The opening 1600m maiden of the programme, restricted to those horses foaled locally, provided the perfect opportunity for O’Shea to move level with Hills on 503 local winners and he was probably never headed aboard AF Al Moreeb.
AF Al Moreeb, a four-year-old colt, is a homebred by Khalid Khalifa Al Naboda, who retains the services of O’Shea and like the vast majority of his string, trained by Ernst Oertel.
Earlier in the weekend Super Saturday lived up to its name at Meydan Racecourse. The dress rehearsal for the world’s richest race day, the US$35 million Dubai World Cup card, boasted seven races worth US$2.65 million, including two Group 1 affairs, a Group 2, triad of Group 3s and a wide-open Listed event—all course and distance preps for corresponding Dubai World Cup night fixtures.
The Al Maktoum Challenge R3 (G1) was turned into a procession by Capezzano (USA), who was sent straight to the front by Mickael Barzalona and was never headed for trainer Salem bin Ghadayer.
Owned by Sultan Ali, he fended off a stiff challenge from favourite Thunder Snow (IRE) and sauntered in style by 9½ lengths at the wire. The 5-year-old gelded son of Bernardini arrived here having won both his previous outings this year, highlighted by his impressive 14-length win last out at Meydan over 1600m, but was winning over a classic distance for the first time.
Godolphin’s Thunder Snow, second in this last year to North America before landing the Dubai World Cup, seemingly loomed as a big danger entering the straight under Christophe Soumillon, but as their challenge faltered, Barzalona and Capezzano shot clear.
The Simon Foster-trained South Korean horse Dolkong (USA) finished third, with French jockey Olivier Doleuze pleased with the effort, given a massive step up in class and a mere nine-day turnaround from his romp in the Listed Curlin Handicap on Feb. 28.
“We were beaten for speed straight away,” Doleuze said. “The pace was very fast and we got a lot of kickback, so I had no choice but to let him see some light. I knew the way we were going there was a chance they may stop in front, but he still came at the end and give me a good run in straight. I think I am more tired than him.
“After that effort, I hope he can get into the (Dubai) World Cup. He deserves it because we were only half a length off (Thunder Snow).
“On this performance, he deserves to go. It means a lot to the Korean fans and me, too. I really dream he can participate in the biggest race in the world. We will see. Meanwhile, we keep dreaming.”
The evening’s other Group 1 was the Jebel Hatta for those aspiring to compete in the $6 million Dubai Turf (G1) in three weeks. The race turned into another example of why Godolphin’s Dream Castle (GB) is arguably the top turf horse in the UAE, vanquishing his foes for his third consecutive win over the 1800m trip of the Dubai Turf. Under a heady ride by Christophe Soumillon, the son of Frankel tracked Wootton (FR) and jockey William Buick before running down that pair with authority and hitting the wire 1¼ lengths the best.
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor was over the moon with the horse’s effort: “The trip (and the gelding) really helped him. Last year, we thought maybe he could be a sprinter, but I believe he’s a nine furlongs-plus horse. This year he has shown he’s a class, Group 1 horse.”
“The last two runs were quite impressive,” Soumillon added. “I was really confident with him today—even with that draw. The race went well for us. We had a nice pace. When I saw I was behind Wootton, I was very confident, because I knew he was going to take me quite far. When I asked him to go, he really quickened sharply. When I hit the front, he was looking around for a while. He’s a really different horse compared to last year, when he was a colt.”
The Dubai World Cup meeting is at Meydan on March 30th, 2019.