03/30/2013 12:35PM

Dubai Duty Free: Sajjhaa completes rise to the top

Andrew Watkins
Sajjhaa runs away with the Dubai Duty Free under Silvestre De Sousa.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Sajjhaa came to Dubai this winter with a Group 3 win in Italy as the pinnacle of her career, but she has blossomed into a star at Meydan. Her convincing victory Saturday night in the Group 1, $5 million Dubai Duty Free was her fourth group stakes win of the Meydan season, and Sajjhaa could well be the best horse to winter in Dubai this year.

[DUBAI WORLD CUP: Watch replays and read race recaps]

It took years for Sajjhaa to flower. Bred by Darley, owned by Godolphin, and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Sajjhaa was tried second time out in the 2010 English Oaks and finished 15th. She developed in fits and starts thereafter, her best race before arriving in Dubai a second to the good filly Izzi Top in a Group 2 last May. But here, on a firm turf course she clearly relishes, Sajjhaa became a different horse.

“Early on she was weak,” said bin Suroor. “She just didn’t have as much power. But, physically, she has just gotten stronger and better. Late last year and this year she started to change.”

Sajjhaa got the same kind of tracking trip that had produced wins in a pair of Group 2's and in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta three weeks ago. Jockey Silvestre De Sousa, hemmed in by The Apache when the tempo began quickening about three furlongs from the finish, had little choice but to hug the rail and hope for a hole. One came when tiring pacesetter Little Mike drifted out, and there Sajjhaa went, bursting through and quickly opening daylight on Igugu, who had taken over from Little Mike, and The Apache.

“She’s just got such a big heart,” said De Sousa. “I was a bit worried because the horse on the outside tried to keep me in.”

That was The Apache, with Chrisophe Soumillon doing his best to race-ride Sajjhaa into defeat. It was to no avail.

“The winner as just too good,” Soumillon said. “She did the same thing last time."

Sajjhaa, by King’s Best, won for the eighth time in 17 starts. Her time of 1:47.93 for 1,800 meters (about one and one-eighth miles) on good, fast-playing turf was a course record, the second of the night. Bin Suroor, Godolphin, and De Sousa won their second race on the card, having taken the Gold Cup with Cavalryman. Sajjhaa paid $10 to win in U.S. pools.

The Apache, in another good performance from a Mike de Kock-trained runner, finished 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner, and just three-quarters of a length in front of the French filly Giofra, who rallied well from mid-pack. Trade Storm, done in by breaking from post 14, closed decently for fourth, with Igugu an improved fifth.

Little Mike became the 41st straight American horse to lose a Group 1 turf stakes in Dubai, setting a moderate tempo but putting up no fight when challenged about three furlongs out by Igugu, and finishing 11th of 14.

“They came at me early and he just couldn’t quicken with them,” said jockey Gary Stevens. “I was trying to nurse what I could.”

It was not enough – not early enough to match Sajjhaa.