03/07/2015 2:38PM

African Story holds on to win Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3


Super Saturday was super at least for Godolphin and trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who swept the last three races on the program, including a win in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 with African Story, their 2014 Dubai World Cup winner.

African Story now is set to line up in the March 28 World Cup, something that seemed far from certain after the 8-year-old finished second in Round 2 of the Maktoum Challenge, his first start since his surprise score nearly a year ago in the World Cup and his first try on dirt.

African Story did not appear to relish the going Saturday night, but he handled it well enough to prevail in the $400,000 race. Sent to the lead from post 1 by James Doyle, African Story was supplanted on the front end by Henry Clay and shuffled back to an inside tracking spot, where he took a lot of kickback and seemed to resent it. Doyle was scrubbing on African Story with nearly a half-mile left to race and did not appear to be getting much response, but African Story plugged on, found a better stride once guided off the rail, and finished with enough zest to hold clear a late move from Prince Bishop.

The favorite in North American betting, Prince Bishop was put to jockey William Buick’s crop before a quarter-mile had been run, his rider working hard to keep Prince Bishop from falling too far behind the leaders. Buick’s effort proved to be in vain, but despite being ridden along the entire trip while losing ground on both turns, Prince Bishop stayed on and on and missed catching the winner by just a neck. Henry Clay held third, Frankyfourfingers had no late account and was fourth, and U.S. export Long River checked in last of nine. Winning time for the 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) was 2:04.92.

Bin Suroor and Godolphin also took down the pair of Group 2 turf races on the card, with Hunter’s Light scoring a blowout win in the Jebel Hatta, a prep for the $6 million Dubai Turf, and Sky Hunter winning the City of Gold, a prep for the $6 million Sheema Classic.

The 7-year-old Hunter’s Light ran an especially sharp race, winning off by 6 1/2 lengths under Doyle after tracking a moderate pace from the inside, running his record this winter to a perfect 3 for 3, and earning a start in the Dubai Turf. Trade Storm led a tight pack vying for second, with Johann Strauss third. The favored Vercingetorix faded to sixth in the stretch run, came out of the race with an injury, and was announced as retired later in the evening by trainer Mike de Kock’s stable.

Sky Hunter, Doyle up again, proved comfortably best in a slow-paced edition of the City of Gold, pulling away from Sheikhzayedroad in the final furlong after the two horses made a relatively early move to the front before turning into the long Meydan homestretch. Umgiyo finished third, True Story fourth, and Sky Hunter was timed in 2:32.80 for 2,410 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) on “good” turf.

The 3-year-old Mubtaahij kept his Kentucky Derby hopes alive with a convincing score in the Al Bastakiya Stakes, handing Sir Fever, a 4-year-old on Southern Hemisphere time, his first loss in 11 starts. Trained by Mike de Kock and ridden by Dane O’Neill, Mubtaahij tracked the pace in third and shot to the front with a decisive move with about a quarter-mile left, beating Sir Fever by 2 1/2 lengths while clocking 1:59.08 for 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles) on fast dirt.

In the Burj Nahaar, a dirt mile, Tamarkuz scored a popular victory, his third straight win this winter, beating Gold City by 2 3/4 lengths and cementing his position as a leading hope for the $1 million Godolphin Mile on the World Cup card – provided his connections don’t elect to try the World Cup itself.

Shaishee wrung a win out of the Mahab al Shimaal, the six-furlong dirt prep for the $2 million Golden Shaheen on World Cup night, but there are stronger horses coming later this month for the co-richest dirt-sprint race in the world.

The longshot Sir Maximilian – already making his fifth start of the winter at Meydan – won a three-horse blanket finish over Ahtoug and Caspar Netscher to capture the Meydan Sprint, a straight-course five-furlong turf dash that leads to the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint on the World Cup card.