While the latter was a procession by heavily favoured Benbatl, the Maktoum Challenge was an absolute thriller in which three horses—North America on the inside, Kimbear between and Secret Ambition outside—hit the finish line together. The photo-finish revealed it was Kimbear, with Pat Dobbs aboard for trainer Doug Watson and owner Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, on top by the slightest of margins.
Completing a double on the card for Doug Watson and win 599 in UAE for the conditioner, the 6-year-old Temple City horse has always been held in high regard by his connections and was turning the tables on Secret Ambition and jockey Tadhg O'Shea, who defeated him three weeks ago in the Dubai Creek Mile (Listed) and finished second today. Favourite North America was third under Richard Mullen with another nine lengths back to Watson-trained Muntazah. It was a third course and distance victory for Kimbear, but first since beating Secret Ambition in the 2018 Group 3 Burj Nahaar.
"He was very brave today," Dobbs said. "He was following (North America) and hit a flat point turning in. Then he got a second wind and stuck his head down at the line. Luckily our head was down at the line. His work has been exceptional at home. I didn't think he'd get beat last time. Doug is a brilliant trainer. He knows how to get them to progress through the year. You've got to tip your hat to him."
"He ran a great race," Watson added. "He likes a fight. Last year was such a struggle and this year he has just done everything right. Those are two nice horses that he just finished with and we were lucky to get away with that. Pat gave him a great ride. He was fit today and his works were fantastic. He always needs that first run. I was little worried with it being three weeks back (after the Listed Dubai Creek Mile). We'll give him a nice break now. It's a great win for Sheikh Rashid. He bought this horse a couple years ago and last year wasn't his year. Hopefully it is this year. I was really pleased with Muntazah. It's tough to come back being a big heavy horse. He dug in there and finished fourth."
O'Shea and Mullen—both riding Satish Seemar trainees—were defeated, but not downtrodden.
"He ran very well," O'Shea said. "He's a very tough horse."
Mullen added: "He ran a super race, but unfortunately he did the same thing he did in the (Dubai) World Cup, where he ripped a patch of his foot and it's bleeding pretty badly. I thought he got tired, but it was his foot and it was sore. That's the down side to him; he has bad feet. Hopefully we can patch him up and come back with him."
"They went very fast early and it was a blitzing pace and I guess this is how it goes," Seemar said immediately following the race. "In a result like this, there's no excuses. North America usually is good first run, but the speed was really fast early. Secret Ambition is a good horse and ran really well."
The turf feature, the upgraded 1800m Group 2 Singspiel Stakes presented by Longines Master Collection, provided an easy victory for Benbatl , winner of the race in 2018 and the first dual winner of the contest. Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, he only faced four rivals after the defection of last year's winner and stable companion Dream Castle. Sent straight to the front by Christophe Soumillon, the 6-year-old Dubawi horse never looked in any trouble with his ears pricked before Soumillon gave him his cue and the pair dashed clear to win easily by 4¾ lengths.
"He went to the front really easily," Soumillon said. "I was quite surprised to see someone chasing me turning (into the stretch) because the pace was quite good; wasn't too slow. I was like, 'what's going on here,' but then my horse had a good blow. He really dominated the race. It was a good run for him. He always runs good fresh, but it's nice to build on this and get him as fit as possible for the big race. To be honest, it wasn't the best lesson for a horse to have him in the front as the big favourite, you take some risks, but today was like a morning gallop on his own. Next time, if he has a chance to get cover, it'll be better for him. Today he was the best horse in the field and probably Dubai at the moment."
Bin Suroor added: "He ran really well. I'm happy with him. He showed plenty of speed and was travelling really good. It didn't matter about the ground. The way he finished his race made me really happy. He was around 90% (fit). There could be options (for him)."
The Purebred Arabian equivalent of the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 presented by Longines La Grande Classique (G1) attracted a maximum field of 16 but there was only ever one leader, RB Money To Burn who flew from the staring stalls under Fabrice Veron (for trainer Eric Lemartinel), was soon clear and pulled further away from her rivals entering the straight with Cheik Roque staying on from a long way to back to snatch second close home.
