02/08/2018 5:35PM

Thunder Snow by a neck in Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2

Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club
Thunder Snow (left), ridden by Christophe Soumillon, edges North America in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2.

Thunder Snow took a step toward the $10 million Dubai World Cup when he beat North America by a neck to win the Group 2, $250,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 on Thursday night at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.

Thunder Snow could be on course for the March 31 World Cup – if his connections choose to go there. Thunder Snow now has three wins and a second over the Meydan dirt track, but his official rating of 118 on turf was higher going into Thursday’s race than his dirt rating, and the $6 million Dubai Turf over about 1 1/8 miles on the World Cup card also could be an option.

“Physically, we thought he’d be improving from his last race,” said trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “He’ll run Super Saturday in the Maktoum Challenge, then Sheikh Mohammed will make a decision.”

The $400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 over 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) is scheduled for March 10. On Thursday, Thunder Snow, who had been second over 1,600 meters in Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, ably saw out the 1,900 meters of Round 2 despite being caught three wide around both turns under Christophe Soumillon.

North America was ridden to make the front and get to the inside before the first turn by jockey Richard Mullen, relaxing once in front to set moderate splits of 26.54 seconds for the first 400 meters and 51.74 for 800. Heavy Metal pressed the pace in second while Thunder Snow and Soumillon spied both of them while outside, in the clear and racing third.

With about 500 meters to race, and angling around the far turn into the homestretch, Soumillon decided it was time to go, and Thunder Snow, making a favorable physical appearance, responded to his rider’s request and began to close in. Thunder Snow had gotten past Heavy Metal with about 300 meters left to race, and with 100 meters left, he drew abreast North America and pushed out to post a win that appeared more definitive than the raw margin of victory.

Off a 1,200-meter split of 1:16.59 and 1,600 in 1:39.59, Thunder Snow stopped the timer in 1:57.89 for about 1 3/16 miles. The time was well off Frosted’s 1:56.67 in 2016 but considerably faster than the other two editions of the race since Meydan’s main track was converted to dirt before the 2015 World Cup Carnival.

Thunder Snow, a Godolphin homebred by Helmet and out of Eastern Joy, by Dubai Destination, won for the sixth time. The colt has been a model of consistency, excluding his start in the Kentucky Derby, where he propped and stopped less than a furlong into the race, and in the Champion Stakes, which was run over a boggy course last fall at Ascot.

North America and Heavy Metal both were questionable to get 1,900 meters, but the former saw out the trip much better than the latter, finishing four lengths in front of him.

Earlier on the card, My Catch made the lead, got to the rail, and never looked back in the Group 3, $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint, winning by four lengths with the best dirt race of his career. My Catch, a 7-year-old gelding by Camacho and out of Catch the Sea, by Barathea, ran 1,200 meters on dirt in a modest 1:12.50 but still was much the best.

Comicas, who had won the Group 3 Dubawi Stakes in the same division in his most recent start – a race in which My Catch finished fourth – was up by a head over the 12-year-old Reynaldothewizard for second.

Perhaps more relevant to future Meydan stakes races than the Al Shindagha were the winners of the UAE 1000 Guineas and a 1,000-meter turf handicap on the Thursday card.

Winter Lightning, a Shamardal filly who’s a half-sister to Thunder Snow, won the UAE 1000 Guineas by two lengths, Pat Cosgrave riding for Saeed bin Suroor. Winter Lightning was an encouraging second at Newmarket last year in her debut and now has won dirt races at Meydan in her second and third starts.

The 4-year-old Hit the Bid, a Dubai newcomer this winter, finished second to the excellent Ertijaal in his first local start last month and on Thursday was much the best in a handicap for horses rated 100 and above. Going straight to the front under Oisin Murphy, Hit the Bid wandered down to the fence, with his nearest pursuer way out in the middle of the course. But even without anyone pushing him, he won by 1 3/4 lengths while giving nearly eight pounds to runner-up Dutch Masterpiece.

Trainer Darren Bunyan believes Hit the Bid, by Exceed and Excel, can be equally effective over 1,200 meters, the distance of the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night.