02/14/2017 9:15PM

Dubai: Quality stakes, horses in abundance on Meydan card

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The card Thursday at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai is the strongest so far this World Cup Carnival, with four group stakes on the seven-race program.

There are two Group 2 races on turf, the $200,000 Balanchine over about nine furlongs for fillies and mares, and the $200,000 Zabeel Mile. The Group 3, $200,000 Dubai Millennium is carded for about 1 1/4 miles on turf, and the Group 3, $175,000 Meydan Sprint is a straight-course turf race over about five furlongs.

The Balanchine and the Meydan Sprint figure to have short-priced favorites. Ertijaal, a 6-year-old gelding trained for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum by Ali Rashid al Rayhi, has been close to unbeatable in five-furlong grass races at Meydan. He won his lone start this year by nearly two lengths, appearing to race well within himself, and was an easy winner of two five-furlong turf stakes last winter at Meydan before finishing second to Buffering in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint. The Meydan Sprint is his race to win or lose.

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Ten are entered to take on Eertijaal in the Meydan Sprint, race 4, but Very Special has only six rivals in race 2, the Balanchine. Very Special probably was over the top when she finished sixth in the $6 million Dubai Turf in March, but in lesser Meydan races the last two seasons she has been a force. Very Special won the Cape Verdi and the Balanchine last winter, and after a decisive second victory in the Cape Verdi while making her first start of this winter, Very Special is poised to do the same double all over again. Jim Crowley rides for Godolphin and trainer Saeed bin Suroor, whose stable has been resurgent during this World Cup Carnival.

The Zabeel Mile, race 5, also drew only seven entrants, but this race is far more competitive than its female-restricted counterpart, the Balanchine. All seven horses have at least a fighting chance, though trainer Mike de Kock appears to hold an especially strong hand with a pair of South African imports, Light the Lights and Noah From Goa.

Light the Lights won the listed Singspiel Stakes over Zabeel entrant Championship in his Dubai debut, then was forced onto the lead in a modest-paced edition of the Al Rashidiya Stakes over about nine furlongs and was tagged late by the good filly Promising Run. The cut-back to a mile Thursday might not hurt, and Light the Lights is better suited to racing off the pace, but Noah From Goa might be the right one for the night.

Noah From Goa, a Group 1 winner in South Africa, made his first start in a year Jan. 19 in the Al Fahidi Fort, a race over about seven furlongs, which is shorter than ideal for him. Noah From Goa raced mid-pack and finished solidly for third behind Championship and Flash Fire in what appeared to be a very useful run, and anticipated improvement as well as an extra furlong could land Noah From Goa and Christophe Soumillon in the winner’s circle.

Championship will try to lead all the way from post 2, and undoubtedly is in career-best form, but he has held a fitness edge on the more recent Dubai arrivals so far this winter, is stretching out from seven furlongs to a mile, and is giving 1 1/2 kilograms to his chief rivals.

Godolphin’s two, Cymric and Flash Fire, also are capable.

Godolphin’s 4-year-old filly Promising Run might be the one beat in the Dubai Millennium after handling Light the Lights last out in her first start of the winter. Promising Run might not have hit her ceiling, but will be trying to win beyond 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the 1 1/4-mile race.

The new face of note is the French 4-year-old colt Zarak, whose company lines from 2016 reveal the likes of Almanzor, The Ghurkha, and Vadamos. Zarak stays 10 furlongs, handles firm going, and clearly has the talent to contend, but one images trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre has an eye on more important races in March.

The card starts at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. Live video and wagering are available at DRF Bets.