A delighted Lemartinel said: "She has such a high natural cruising speed we just let her get on with things and it is exciting because she is only five. We will have to decide whether to step her up in trip and tackle the second round of the challenge, but we will see how she is after this because she will have had a hard race with a performance like that. You cannot tackle too many tough Group 1s and still have a fresh horse for the (Dubai) Kahayla Classic at the end of March."
Bin Suroor and Soumillon completed a double, which looked unlikely at halfway, in the $100,000 Dubai Trophy presented by Longines Record Collection for 3-year-olds over 1200m on turf. Royal Ascot alumnus Platinum Star, who was slowly away under Soumillon, put in a resolute rally to win at the wire over maiden Hamama.
"He wasn't really fit today," Soumillon said. "Unfortunately, he was a bit naughty and missed the start and I lost maybe five or six lengths. It wasn't easy to make up ground. Finally, he was really running the last 300m. He kept going all the way and I thought we could get it. That's good for the future. He's really relaxed. The ground was soft today. It looks like if he has to go a bit farther, he can make it. Now the question is 'are we staying on the turf or going to the dirt' for the Derby. He won really well in the end and got some kickback like dirt today, so I hope he learned something from it. I'm happy because he put his head down and (left) his heart on the track."
Bin Suroor added: "The plan was to race handily but he was a long way buck, but we know this is a class horse and he has shown that with such a strong finish."
Class prevailed in the Longines Hydroconquest, a 1200m turf handicap, with Ekhtiyaar and Jim Crowley, riding for his main employer HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum able to concede weight to his seven rivals and win impressively for trainer Doug Watson. The 6-year-old gelded son of Bated Breath won a course and distance handicap at the 2019 DWC Carnival on what was his second UAE outing, having previously won three times in Great Britain for Roger Varian. He then found only Godolphin's Blue Point too good on Super Saturday in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint before finishing unplaced in the Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1).
Crowley said: "The leader went very quick and I was conscious that I didn't want to give him too much a lead, but he then stopped quickly and I was left in front but my fellow ran on well to win nicely."
Restricted to 3-year-olds, the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial presented by Longines Dolce Vita over 1600m proved a memorable occasion for owner Nasir Askar, with his Commanding leading in the final strides and his other runner, Dark Of Night, powering home to snatch third. Separating the pair was Al Modayar. The 3-year-old Camacho colt is trained by Satish Seemar and was partnered by Richard Mullen.
"He's a smashing horse and he felt like it was his first ever run and was uncoordinated," Mullen said. "He's such a big horse and was on the wrong lead around the turn. He was lugging in and just felt like he hadn't had two runs. I think that's a good thing going forward. He is still learning about the game and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we maybe put some headgear on him to help him travel a bit. He jumped very well and they were fanned out and I was able to get a slot. He hung in a bit and was in further than intended because he was hanging. It wasn't until he was in a battle that and Antonio (Fresu on Dark of Night) came late that he decided to get on with it. We knew he had to up his game and that Saeed bin Suroor had a few nice horses. I still believe there's a bit more in the tank."
A 1600m turf handicap, the Longines Conquest Classic, was split into two divisions, the first won stylishly by Godolphin's Zakouski, having just his third career start having won a novice stakes at Kempton in November 2018, beating subsequent dual Group 2 winner Headman. A 4-year-old son of Shamardal was then, last April, fifth in the Group 2 Craven Stakes and has been gelded over the summer.
Appleby said: "We have always thought he was a nice horse and gelding him has helped. We put him away because we thought the carnival schedule would suit him came here very confident and he has certainly not disappointed. We look to step him up in grade now and races like the Al Fahidi Fort (G2) and Zabeel Mile (G2) would be two possible targets."
Division two of the Longines Conquest Classic concluded the card and was won in the final strides by Godolphin's Appleby-trained Key Victory, who turned around his form after a disappointing season in 2019, kicking off 2020 in style under James Doyle.
"He's a horse who always works nice at home, but just couldn't get it together on the track," Doyle said. "The ease in the ground and solid pace helped. He was letting us down a bit last year. It couldn't have gone much better for him tonight and you bank on him getting a bit of confidence from that."
Racing returns to Meydan and the third night of the DWC Carnival next Thursday, Jan. 16, with a 6:30 p.m. first post.