Dubai Carnival Begins at Meydan with G1 Maktoum Challenge Round 1

French runner Deryan takes the Dubai Kahayla Classic in a rapid time at Meydan (Credit - DRC & Mathea Kelley)

French runner Deryan on rail takes the 2021 Dubai Kahayla Classic at Meydan (Credit – DRC & Mathea Kelley)

Friday’s card gets underway with a highly competitive renewal of the G1 Maktoum Challenge Round 1 for Purebred Arabians, which sees 2022 Dubai Kahayla Classic second Kerless Del Roc try to follow up his win in the G2 Madjani Stakes last time out. Deryan, winner of the Kahayla in 2021, is among his rivals, as is Group 2 Bani Yas winner AF Alajaj and RB Rich Lyke Me, winner of this race 12 months ago.

Maktoum Challenge R2 for Thoroughbreds

The seven-race card, sponsored by Zabeel Feed, features five Stakes races, including the $250,000 Group 2 Maktoum Challenge R2 for Thoroughbreds, for which a capacity field of 16 has been declared.

Run over 1600metres on the dirt, 2022 winner Golden Goal attempt to become just the second horse to win it twice, after Le Bernardin in 2016 and 2017. He is one of five for trainer Doug Watson, who has won the race three times.

Prince Eiji, the pick of number two stable jockey Sam Hitchcott with number one rider Pat Dobbs suspended, looks to be the first string following his win in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile last month.

“What we liked about it most was that he was vying for the lead with Danyah, took back a little bit and then really grabbed the bit,” said Watson of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Obaid Al Maktoum’s gelding. “So we know he can come from off the pace and we learned a lot that night, plus he’s strengthened up a lot this year.”

Watson also runs three-time course winner Thegreatcollection, fourth in the Creek Mile, and 2021 G3 Burj Nahaar winner Midnight Sands, as well as Everfast, third in G2 Maktoum Challenge R2 last season.

“We have a cast of characters for the mile races,” he continued. “We’re still hopeful with Midnight Sands and Golden Goal ran a great race last time. He only got beaten by four lengths and he always needs his first run for us. He’s having a really nice season training and he’ll be tough on the night.”

Watson’s quintet face strong opposition from 2021 G2 Godolphin Mile winner Secret Ambition, second last year, and Desert Wisdom, winner of the G3 Burj Nahaar. The overseas challenge is headed by Final Dance, winner of three Turkish Group 1s since finishing fourth in the Listed Al Bastakiya last season. There is also a Group 1 winner in the race, Salem Bin Ghadayer’s Capezzano having taken out G1 Maktoum Challenge in 2019, while G3 Jebel Ali Mile winner Algiers is an exciting first runner of the season for the training partnership of Simon and Ed Crisford.

There is $180,000 up for grabs in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, over 1400metres on turf. Charlie Appleby has won this in four of the last five years and has a strong hand again, with G3 Jersey Stakes winner Noble Truth the mount of William Buick and James Doyle onboard Listed winner Al Suhail. International flair is provided by two runners for French handler Yann Barberot: Bouttemont and Fast Raaj, while Spanish Champion Trainer Guillermo Arizkorreta saddles Group 2 winner Rodaballo.

Shaheen hero Switzerland back for more

The Group 3 Dubawi Stakes, over 1200metres on dirt, often provides the winner with a spot in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on World Cup night. The 2022 winner of that race, Switzerland (pictured), returns to action here, alongside stablemates Tuz and Freedom Fighter.

“Hopefully he’s still got the spark; I think I can see it on the track in the mornings,” said Seemar of Switzerland. “We got to know him better last season, we’d had him for a year by then, so we got to know his habits and his quirks which really helped.”

Of Listed winner Tuz, second in the Listed Garhoud Sprint last time out, he added: “He was my first Stakes winner over a mile, but this year we decided he’s got so much natural speed so we’ll try him sprinting. The plan wasn’t to lead last time, but Richie [Mullen, jockey] got him out of the gates really well and he latched on, went to win, and just got caught.”

Garhoud Sprint

Freedom Fighter was a late defection from the Garhoud Sprint, but Seemar reports all is now well with the US recruit.

“Freedom Fighter was a three-year-old running against older horses last season,” he said. “He’s blossomed, filled out, and turned into a good looking four-year-old. He just had a foot abscess last time which was bad timing, but he’s back on track now.”

Opposition comes from Mouheeb, who beat Tuz in the Garhoud Sprint. “He’s quite a strong, robust horse and he showed he was quite sharp in his trackwork,” said trainer Michael Costa about Mouheeb’s conversion to sprinting, having won the G3 UAE 2000 Guineas in 2021. “It was so good to see him at Meydan; he really put his ears back and was determined to win.”

The Listed Ertijaal Dubai Dash 

Three-time course winner Man Of Promise lines up here for Appleby, as does Group 2 Blue Point Sprint winner Lazuli, while Equilateral, winner of this race in 2021, is one of two in the race for UK trainer Charlie Hills, who also runs Group 2 winner Khaadem.

Exciting Walk Of Stars returns in DRC Classic

The Dubai Racing Club Classic is the first Thoroughbred race on the card, over 2410metres on turf. It has attracted six Godolphin runners, including one-time Epsom Derby hope Walk Of Stars, as well as four UK visitors. Two of these, Enemy and Green Team, are trained by Ian Williams, already successful at the Carnival when Sir Maximilian scored for him in 2016.

“He ran really well in Dubai last season and his form just tailed off over the summer,” said the trainer about Enemy, fourth in the G3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy in February. “He disappointed us in the Ebor [Handicap] and we radio scoped him and found he was having a problem with his larynx, so he had a wind op.

“Sadly, he missed his prep race when it was abandoned due to frost, but he goes to Dubai fit and ready to run and hopefully gives us a bold showing.”

Of Green Team, formerly trained by Owen Burrows, he added; “he’s still entire and he’s new to us. He’s been running over staying distances in the UK and I think a drop back in trip might suit. We wanted to get a prep race into him, but that hasn’t been possible, so he will improve for his time out there.”

The three-year-olds have a strong Carnival programme once again and 11 clash in the Jumeirah Classic Trial, over 1400metres on turf. Leading contenders look to be the Appleby-trained pair of Courageous Knight and Highbank, while Classic-winning British trainer George Boughey has a first Dubai runner in Perdika, winner of four of her five starts in the UK.