Angus McNae
Angus McNae's Racing UK Blog
Saturday 6th February 2016

Racing UK

Dubai Carnival Analysis: California Chrome fans needn’t be worried yet

The Dubai World Cup Carnival came to life in spectacular style this week. Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge took centre stage but the supporting card that featured the Cape Verdi and the Firebreak produced some superb action. Here is my analysis of all six thoroughbred races.

1. 5f Turf Handicap
Ertijaal had been treated more than generously for his easy victory over course and distance last time. A 5lb rise underplayed his superiority that day and once again he proved vastly superior to his rivals. Bar a further lenient approach from the handicapper we will surely see him in Pattern company next time out and surely that will be in the Super Saturday trial for the Al Quoz sprint. This horse formerly with William Haggas has been a revelation in Dubai since his attention has been turned to sprinting. He has a high cruising speed and is far from one dimensional in terms of his run style. He would have an outstanding chance in the Al Quoz sprint on Dubai World Cup night if he gets there fit and well, but therein lies a possible Achilles Heel. He has an exaggerated action, which means he hits the ground very hard, thus he may be prone to concussive foreleg injuries. However he is in the hands of the leading trainer at the Carnival so far, Ali Al Raihe and he can now focus on having him spot on for the big target. In behind there was a massive eye catcher in the shape of Naadirr. Having his first run in Dubai he travelled strongly towards the far side (yellow colors, blue cap, big white face) but late on was switched around horses to the stands side, eventually finding his stride and storming home under hands and heels to be fourth. There is a six-furlong turf handicap at Meydan in a few weeks with his name on it.

2. Group 2 Cape Verdi 1m Group 2 Turf
On paper this looked like a weak renewal and I suspect time will prove that to be the case. The winner Very Special was afforded the softest of leads under James Doyle and despite being keen in front Doyle was able to rate her in front and gradually wind things up in the straight where she never looked in danger. She will never have things as easy again. She wears a cross nose band and a hood and has been held up in most of her starts suggesting that she is very free going. The evidence of this race is that those tendencies look set to haunt her again and she will be hard to win with going forward. This was her day though, providing Saeed Bin Suroor with his third win at this year's Carnival. Given the moderate pace, Excilly ran really well to finish second for Tom Dascombe. She was slowly away and held up in mid division before running on strongly when the race was all but over. This was a big step up on her Meydan debut and she will definitely be seen in a better light given a stronger pace to run at.

3. Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 9 1/2 furlongs dirt
This was the race that brought the Americans to town In the shape of Frosted, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. The Wood Memorial winner and runner-up to American Pharaoh in the Belmont was sent off favourite to beat a decent field. In winning by five lengths in a new track record he was hugely impressive and is set to head straight to the Dubai World Cup now. As they came out of the stalls it looked as if William Buick on the winner wanted to make the running, but that plan was compromised by Munaaser, who was determined to lead. Buick was therefore happy to just track the pace until smoothly getting to the front one and a half furlongs out.Then for a moment it looked as if Frosted was going to weaken as he put his head to one side, but as soon as he changed legs to lead on his off fore he simply shot clear in tremendous style. Here is a close look at that change of legs with James Willoughby. (Insert hego analysis from yesterday). One of the best maxims in is game is an even pace begets optimal performance and that is exactly what happened here. Running an even 12-second furlongs meant that Frosted was able to distribute his energy evenly and thus record a track record without seemingly having to work too hard. Compared to some of the searing fractions he faced in America he would have found running even 12's a breeze and he duly responded with a superb display. Things will, of course be much tougher on World Cup night and whilst he has cemented his claims by beating this lot he has not enhanced them. California Chrome and his legion of fans will not be quaking in their boots, but this performance will have caused some concern.

4. 1m 6 furlong Turf Handicap
I think we saw a useful young stayer here in the form of Battersea, trained by Roger Varian. He was on edge in the preliminaries and keen to post. That exuberance manifested itself in the race where the steady pace caused him to pull quite hard early on. However, he, like the runner-up Paene Magnus and the third Famous Kid saved plenty of ground by hugging the inside rail. As the race developed Andrea Atzeni on board Battersea was patient waiting for gaps to open on the inside. When they did his mount responded in great style given how much energy he wasted early on in the race. The ultimate target for him will be the Dubai Gold Cup after a prep run on Super Saturday. Life will get tougher against better horses and off level weights. There is also a doubt about him staying two miles given his forward going nature, but he did really well here given how the race was run and there is definitely more to come from him. Overall this was something of a messy race. The pace was moderate and the fact that Battersea completed the final two furlongs quicker than Ertijaal in the five furlong sprint is testament to it not being a race that tested stamina in any way.

5. Firebreak Stakes 1m Group 3 Dirt
This race has regularly had a strong influence on what happens in the Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup night and that could be the same again as the American raider Confrontation gave Kieran McLaughlin a big race double. This race was run at a strong gallop and on the back of that the pacesetters, One Man Band and Le Bernadin, kicked for home a long way out. Ultimately they paid a heavy price for this, softened up for the late closers in the form of Confrontation and Watershed (3rd and also trained by Kiaran McLaughlin) The winner has knocked heads with some decent horses in America whilst falling short of being top class. He was something of a bridesmaid coming here, but there was a lot to like about the way he knuckled down late on to pick up One Man Band and ultimately he seemed to win going away with a bit in hand. One Man Band ran remarkably well to be second given how much energy he expended early in the race and the third Watershed is a deep closer who would be a player in the Godolphin Mile if they went way too fast early on. The big disappointment was Mubtaahij, trained by Mike De Kock. He ran poorly even taking into consideration the fact that he would not have been fully wound up for this. If he is to be a force in the Dubai World Cup he will need to up his game big time in the third round on the Maktoum Challenge on Super Saturday.

6. 10 Furlong Turf handicap
Ordinary stuff to conclude the card, but a second winner for Saeed Bin Suroor on the night completing a four timer for Godolphin. This was another steadily run turf event won by Think Ahead who was sensibly ridden close to the pace after being sent forward from an awkward draw. This horse was returning to turf after a decent run on dirt, once again highlighting that horses who go from dirt to turf in two successive runs are always of interest. The reason for this lies in the attritional nature of dirt racing which some horses cannot cope with. When they return to turf they find everything happening slower and having been sharpened up by a dirt run they tend to jump straight into the bridle and enjoy the experience a lot more. The favorite, Tanaaf also had a wide draw to overcome, but for once in his illustrious career his jockey Christophe Soumillon was somewhat indecisive. From out wide he neither went forward nor tucked in and thus was caught wide, had no cover and thus no chance. I wonder if Monsieur Soumillon was something of a downer after the dull performance of Mubtaahij in the Firebreak. Ordinary stuff, but the win of Think Ahead completed a great night for Godolphin, just when we were all wondering what was going on with their Carnival challenge this year.