Got it spot on last night: Hamelin and Missed Call ran huge races. Unfortunately they didn’t quite finish in the way I would have hoped, as Hamelin was outstayed in the final furlong by the filly. Another second place for the betting record…. too many of those in recent weeks.
4.45 Meydan: Handicap, 1m 2f
Racing at Meydan is back – it kick’s off with a decent card of six races today. The feature this dirt handicap, worth roughly €20k.
It looks a good race on paper. Dough Watson’s Jeeraan is expected to bounce back and tops the betting market. You can see why. He’s won twice at Meydan before and is on fair mark, so should run well from a good draw. But he is a very short price nonetheless taking on stronger rivals than when he won last season.
Stable mate Etijaah makes more appeal from a price point. Progressive last season, he goes well at this track and trip and his mark off 85 is fair, however he is wrong at the weights here and will have to be probably a good deal better than his current rating to win.
I really fancy Torchlighter here, though. He was 92 rated when landing a big class 2 Newmarket Handicap in great style last year and since then hasn’t been disgraced in three starts in the UAE. He tried the dirt twice last season and took well to it in very hot Carnival handicaps.
This is easier and he drops a couple of pounds in the mark as well which brings him down to a potentially lenient rating off 94. Question mark is whether he is ready to go, but with good money on stake, this looks an ideal opportunity to get off the mark.
This race looks certain to evolve around the first three in the betting: African Story, Prince Bishop and Frankyfourfingers. Those three renew their rivalry from the recent Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2, where Frankyfourfingers prevailed under a canny front-running ride by Mickael Barzalona.
The French gelding has rapidly improved since his first start on the Meydan Dirt, which came in January in the Round 1 of this race. That day over 1m, he travelled well but couldn’t quite match the speed of eventual winner Surfer. However he looks a horse naturally suited to the Dirt, and he proved that when he took Round 2 in excellent style. Critics would say he got tired in the end and the additional half a furlong could find him out today. I would rather think the opposite. He looked to idle as he was alone in front and in fact the slight step up in trip should very much suit on pedigree. More improvement is not unlikely to come.
What about Prince Bishop, who came very close in the very same race after staying on in extremely eye-catching fashion? Yes, he is a big player, certainly. He proved to be able to cope with the new surface and his past form rates a very strong one. He may stripper fitter today, and must be in with a big shout. However there is a valid concern, given the fact that he seems to develop a habit of starting slowly and lazily these days. He won’t be able to allow that to happen again today. With this risk in mind, he looks a very short price.
Stable mate African Story is the reigning Dubai World Cup champ and naturally warrants plenty of respect. His Dirt debut was okay I thought, given the long break. He didn’t look like really enjoying to get Dirt into his face, though, and I would rather like to see another run of him performing really well on this surface before I would back him. US runner Long River makes his Meydan debut and has fair form in his native country. He surly will enjoy the test but if he is quite up to the standard required here remains to be seen.
As touched on already, I feel Prince Bishop is too short in the betting given his habit to blow the start. If he could get it right this time, he is obviously a very big runner. I can’t trust African Story today but I’m interested to see some improvement. Natural choice is Frankyfourfingers with the right form in the book and the right profile to take this. He looks overpriced and would have thought that he is at the top of the market.
The betting said it all beforehand and so it was no surprise when Cladocera surged clear to win the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes with plenty in hand last night.
The lightly raced four year old filly looks to improve nicely with age and followed up in impressive style on her recent Dubai debut. The 1/2 favourite was travelling super well in the rear of the field, but had to go widest around the home turn in order to get a clear shot. She was still able to produce an electric turn of foot and made it look pretty easy in the end.
That are the signs of a talented individual. And while she was surly entitled to win this race in style, it appears that Cladocera has the potential to improve further and that makes her a filly to follow this season. Of course she has to step up in grade now and tackle some stronger rivals to prove how far she can go. But at this stage, a bid for the Dubai Turf must be on the radar of trainer Alain de Royer-Dupré.
