AT this time of every New Year, South African racing fans get a reminder that time truly flies. It’s the start of another Dubai International Racing Carnival and – believe it or not, the 2015 renewal of the richest racing extravaganza in the world will be the 13th for Mike de Kock and his team. He raided the UAE with the now legendary Ipi Tombe and Victory Moon for the first time back in 2003.
Mike saddled his 150th winner in the UAE when Mubtaahij won a pre-carnival race on the dirt at Meydan last week. This gives the stable an average of about 12 winners per season, but with a 44-strong band of contenders Mike will be hoping to get close to his seasonal best 19 winners recorded at the 2007/8 Carnival.
Mubtaahij: Liked the sand track, won last week. (Andrew Watkins)
With racing reverting to dirt and the competition not exactly getting weaker, a double figure winning tally won’t be a walk in the park at all, but you never know – Mike is excited about the next few months and believes he has the firepower to enjoy another successful season. We’ll keep punters posted with information, make sure you read the runner comments carefully because it’s a valuable way of tracking the progress of individual runners as the Carnival moves along.
Mike has never been one to “label” his runners – tipping is a “mug’s game”, he says, but he does often give an indication of quiet confidence in certain runners and those are the ones that make the best roving (floating) bankers in the Meydan exotics, which invariably return excellent dividends. If you have access to last year’s Saftote results and dividends, have a look at the Meydan Trifecta and Quartet payouts in which the fancied De Kock runners managed first three- or first four placings. Even when our runners won outright, these bets yielded returns that were well above what you’d expect when they win here at home.
Here are two examples from the corresponding first Carnival meeting last year, 9 January at Meydan:
Mike won Race 5 with second favourite Mushreq: Quartet paid R8,500 in a 12-horse field.
Mike won Race 7 with 7-1 chance Anaerobio: Quartet paid a whopping R105,000 in a 16-horse field!
Keep your wits about you, play well and collect some desert loot, we’ll try to put you on the right track.
Stable patron Malih Al Basti, Meydan Group Board Member and Chairman of the Meydan Racing Committee said on Tuesday: “We are honoured to have Longines, a major sponsor of horse sport around the globe, to present this first meeting of the Dubai World Cup Carnival.”
Longines presents the opening US$915,000 Dubai World Cup Carnival card of 2015 on Thursday 8 January and this meeting is highlighted by the first rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge races for Purebred Arabians and Thoroughbreds and the Listed Singspiel Stakes.
The launch of the 10-meeting Dubai World Cup Carnival signals the countdown to the 20th running of the Dubai World Cup, which will take place at Meydan on Saturday March 28
Mike points out that for most of his runners at this opening meet, the same goes: Will they act on dirt? The goal posts have changed in Dubai this year in that the Tapeta track has been replaced by a new dirt track. There is no sure-fire way of telling whether individual runners will like or dislike the surface they will race on for the first time. History shows that Mike had as much success on the old Nad Al Sheba dirt track than he enjoyed on the Tapeta polytrack in more recent seasons, but not even the strong positive “gut feel” that they will all simply run well, will guarantee that the feats of old will be repeated. You can’t throw a blanket over all of the new sand runners by simply accepting there will be no problems adapting. The actual races are all that will show what we need to know about every individual runner and their individual abilities on this surface. Thereafter, more reliable predictions can be made for their next runs. (That said, we know and you know we’re all probably going to have some good flutters on a few runners whether they run on sand or turf or tar or gravel, so good luck!)
Additional pointer: All of the stable’s runners at this meeting have not travelled, they’ve been in Dubai since last year’s carnival and they’re at good levels of fitness and in good, fresh shape.
Race 2: Handicap on DIRT, 1900m:
El Estruendoso (Christophe Soumillon); Mickdaam (Wayne Smith) and Almoonqith (Paul Hanagan) go to post in this race – El Estruendoso (105) is highest rated.
Mike: “Our three entries in this race all distance suited, but unproven on the surface and it’s a hands-tied situation as far as predictions go, only the race will show how they will cope. What does inspire a measure of hope is that El Estruendoso (Giant’s Causeway), Mickdaam (Dubawi) and Almoonqith (Dynaformer) are all by stallions who have proven racing progeny on sand.”
