have plenty in common—both trained by Saeed bin Suroor and owned by Godolphin—but that is as close as Benbatl and Dream Castle appear to come on paper for many analysts. Benbatl towers above his yard-mate on rating, carrying one of the top in the world at 125. Dream Castle (112) is looking to return to form after a slump Down Under and must improve markedly in order to best his friendly Al Quoz acquaintance, who also has a distinct tactical speed advantage in this sextet. It does not help that regular pilot Christophe Soumillon has jumped ship and landed on 2018 Dubai Turf (G1) winner Benbatl.

NOTES: Bin Suroor Talks Benbatl, Dream Castle

Others of note in the race are definitely overshadowed by the leading two, but are not without all chance. After all, it is indeed horseracing and trainer Mike de Kock, who saddles Majestic Mambo, has won numerous Group-level turf events in Dubai. Eighth in last season's Dubai Turf astern Almond Eye, he spent the summer acclimating to Dubai in the Green Stables of Erwan Charpy and arguably could be a better horse this DWC Carnival. 'How good' will be the question, obviously.

Argentine G1 winner For the Top looks to reverse form for new connections, while Abu Dhabi Championship (G3) winner Gm Hopkins and Prix Maurice Caillault (Listed) victor Famous Wolf must improve considerably. 

Race 3 (7:40 p.m.)—$100,000 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial (3yo) (1600m)

Saeed bin Suroor comes heavy-handed in the first step toward the UAE Derby, led by super-impressive Exceed and Excel colt First View, who is bred along the same cross as UAE fan favourites Secret Ambition, Helmet (sire of Thunder Snow) and Belgian Bill. Christophe Soumillon chose this one over well-intended Laser Show (Kevin Stott) and Lost in Time (Pat Cosgrave).

The all-year locals should not be dismissed in this mile test, including those with a course and distance victory, like Commanding, who wears the in-form colours of Nasir Askar for trainer Satish Seemar. Ali Rashid Al Rayhi starts a pair of local winners, including Commanding's first-out conqueror Al Modayar and sharp mile winner Dubai Avenue. The latter won his only local start in a quicker 1600m time than Commanding a fortnight prior and defeated next-out victor Good Fighter, as well as Far Sky, who is expected to run well in this spot for Doug Watson.

Scandinavia's top 3-year-old Nocentsinkentucky, bred in his namesake and a grandson of America's top sire of 2019, Into Mischief, has been nothing short of dominant in Sweden for Francisco Castro. Still, he has yet to be tested and has not been tried beyond 1200m.

A full field of 16 will run, with well-regarded Watson trainee Sanad Libya on the outside (17) looking in, hopeful for a defection.

VIDEO: Watson and Seemar Interviews re: Commanding, Far Sky and Sanad Libya 

Race 7 (10:00 p.m.)—$100,000 Dubai Trophy (3yo) (1200mT)

Turf sophomores clash in what appears to be a very blue race. Not 'sad,' but flush with Godolphin royal hues when Bin Suroor-conditioned Platinum Star, second in the Windsor Castle (Listed) at Royal Ascot, clashes with Appleby-trained filly Chasing Dreams, who is undefeated in two starts and appears one for the classics if her speedy pedigree stretches out.

Appleby goes three-deep in here with blue-blooded filly Silent Wave, a daughter of War Front and Secret Gesture, as well as Story of Light, who has attracted the services of second rider James Doyle. William Buick will be on Chasing Dreams and Brett Doyle aboard the former. Bin Suroor also starts maiden Colour Image with Kevin Stott aboard.

Sweden's Lars Kelp has an intriguing pair in 1-for-1 Lope de Vega colt General de Vega and dual victor Youonlyliveonce, while Nicholas Bachalard starts Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Raakezz, who blitzed rivals at first asking at Jebel Ali last month, defeating next-out winner Dubai Avenue. Another to watch is Fawzi Nass-owned/trained Raahy, who brings ample experience—something many of his foes do not. 

Race 2 (7:05 p.m.)—$175,000 Longines Hydroconquest Handicap (90+) (1200mT)

Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1) alumnus Ekhtiyaar tops this turf sprint down the straight chute and carries the penalty of top weight for Doug Watson and jockey Jim Crowley, who rides for main employer HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Fifth last out in the Garhoud Sprint (Listed) on dirt—a surface experiment—the son of Bated Breath returns to favourite footing and looms large, while toting 60kgs.

