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10 December 2023

Dubai World Cup: African Story back on track for Godolphin

African Story after his victory in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3. (Dubai Racing Club / Andrew Watkins)

By Staff

African Story highlighted a winning treble for Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor at Meydan Racecourse Saturday night with the 2014 Dubai World Cup winner landing the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3, a race that has provided the winner of the $10m Dubai World Cup three previous times.

Emirates-sponsored Super Saturday, the penultimate Dubai World Cup Carnival meeting of the season is the official prep day for the 20th renewal of the Dubai World Cup, held on Saturday March 28, 2015

The classy chestnut, ridden by jockey James Doyle, who was in the plate for every one of bin Suroor’s victories on the night, could follow in the footsteps of fellow Dubai World Cup winners, Dubai Millennium (2000), Street Cry (2002) and Electrocutionist (2006).

Should he do so, he will be the only past winner to defend his crown and provide bin Suroor with a record seventh win in the world’s richest race.

African Story was only eighth in this race last year, when it was won by stable companion Prince Bishop. He denied that rival a second consecutive victory in this race, a feat still yet to be achieved.

Henry Clay set out to try and make all with African Story never far away under James Doyle and Prince Bishop struggling in last and under pressure from William Buick a long way out.

For a moment, it looked as though Henry Clay may cause an upset but Doyle’s mount, despite seeming to resent the dirt surface, picked up late to sweep to the front and just had enough left to deny Prince Bishop who flew home.

“He has a lot of class and a great attitude,” said Doyle. “Those attributes have really come to the fore here as he had to dig deep.

“There is more improvement to come from him I think and he is starting to get the hang of racing on dirt and was happier in the kickback this time than he was on his first start on the surface.”

Group 1 Jebel Hatta

The second Thoroughbred Group 1, the Jebel Hatta, the 1800m turf prep for the Group 1 Dubai Turf saw South African Mike De Kock saddle half of the 12 runners.

However, his battalion had no answer to Hunter’s Light, completing a rapid Group 1 double for the Godolphin team. Already a two-time Group 1 winner, including in the concluding round of the Al Maktoum Challenge on this card two years ago, he has returned to his best this year and was registering a third win of the campaign.

Tracking early leader Anaerobio, Doyle found himself in plenty of space to pull off that rivals quarters as the leaders exited the final bend and they soon quickened to the front. The race was soon over as a contest with the pair skipping clear and in no danger of being caught.

“Saeed and the whole team have done a great job with this horse,” said Doyle, whose mount will now chart a course for the Dubai Turf. “He has really bounced back to his best and this was a fantastic effort in what had appeared a very competitive race.”

Bin Suroor added: “We wanted to win another Group 1 with him so I am obviously delighted.”

Group 2 Dubai City of Gold

It was a big race treble and a turf feature double for connections whose Sky Hunter was the easy winner of the Group 3 St Simon Stakes at Newbury when last seen in England, last October. He made a smooth local debut with a pleasing victory in the Group 2 Dubai City Of Gold.

Trained by Saeed bin Suroor and the mount of stable jockey James Doyle, Sky Hunter went to the front early in the straight and ran on strongly in the 2400m turf feature.

It looked a strong renewal so this should be the perfect platform from which he can launch a challenge on the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, run under identical ground and distance conditions.

“He is a very nice horse and we though he would run well,” said Bin Suroor. “He was improving last year in England and there is hopefully more to come.”

Doyle added: “I was pretty confident coming into the race as he has been working so well and he impressed me at Newbury on his last start.”

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, witnessed the winning treble at the track.

Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge for Purebred Arabians

The Purebred Arabian equivalent of the Al Maktoum Challenge, again a Group 1 contest over 2000m on dirt, was held on identical conditions to the Kahayla Classic in three weeks’ time, was won by Versac PY, runner-up in the race in each of the past two seasons.

With Paul Hanagan riding for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the pair hit the front on the home turn and ran on strongly to record a comprehensive victory to the delight of his trainer, Erwan Charpy, who earned his 498th career UAE win with the feat.

“We were very hopeful,” said the French handler. “He has been working well and his last piece of work was particularly good. We have been seeing signs of his old spark recently and he was impressive today.

“Obviously the Kahayla Classic is the next step.”

Charpy’s charge was winning for the first time in just under three years and was the first of three winners for his owner.

Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal

Both Krypton Factor in 2012 and Reynaldothewizard won the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal before going to the big night and landing the Group 1 Golden Shaheen and connections of Shaishee will be hoping to repeat the trick.

Nine went to post with four of them seemingly determined to lead, resulting in a furious early gallop and, perhaps not surprisingly, those who helped set the pace dropped away at various stages throughout the straight.

It was left to those settled in rear to fight out the finish with Speed Hawk leading 200m out only to be headed by Shaishee close home and losing second on the line to United Color.

This trio were virtually the last three as the runners turned for home and it was a second win on the card for Sheikh Hamdan.

“He had not been at his very best recently,” said Al Muhairi who also won the Listed Jebel Ali Sprint with Muarrab on Friday afternoon. “We will have to take Shaishee for the Dubai Golden Shaheen now and Muarrab could also run in that although we have the option of the Al Quoz Sprint with him.”

Group 3 Burj Nahaar

Owner and trainer were to celebrate a Group 3 dirt treble with Hanagan aboard Tamarkuz, the comfortable winner of the 1600m Burj Nahaar. The pair were supplementing their victory of three weeks ago in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes over the same course and distance.

Gold City chased him home on both occasions.

Hanagan always looked happy, tracking the early speed before taking up the running fully 700m from home.
They never really saw another rival and would look a major player in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile.

“He has plenty of ability this horse,” said Hanagan, completing a double. “He has had a few issues with the stalls in the past but seems over those now. It was hard work out there as there was plenty of pace in the race but this horse has a really high cruising speed and carried me to the front.

“He seems to still be improving.”

Listed Al Bastakiya

The Listed Al Bastakiya, over the same 1900m dirt course and distance as the UAE Derby, was won easily by Mubtaahij, a 1400m maiden winner in December before chasing home Maftool in the UAE 2000 Guineas.

It was a fifth win in the race for South African Mike De Kock who landed this in 2007 with Asiatic Boy who remains the only UAE Triple Crown winner having already the UAE 2000 Guineas and subsequently winning the UAE Derby.

“I have been lucky to pick up the spare ride on him three times for three wins,” said O’Neill. “He ran a good race in the UAE 2000 Guineas last time and we knew this extra distance would suit him

“Hopefully he has a massive chance in the UAE Derby.”

Group 3 Meydan Sprint

UK-based trainer saddled his first UAE winner when Sir Maximilian and Kieren Fallon led where it mattered in a dramatic finish to the 1000m Group 3 Meydan Sprint on the turf.

Having his fifth start of the campaign and the only horse to be campaigned thus far at Meydan by Williams, he finished fast and late to deny Ahtoug.

Ahtoug and William Buick had themselves only led for a couple of strides, having denied Caspar Netscher who had looked the likely winner with 100m to run, a few metres from the line only to have victory snatched away.

“I was actually held up for the run when I first wants it,” said Fallon. “As things worked out it has probably helped me as I did not want to get to the front too soon.

“It is great to ride a winner here on Super Saturday and for a trainer with just one horse here.”

Super Saturday was introduced in 2003 to provide a ‘dress rehearsal’ meeting and prep races for the world’s richest even of horse racing, Dubai World Cup Night.

As always, plenty of clues were offered for the big night in three weeks time, the final Meydan meeting of the campaign.

African Story will attempt to become the only horse to win consecutive Dubai World Cups after his victory in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3.