The Dubai World Cup Carnival cranks up a gear with a fascinating renewal of the opening round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, the centrepiece of an attractive seven-card at Meydan tomorrow.
First staged in 1994, the Group 2 event, over 1600m on dirt, has drawn a high-class field, headed by last year’s winner Heavy Metal, trainer Satish Seemar’s stable star North America and Godolphin’s Gold Town, who was a wide-margin winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas last winter.
North America, a Group 1 winner at Meydan in March, when defeating subsequent Dubai World Cup hero Thunder Snow, gets the vote in an open contest to give Seemar and jockey Richard Mullen another big-race success seven days after Raven’s Corner won the Dubawi Stakes.
Heavy Metal enjoyed a terrific campaign last winter, culminating in his all-the-way victory in the Godolphin Mile on the under-card of the Dubai World Cup.
A tough and reliable performer, he is fancied to put up a bold show despite returning from a near 10-month break.
Gold Town, not seen since flopping in the UAE Derby on his final appearance last season, returns with plenty to prove as he tackles illustrious elders.
He needs to bounce back to his best to play a leading role for trainer Charlie Appleby, and makes limited appeal in this contest.
Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor and French champion jockey Christophe Soumillon took last week’s feature, the Singspiel Stakes, with Dream Castle.
Here, in the UAE 2000 Guineas trial, Race 3, they team up with Royal Marine, winner of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Arc day.
Switching to dirt and returning after a short break, Royal Marine is hard to oppose as he is well suited by the conditions, escaping a penalty for his Group 1 success at Paris-Longchamp in October.
The inaugural Dubai Trophy, Race 2, has attracted a big field, several unexposed and progressive, for the 1400m event on turf.
Godolphin, responsible for three of the 15 runners, holds a typical strong hand, with preference going to Estihdaaf.
This horse progressed, scoring on his third and final appearance in maiden novice company at Leicester. He quickened clear of rivals, leaving the impression of a horse with a bright future.
Estihdaaf can see off the Simon Crisford-trained Sporting Chance, the highest-ranked runner and winner of a Group 3 in France last year. A front-runner, he is ideally berthed in stall one.
Elsewhere on the card, New Trails, trained by Ahmad bin Harmash, is not badly handicapped in Race 6, a 1900m handicap on dirt.
He made a good impression on his local and dirt debut in November, defeating the re-opposing Street Of Dreams and nine others.
He stepped up on that form when chasing home the useful Cosmo Charlie at Listed level seven weeks later and is fancied to take his UAE tally to two.
Unlike most of his rivals, he is unexposed and open to further progress.
Mike de Kock introduces Mujaafy in Race 4, a 1200m handicap on turf.
Owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, he arrives in the UAE after producing a personal-best when beaten by three lengths in the Group 2 Diadem Stakes at Kenilworth 12 months ago.
Lack of fitness might be a factor, but he has found betting support.
Godolphin’s progressive Major Partnership, winner of three of his last four races, rates an obvious threat, along with Alfredo Arcano, winner of his last two starts at Dundalk on the back of a break.
David Barron’s Above The Rest completes the shortlist.
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