Chief among his rivals is Spain's Abrantes, from the yard of Guillermo Arizkorreta, who was second by a nose in this identical fixture last season. He picks up the services of Christophe Soumillon, but will once again face said UK-based conqueror, Dream Today, who carries Richard Mullen for trainer Jamie Osborne and the excitable Melbourne 10 Racing ownership. Also from the UK, Summerghand must be respected for trainer David O'Meara, while G3-placed dirt specialist Nine Below Zero shakes things up a bit on a week's rest.

Former USA-based stakes performer Neverland Rock carries the Phoenix Thoroughbreds colours, while Raafid and Moqarrab have outside chances in the same Shadwell blue and white as the favourite.

Race 5 (8:50 p.m.)—$135,000 Longines Conquest Classic Trophy (Div. 1) (90-105) (1600mT)

The top weight in the split turf mile handicap is Doug Watson-trained Shadwell colour-bearer Gabr, but the heavy favourite in here is Godolphin's Charlie Appleby pupil Zakouski, who has long been well-regarded and gets the services of William Buick—not to mention 1.5kgs from the aforementioned. Started just twice, his lone victory was a smart one in Nov. 2018 in which he defeated subsequent multiple G2 winner Headman by two lengths. This will be a first start since April for the homebred half-brother to King's Command, but he comes with company, as Appleby also starts likely second choice Marhaban, an unproven type. Last out, he was a good second to Lyndon B, who followed him here for 2019 DWC Carnival-winning trainer George Scott.

A baker's dozen will go to post in the 1600m affair, but many eyes will be intrigued as to whether former Sir Michael Stoute trainee Gabr returns to the promise he showed as a sophomore of 2017-18, when running G1 winner Without Parole to the line by three-quarters of a length and facing the likes of Saxon Warrior in G1 company. Last out at Abu Dhabi, he ran into traffic while launching his bid in the National Day Cup (Listed), ultimately backing up to 11th. Crowley, who was aboard for his last win when taking Goodwood's Foundation Stakes (Listed), reunites. 

Race 8 (10:35 p.m.)—$135,000 Longines Conquest Classic Trophy (Div. 2) (90-105) (1600mT)

The second division of the 1600m turf handicap has the look of a UK invasion, as Jamie Osborne-trained Cliffs of Capri, Simon Crisford pupil Rastrelli, David O'Meara-conditioned Firmament and Charlie Fellowes charge Chiefofchiefs all have claims in the wide-open affair. Still, all must go through a well-connected horse with top local form in Good Fortune, who landed last year's Dubai Trophy at this meeting for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin.

Saeed bin Suroor starts Piece of History, who enters on the strength of a good score at Kempton and acquires the services of Christophe Soumillon. An interesting entrant is Doug Watson-trained Galvanize, a long-time local dirt runner, but winner on turf in June 2016 when trained by Sir Michael Stoute for the Niarchos Family. Pat Dobbs takes the reins from the rail, almost ensuring that the half-brother to Saratoga Derby (on turf) winner A Thread of Blue will make the running.

Race 1 (6:30 p.m.)—Group 1-PA $65,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (1600m)

In what may be one of the most exciting Purebred Arabian races in memory, the best sprinters of the breed clash with middle-distance types over the common ground of 1600m. Four of the 16 are rated 113 or higher and six are at least 110, topped by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi-trained Aatebat Al Khalediah (rated 121) who should be a slight favourite in this spot on the strength of a one-sided, track record-setting victory in the Madjani Stakes (G2) last out over 2000m.

Cutting back in trip, she will take on the two best Arabian sprinters, Bani Yas (G2) ES Ajeeb (115) and his recent conqueror AF Alwajel (113), who has only raced five times, but won three of those and never been worse than second. Thursday will be his first start in Group company after a pair of Prestige handicap wins.

Also of note is AF Alwajel's stablemate, AF Sajanjle (117), who was second in this race last year and went on to win the Mazrat Al Ruwayah (G2) at the same trip a month later. The last two listed are owned and trained by the defending UAE champions Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and Ernst Oertel, respectively.  

Others to be respected in the race are consistent top-level performer Mirna and multi-surface specialist RB Money to Burn, who are each rated 110.

The 1:45.55 course record could very well be in danger.

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