Horse racing in focus: Mubtaahij right at home at Meydan

The first four rounds of the Dubai World Cup Carnival have effectively acted as the phoney war, but both Godolphin and Mike de Kock unleash their primary candidates for the most valuable race in the world at Meydan on Thursday.

The road to the Dubai World Cup starts in earnest.

The first four rounds of the Dubai World Cup Carnival have effectively acted as the phoney war, but both Godolphin and Mike de Kock unleash their primary candidates for the most valuable race in the world at Meydan on Thursday.

The spotlight falls on Kiaran McLaughlin’s Frosted in the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge over 1,900 metres.

De Kock opts for his much-loved tactic of running a horse over an inadequate distance first up by putting Mubtaahij in to the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes over 1,600m.

The two colts have their fates intertwined. Frosted has twice met Mubtaahij in the United States and has twice bested him.

Read more: Trainer McLaughlin expects a victory for Frosted in Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge

Mubtaahij was a length behind fellow Dubai World Cup hopeful Keen Ice and just over six lengths behind Frosted in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in May.

Last season’s impressive UAE Derby winner was almost 10 lengths shy of subsequent Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner American Pharoah in Louisville, however, but then got a little closer to the champion when finishing behind Frosted and Keen Ice in the Belmont Stakes in June.

Although Frosted and Mubtaahij are separated Thursday, they are scheduled to meet in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge on Super Saturday on March 5, a clash that World Cup favourite California Chrome has ducked in preference to a handicap in three weeks, and all being well they will all collide with US$10 million (Dh36.7m) in the offering on March 26.

Both Frosted and Mubtaahij are hardened campaigners who improve with training, but whereas Frosted was the more finished article by the end of last season, Mubtaahij has grown and filled out his frame having not raced since Belmont.

De Kock has raced three of his UAE Derby winners in the World Cup and none of Victory Moon, Asiatic Boy nor Musir could triumph. Mubtaahij’s sole goal is to bring that wait to an end.

“He has been freshened up really well since America,” De Kock said. “At the end of the day the build up is for World Cup night. Whatever happens in between happens.”

Frosted appears to have the easier task under William Buick, but Meydan is not easily mastered without experience. No horse this season save for Godolphin’s Steady Pace has won on their first try of the dirt surface.

McLaughlin has never had a runner at Meydan, but the trainer is confident that Frosted’s class will see him home.

And how Godolphin need the grey US import. Neither Saeed bin Suroor nor Charlie Appleby have a serious candidate for the $10m race at this stage, but Bin Suroor has made a habit of winning with what appeared to be an empty cupboard. Look at African Story and Prince Bishop in the past two seasons.

McLaughlin won the Dubai World Cup with Invasor in 2007 and is looking forward to locking horns with De Kock and Mubtaahij down the line.

“I saw him run in America and I liked what I saw,” he said of Frosted. “He is a very nice horse and obviously loves the track.”

This is a home game for Mubtaahij, who has already proved he handles the dirt having won four of his five starts on the surface during a campaign last season that culminated in his UAE Derby triumph.

He will need every ounce of that experience under Christophe Sumillon though if he is to get past two of the most likeable and improving runners this Carnival in Le Bernardin and One Man Band, both of whom are unbeaten this season.

Godolphin trainer Bin Suroor pays tribute to ‘one of the best’ Halling

Halling, an outstanding racehorse and sire, has died at the age of 25.

Initially trained by John Gosden to win the 1994 Cambridgeshire, he subsequently joined Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin, where his career really took off.

Victories in the 1995 Eclipse and Juddmonte International announced him on the big stage and he even went on to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic won by American great Cigar that year.

The following season Halling proved himself as just about the best 10-furlong performer in Europe, winning the Eclipse and International again, as well as the Prix D’Ispahan.

Those successes came after he had disappointed in the Dubai World Cup, proving conclusively he did not act on a dirt surface.

He signed off his career finishing second to the brilliant Bosra Sham in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket.

Among his top-class progeny are Gosden’s Jack Hobbs, last year’s Irish Derby winner, smart stayers Cavalryman and Opinion Poll and even high-class chaser Deep Purple.