Mickdaam: A return to action. (Andrew Watkins).
Race 3: Handicap on TURF, 1000m:
The stable steps Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum’s five-year-old gelding Ajeeb (NZ) –(Soumillon up) out for the first time in Dubai, in this dash on turf.
Mike: “Ajeeb is a smart sort, a quality individual whose record in Australia shows four wins from nine runs, ranging in distance from 1200m to 1500m, and he was Gr2 placed over 1400m. Ajeeb was in the stable with us last year, but he was unsound and we couldn’t race him. He’s done a lot better this year, he’s been working well so we’re expecting a decent run. He likes it a bit further however and while he has class, the 1000m is too sharp. He will improve from this outing.”
The smart Ajeeb on the work track just recently. (Diane de Kock)
Race 4: Handicap on DIRT, 1400m:
Interestingly the nine-year-old veteran Disa Leader (Soumillon) was actively racing in Dubai when Pope Benedict XVI was still well in command at the Vatican! This will be Disa Leader’s fourth Carnival, he’s raced here 13 times for 8 places, most of them over a mile on turf and the all-weather, but hasn’t raced on sand. Stablemate Full Combat (Smith) raced three times at last year’s Carnival but didn’t produce the form he showed in South Africa; also untried on sand.
Mike: “Good old Disa Leader deserves an award for his time spent here in the UAE. He hasn’t won, but he’s been a soldier and unlucky a few times when we fancied him. He’s still in good nick, seems to be enjoying himself on the work track as always. Obviously getting long in the tooth but Disa Leader is well in himself and we have a jockey strike here, Christophe rides him for the first time and if he likes the sand he may surprise and delight us with a long overdue win. Full Combat will need it, he will come on with the run and we’re hoping he puts it together this season.”
Race 5: Listed Singspiel Stakes on TURF, 1800m:
Mushreq (Paul Hanagan) won this Listed feature in commanding fashion last year and returns to defend his title. Sanshaawes (Soumillon) won twice over 2000m (on turf and all-weather)last year and was one of the stable’s Carnival aces – such was his progress that he made the final field for the 2014 Dubai World Cup on the all-weather and wasn’t disgraced behind African Story.
Mike: “Mushreq and Sanshaawes are both fit and well for this race, we fancy both will be involved in the finish. We’d love to win the race again, but I think we’ll have a really tough nut to crack in Godolphin’s runner True Story. He’s a four-year-old with exceptional European form at top level and on that he’s a serious rival for us here.”
Sanshaawes (blue cap), a revelation in 2014. (Andrew Watkins)
Race 6: Gr2 Al Maktoum Challenge (Leg 1) on DIRT, 1600m:
Zahee (Soumillon) and Royal Ridge (Hanagan) will race first time on sand in a competitive renewal of the Al Maktoum Leg 1.
Mike: “Our two runners here, Zahee and Royal Ridge, will race first time on the Meydan sand track. Royal Ridge raced once for a place on dirt at Jebel Ali. This is a different ball game, but I must say both these horses have put up some really impressive sand work so we’re hoping they can reproduce that in this Gr 2 event. They’re well and we’re keen to see how they go on the surface.”
Race 7: Longines Conquest Classic, Handicap on TURF, 1400m:
Anaerobio won this race for the stable last year and lightly-raced six-year-old Merhee (Soumillon) represents the team his year. He won a strong handicap over 1400m in South Africa so will be distance suited and must have an outside chance of emulating Anaerobio’s feat.
Mike: “Merhee didn’t rise to his best South African form here last season but he’s another who has done very well in his spell here after the Carnival and he is sound and working well, should run a decent race and will improve.”
“In all, we’d be very happy to win a race at this meeting, it would be a bonus but we’re pleased with our runners. We hope several of them can be competitive; I like our turf runners quite a bit. We’re holding thumbs that the sand runners will take to the surface.”
Headline photo: Mushreq in a galloping mood. (Andrew Watkins).