02/12/2015 3:58PM

Maftool by a head in UAE 2000 Guineas


Dirt milers were at the center of the action Thursday night at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, and the 3-year-olds in the Group 3, $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas might have upstaged their elders in the Group 3, $200,000 Firebreak Stakes.

Maftool edged Mubtaahij in an exciting edition of the race, and the winner’s time of 1:37.69 for 1,600 meters (about one mile) compared favorably with the 1:37.45 that Tamarkuz clocked in winning the Firebreak by four lengths later on the card. The 5-year-old Tamarkuz ran the fastest 1,600 meters so far recorded on the new Meydan dirt track.

Maftool, trained by Saeed bin Suroor for Godolphin, had taken a five-length loss to Mubtaahij in the 2000 Guineas Trial but added blinkers for this start, got a good trip stalking the pace from third while outside and relatively in the clear, and made the most of his circumstances. An American-bred by Hard Spun and out of a Mr. Greeley mare, Maftool showed promise in England last year, running his top race on good going before finishing fifth over soft ground in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. He has had some issues in the gate but broke promptly and raced fairly professionally while failing to change leads in the homestretch, an action not as heavily prioritized overseas as it is in North America.

But for all the good Maftool did, he was all out to hold clear Mubtaahij, a Mike de Kock-trained Irish-bred with a turf pedigree who has taken to the Meydan dirt to the extent that his connections nominated him to the American Triple Crown. Trapped down at the rail just behind the leader, Mubtaahij split horses in upper stretch to engage Maftool, and after momentarily being outrun, he battled back along the fence and whittled the margin to a head at the finish, the pair galloping out on even terms. Both colts look like prime candidates for the UAE Derby on the March 28 Dubai World Cup program.

Paul Hanagan rode Maftool to victory and also was aboard Tamarkuz, who had a much easier time of things in the Firebreak. Leading from the start, Tamarkuz opened up with about a quarter-mile to run and never was threatened, though whether he eased up the last 100 yards or began to tire is debatable. Tamarkuz, another American-bred, this one by Speightstown and out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare, clearly has taken to dirt racing while improving his professionalism in racing.

“He’s turned; he’s got such a good attitude now,” Hanagan said.

Tamarkuz could be a leading local hope for the Godolphin Mile on the World Cup card, provided his connections don’t try to stretch him out for a bid in the $10 million World Cup itself.

Past winners of the Dubai Golden Shaheen ran one-two in the Al Shindagha Sprint, with Reynaldothewizard beating Krypton Factor by a neck Thursday. Both veteran horses have adapted to some extent to the new dirt surface after doing their best on the old Tapeta all-weather surface, but a sharp American dirt sprinter almost certainly could take them in this year’s Golden Shaheen.

The 7-year-old Songcraft won a high-end handicap over 1 ½ miles on turf Thursday, his fourth win from eight starts on the Meydan grass. He led a Godolphin sweep of the top three placings – hardly the first time that has happened at Meydan.