Bin Suroor is well aware of the influence Halling had on everyone connected with Godolphin.

“He won five Group 1s for us,” he said.

“He was wonderful, one of the best, and was great for Godolphin. He’s also gone on to be a great stallion, too.

“His legacy as a stallion will still live on in his colts and fillies that are still racing all over the world.

“His Highness [Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai] loved him, he was one of his favourites, and we will all miss him.

“In his first year with us he won two Group 1s and then in his second year he won three. His only two bad runs for us were both on dirt.

“Over 10 furlongs on turf there were not many better.”

Ertijaal out to keep up Al Raihe’s momentum

It has been a long time since Ali Rashid Al Raihe had a top sprinter, but that appears to have all changed with the arrival of Ertijaal at Grandstand Stables.

Ertijaal showed he had pace to spare when he powered away from the front to win a handicap on the opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival last month.

It was the first time that the five year old had raced over 1,000 metres and off a 313-day layoff and it showed that with further improvement he is a realistic candidate for the Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night.

Read more: Horse racing in focus: Foreign trainers aim to bounce back at Dubai World Cup Carnival

The performance certainly had regular jockey Paul Hanagan purring afterwards.

Ertijaal heads the weights in Thursday’s EGA Billet Trophy at Meydan, another 1,000m dash on turf, but he faces a set of rivals of a much higher standard than last time.

Hototo, who won a handicap at the Carnival last season, has been declared by trainer Fawzi Nass, as has Naadirr, who pushed European champion Muhaarar to within five lengths at Ascot in October.

That is just the start. Last season’s Meydan Sprint winner Sir Maximillian receives 2.5kgs and Caspian Prince will ensure that Ertijaal does not get his own way in front having been drawn one in from the favourite in Gate 15.

Faced with such adversity, should Ertijaal prevail Thursday it would show that he has the capacity to be competitive on World Cup night when sprinters such as Australia’s Buffering, King’s Stand Stakes winner Goldream from England and even Godolphin’s Jungle Cat all potentially lie in wait.

This has been a resurgent season for Al Raihe, and he has already accumulated more winners at this stage of the season than during his entire campaign last year.

Happy Dubai was the last decent sprinter to emerge from Grandstand Stables, finishing tenth in the 2011 Al Quoz Sprint, while Tropical Star won the 2006 Mahab Al Shimaal and the Al Shindagha Sprint the following season.

Schedule

Meydan

Thursday First race, 7pm

Jebel Ali

Friday First race, 2.20pm

Abu Dhbai

Saturday First race, 5pm

Horses to look out for at Meydan on Thursday, February 4

Versac PY

7pm, Group 1, 2,200m If you are not a racing fan, you may have heard of Versac PY after Kylie Minogue tweeted a picture of herself with the dual Group 1-winning Purebred Arabian before the Dubai Kahayla Classic in March. Versac PY looks to have outstanding claims of registering a third Group 1 tonight and going some way to making up for the loss of stablemate Manark, who reportedly has been ruled out for the season with a fracture.

Almashooqa

8.10pm, Group 2, 1,600m Almashooqa clearly needed the run when finishing behind Polar River last month on her first start since July. On the same card tonight's rival More Aspen was an impressive winner of the Singspiel Stakes. Almashooqa is a Grade 1 runner-up in South Africa, however, and the daughter of dirt sire Bernardini should be better for the run.

Special Fighter

8.45pm, Group 2, 1,900m Special Fighter is one of five horses tainted by defeat at the hands of Le Bernardin in the opening round of the Al Maktoum Challenge to line up in the second round. That race was over 1,600 metres, however, and a fortnight ago Special Fighter stepped up to tonight's distance of 1,900 metres and proved he is a force to be reckoned with over it.

Star Empire

9.20pm, Handicap, 2,810m Mike de Kock's string is in rude health at the moment and nothing signalled that better than when the nine-year-old Star Empire came scything through a large field to win a handicap over 2,000 metres on the opening night of the Carnival. He steps up in trip to a more suitable 2,810m tonight. It would be a heroic effort if he could back up off 60kgs.

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