Maybe the one to take out of this race besides the winner is runner-up Anahita. She was ridden much closer to the pace than Cladocera, travelled very strongly into the home straight but wasn’t able to match the burst of speed of the big favourite. However she showed plenty of guts, fighting to live and defend her second place. It looks to me, in combination with her pedigree, that she wants further. She looks to have trained on very nicely over the winter and now as a four year she appears to be a much stronger individual. More improvement is likely once she goes up in trip I believe. She finished a gallant runner-up in her only start over 10f last year.
SURFER: It was his target, and he ran like he clearly knew what he was supposed to do on the day. Surfer won the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round two in taking style while making most of his draw. Never too far off the pace, he attacked turning for home and was able to get lose one furlong out to draw clear by a bit more than two lengths in the end. This is particularly sweet since he was my selection for this race. Favourite Outstrip absolutely hated the Dirt on his Meydan debut. He was outpaced early on and subsequently never really in the race. The tough English runner Ocean Tempest also didn’t look happy at all on this surface. A fact we may have to conclude more often than not in the next couple of weeks when we talk about European runners on the Meydan Dirt track.
TRUE STORY: Impressive success for True Stroy in the Listed Singspiel Stakes. In hindsight, one could say he was very much entitled to win as good as he did. First time headgear, the gelding operation and being fresh clearly rejuvenated him. The change of gear he was able to produce entering the home straight demonstrated why he was once thought to be a leading Epsom Derby contender. Question is now if he’ll be able to reproduce the same sort of form against tougher opposition the next time. This win meant that James Doyle was off to a flying start for the boys in blue. Recently acquired as the retained jockey for Godolphin, he couldn’t have envisioned a better start.
DE KOCK: South Africa’s top trainer has a rather slow start this season but one should expect that form will pick up soon. Some horses did perform eye-catchingly today and believing his words, his whole string is expected to improve with growing match fitness. Ajeeb was one that particularly caught my eye. Over 5f in the turf sprint, he travelled very well for a long time trailing the field and making some really nice progress late without getting a particularly hard race.
Given the fact that he was off for more than a year and was once runner-up in a 7f Group 2 in Australia as well as only five lengths beaten in top class company behind Atlantic Jewel, one can easily see why this colt could be very interesting moving forward from here. Expect him to strip fitter next time and when stepping up in trip, he’ll be one to have the money on I feel. Another interesting De Kock runner to keep in mind might be classy Sansaawhes. He was in receive of a slightly odd ride by Soumillon but finished very well and should come on for this run after being back from a break as well.
MUSIC THEORY: An absolute nightmare run for the Godolphin gelding in the final race. He travelled extremely well in rear of the field but had absolutely nowhere to go in the home straight. He got bumped and had to fight for a gap, but once he got out late, he finished like a train. Keep an eye on him, he could go all the way into pattern class. Music Theory was a very promising juvenile when he finished once less than three lengths behind Kingman in the Solario Stakes. He had only two starts last year but ended 2014 with a fine runner-up effort at Lingfield. His lightly raced profile let’s assume that there is still a good deal of improvement left.
DIRT: It is almost impossible to win from the rear of the field. The kick-back is horrible and it looks a bit like Wolverhampton at its worst days before the relay of the new surface… well Meydan today looked probably even worse! The vast majority of dirt races were won by horses very much up with the speed – with the only exception the 7f Handicap where they went a relentless gallop. So the trend from the minor meetings clearly continues in that sense.
Doesn’t mean that spectacular racing is a thing unlikely to happen on this surface, however visually it isn’t particularly pretty – not to my eyes at least. The beauty of flat racing for me is when you see a strong travelling horse looming hard on the bridle around the 2f marker, waiting to be unleashed to go and win the race. That’s why I once fell so much in love with Paco Boy. His 2010 Lockinge Stakes success or the year before the Queen Anne triumph – simply poetry in motion!