03/05/2016 2:07PM

Special Fighter wins Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3; Keen Ice runs seventh

Andrew Watkins
Special Fighter scores by 4 1/2 lengths in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Saturday.

Frosted won, California Chrome won, but Keen Ice could not come close to winning his Meydan prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup, finishing seventh in the Group 1, $400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Saturday in Dubai.

Keen Ice, closer to the lead than usual, faded through the final three furlongs and checked in seventh, beaten about 11 lengths, as Special Fighter notched a major upset in the Al Maktoum Challenge. Just like in the other three dirt races Saturday at Meydan, Special Fighter made the early lead and never looked back, drawing away with a fast final quarter-mile to beat Hong Kong raider Gun Pit by 4 1/2 lengths. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to Faulkner in third, with Mubtaahij fourth, Munaaser fifth, and the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Watershed home sixth, just in front of Keen Ice.

Special Fighter was the third winner on the card for Dubai-based trainer Musabah Al Muhairi, following Muarrab in the Mahab Al Shimaal over six furlongs on dirt and Fityaan over five furlongs on turf in the Meydan Sprint. Special Fighter was a 33-1 shot in North American betting on the Al Maktoum Challenge, while Fityaan won at odds of 41-1.

Special Fighter, by Teofilo, easily scored the most important victory of his career in his 18th start, and as unlikely as his win seemed Saturday, it would have looked impossible only a few months ago. Last November, Special Fighter finished second at Meydan in a 2000-meter dirt handicap under an official rating of just 98. Special Fighter did win a listed dirt race in December and a dirt handicap on Jan. 21, but the latter race was sandwiched between sixth-place finishes in the first two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge, the latter won by Frosted, though Al Muhairi said after Saturday’s race that Special Fighter had lost a shoe in Round 2.

Moreover, Special Fighter never had shown the early pace he had Saturday, and it was that ability to cross over and get to the rail that enabled him to take advantage of what looked like a biased racing surface. Special Fighter set a moderate tempo, quickened into the stretch, and got his last 400 meters in a swift 23 seconds, a kick none of his rivals could match.

“He took off the last two furlongs,” said Jara, who won the 2007 World Cup on Invasor. “He was so relaxed the first part.”

Special Fighter stopped the timer in 2:03.09 for the 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles), breaking Prince Bishop’s track record set in the 2015 World Cup with a major assist from a fast-playing surface. Muarrab eclipsed Secret Circle’s 1,200-meter standard with a time of 1:10.20 in the Mahaab Al Shimaal.

Keen Ice is likely to try his luck in the World Cup despite a subpar performance, though his showing Saturday has to be attributed, at least in part, to circumstances. In addition to racing much closer than typical, Keen Ice was caught three paths wide, far from the best part of the racing surface Saturday.

Mubtaahij, the other name horse in the race, ran somewhat better than Keen Ice to finish fourth but did benefit from racing close to the rail for much of his trip. He improved off his flat showing last month in the Firebreak Stakes but needs a major step forward to threaten the likes of California Chrome, Frosted, and Donn Handicap winner Mshawish, likely the top three betting choices in the World Cup. Another U.S.-based horse, Hoppertunity, also is expected to ship.

Cool Cowboy, an American expatriate trained by Doug Watson, rode the bias to a sharp win in the Burj Nahaar, the Super Saturday prep for the Godolphin Mile. The heavily favored Market Rally was nearly five lengths best in the Al Bastikiya, the stepping-stone to the UAE Derby, despite washing out badly before the race. He, too, got to the rail and the lead early in his dirt race.

Postponed looked like a very plausible winner of the $6 million Sheema Classic on the World Cup card in winning the Group 2 City of Gold in a course and distance prep. Postponed overwhelmed his rivals in the final quarter-mile of this 1 1/2-mile turf race, powering clear in a fast time (2:27.90) while appearing to be well within himself.

“It was like riding a piece of work, and he should come on from that,” said jockey Andrea Atzeni.

Postponed probably has a better chance of beating Japanese invader Duramente in the Sheema Classic than Tryster does of handling defending champion Solow in the $6 million Dubai Turf, but Tryster also ran well on turf in winning the Group 1 Jebel Hatta over about nine furlongs. An all-weather specialist in England, Tryster was sent to Dubai in hopes of becoming a World Cup contender for Godolphin, but after failing to impress trainer Charlie Appleby while training on dirt, Tryster was switched to grass and now has won consecutive Meydan group stakes on the surface.