02/05/2018 2:26PM

Maktoum Challenge distance looks like Thunder Snow's meat


The focus Thursday night at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai is dirt, with the seven-race card headlined by the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 and supported by the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint.

Round 2 is a good description for the night’s $250,000 feature, for the Maktoum Challenge is expected to rematch the first four finishers from Round 1 on Jan. 11. There, in a 1,600-meter, one-turn race, Heavy Metal dominated, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Thunder Snow, but Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge includes a second turn and will be contested at 1,900 meters, or about 1 3/16 miles, and Heavy Metal never has raced farther than one mile.

The jury is out on how far North America really wants to go, since his only starts beyond 1,600 meters came on turf and he has proved a better horse racing on dirt. But so far, all of North America’s success has come in starts at about one mile, and though he might have as good a chance of seeing out the trip as Heavy Metal, perhaps Thunder Snow will be the one to improve with added ground.

Trained by Saeed bin Suroor for Godolphin, 4-year-old Thunder Snow punched his ticket to the 2017 Kentucky Derby winning the $2 million UAE Derby last March at Meydan over the same distance as Thursday’s race. How he might have stayed in the 1 1/4-mile Derby itself never will be known since Thunder Snow propped and stopped less than a furlong into the race. That bit of madness behind him, he went on to have a solid year as a turf miler in Europe, though his connections surely thought ahead to returning him to the Meydan dirt surface, likely with an eye toward the Dubai World Cup rather than the Godolphin Mile. Which trajectory Thunder Snow’s winter takes will become clearer after Thursday’s start.

Here’s something that is clear – the Dubai dirt-sprint division is stuck in the past. Thursday’s Al Shindagha Sprint is full of familiar names, none more so than 12-year-old Reynaldothewizard, who, through a combination of longevity and stasis within the division, still is good enough to have finished a fairly close third in the Group 3 Dubawi Stakes on Jan. 18. One place ahead of him in that start was 9-year-old Muarrab, while the relatively youthful 5-year-old Comicas turned in perhaps his best Dubai dirt race to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Thursday’s winner is very likely to come from that trio, while thousands of miles away, the connections of top U.S. sprinters like Roy H are looking hungrily at the Dubai Golden Shaheen on the Dubai World Cup undercard.