Saeed Bin Suroor has done an admirable job this season at trying to maintain his long-held grasp on the Dubai World Cup Carnival trainers' title, but it may just slip loose tonight at Meydan's $1.83 million Super Saturday.
Godolphin's indefatigable servant has topped the Carnival trainers' standings for the past six seasons, but because of a Herculean feat of planning, a steadfast belief that he was doing the right thing and a good dose of luck, Mike De Kock stands just three wins adrift of his enduring rival with the big stakes left to play for.
Where Bin Suroor has always had the fall-back of being able to call on an almost limitless supply of blue-blooded thoroughbreds, it seems this season the stables at Al Quoz are a little threadbare.
Comb through the seven races to be staged at Meydan and it becomes immediately apparent that, for once, the most successful Emirati to saddle a thoroughbred is outgunned in his own backyard.
Last season Bin Suroor ruled Super Saturday, a fixture at which he has never failed to saddle a winner.
He had 12 runners and four winners and, for good measure, Hunter’s Light was chased home by stablemates Kassiano and Prince Bishop in the Al Maktoum Challenge round three.
How the balance of power has shifted this season. On Saturday night, it is De Kock who will field 12 runners across the seven thoroughbred races, in comparison to Bin Suroor’s eight.
Bin Suroor cannot rely on the tireless skills of his stable jockey either, as Kieren Fallon replaces Silvestre De Sousa, who lost his appeal against a two-day ban on Thursday and will miss Sunday’s meeting in Abu Dhabi.
It is clear we have finally reached equilibrium this season. De Kock has been extremely competitive in the trainers’ standings before, but that was from a position of inferiority – this season he has had for the first time more runners than his chief rival.
The South African trainer has so many bullets to fire tonight it is not inconceivable the two trainers could be on a level pegging with all to play for on the biggest stage of all at World Cup night in three weeks.
Shea Shea bids to break his third consecutive track record when he defends his title in the Meydan Sprint on his first start in the UAE since winning last season’s Al Quoz Sprint. Soft Falling Rain takes his chance at sprinting in the Mahab Al Shimaal, while the unbeaten Vercingetorix should make a huge impression in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta.
Bin Suroor’s worst performance on this card was in the old guise of Super Thursday in 2007 at Nad Al Sheba when he saddled Morfarij to win the mile thoroughbred maiden for his only visit to the winners’ enclosure of the night.
There are no easy pickings such as that at Meydan Racecourse now, and the Godolphin trainer could well draw his first blank.
The 2012 Godolphin Mile winner, African Story, is probably Bin Suroor’s best chance of the night and steps out in the featured Al Maktoum Challenge round three, but the seven year old is not getting any better.
It is a race that his trainer has won nine times, though, three times with subsequent World Cup winners Dubai Millennium, Street Cry and Electrocutionist.
Bin Suroor’s strike rate is 25 per cent this season, which equates to at least one winner this evening.
If African Story wins, Bin Suroor can breath a little and push on for the summit.
Five horses to keep an eye on at Super Saturday
Soft Falling Rain, Mahab Al Shimaal
Mike De Kock talked about running his charge over 1,200 metres throughout his European campaign last season.
The gutsy colt gets his chance tonight on his first start back since finishing tailed off at Ascot in October.
Shea Shea, Meydan Sprint
De Kock’s turf sprinter has run three times in Dubai and broken two track records.
If he is not rusty from seven months off and turns up in anything like the same form as when he won the Meydan Sprint on this card 12 months ago, the Al Quoz Sprint in three weeks looks his for the taking once again.
Variety Club, Burj Nahaar
The dual South African Horse of the Year staked his claim for Dubai World Cup honours as an easy winner of the Firebreak Stakes over a mile on Tapeta on his first start in Dubai.
Joey Ramsden’s runner looks the real deal and victory tonight could mean a run in the World Cup.
Penglai Pavilion, Dubai City Of Gold
All six of Charlie Appleby’s Carnival wins this season have been achieved with horses having their first run of the season.
Penglai Pavilion was always going to be a better four year old and could be interesting in a weak-looking Dubai City Of Gold.
Elleval, Al Maktoum Challenge (Round 3)
The Irish raider’s form may not look much but that is because he has run poorly on turf in between two big runs on Tapeta.
Elleval was second in last season’s UAE Derby, and won over the World Cup surface and distance last month. He could be a serious player both tonight and in the world’s most valuable race.
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