Heavy rain and ever-softening ground could not prevent another wonderful night of Carnival action with top-class performances at every turn.
The undoubted highlight was the big race of the night, Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, in which Kimbear, Secret Ambition and North America flashed past the winning post almost as one.
Kimbear won by inches, rewarding Doug Watson and his team for all their patient work treating his notoriously bad feet.
Watson had also earlier struck with the classy Ekhtiyaar in the sprint handicap, having also had a double on the opening night.
Benbatl was a class apart in the Singspiel Stakes and Godolphin enjoyed three other winners with Zakouski, Platinum Star and Key Victory all hitting the target. Saeed Bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby shared the four successes.
Satish Seemar, who went so close with Secret Ambition and North Ambition, enjoyed better fortune with Commanding in a compelling UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, even though Richard Mullen, his jockey, believes he is in need of headgear to help keep him focused.
Finally, let’s rewind back to the start and the impressive victory of the RB Money To Burn in the Group 1 contest for Purebred Arabians.
Roll on week three seven days from now, when hopefully the elements will be kinder.
The final race also goes the way of Godolphin, with the Charlie Appleby-trained Key Victory staying on strongly down the outside under James Doyle.
The five-year-old has proved to be something of a frustrating character for connections but dropping him out and giving him daylight reaped dividends.
A mud-splattered Doyle admitted: "It all came together tonight, probably the ease in the ground and solid pace helped."
Appleby said: "We've always held in him in high regard, and his work has always been good.
"He's a horse who would be the bravest down the inside. James given him a lovely ride and rode him with plenty of confidence."
Firmament *and *Rastrelli chased the winner home, with the rain lashing down and the ground becoming soft.
North America hurt his foot when narrowly beaten in tonight's feature.
The eight-year-old was beaten two short heads into third after making much of the running and perhaps it was a story of what might have been.
Richard Mullen, his jockey, revealed: "He ran a super race, but unfortunately he did the same thing he did in the (Dubai) World Cup, where he ripped a patch of his foot and it’s bleeding pretty badly.
"I thought he got tired, but it was his foot and it was sore. That’s the down side to him; he has bad feet. Hopefully we can patch him up and come back with him.”
Trainer Satish Seemar also saddled the runner-up Secret Ambition and said: "They went very fast early and it was a blitzing pace and I guess this is how it goes. In a result like this, there’s no excuses.
"North America usually is good first run, but the speed was really fast early. Secret Ambition is a good horse and ran really well.”
Jamie Osborne's Dream Today finished runner-up earlier on the card and the trainer is hopeful Cliffs Of Capri can make his presence felt in the finale.
He ran well on several occasions at the Carnival last year without winning and would not be getting his head in front out of turn.
"He was very consistent here last year and seems to thrive here," Osborne said. "He always plies his trade in this competitive bracket."
It is fair to say Christophe Soumillon had to work a lot harder to win on Platinum Star than he had done aboard Benbatl earlier in the evening.
"He wasn't really fit today. Unfortunately he was a bit naughty and missed the start and I lost maybe five or six lengths. It wasn't easy to make up ground," Soumillion said.
"Finally he was really running the last 300 metres. He kept going all the way and I thought we could get it. That's good for the future. He's really relaxed. The ground was soft today. It looks like if he has to go a bit farther, he can make it.
"Now the question is are we staying on the turf or going to the dirt for the Derby. He won really well in the end and got some kickback like dirt today, so I hope he learnt something from it.
"I'm happy because he put his head down and (left) his heart on the track.”
It’s been a fabulous night but all good things must come to an end and the final race is the second division of the Longines Conquest Classic Trophy.
Godolphin have had three winners on tonight's card and again hold a strong hand with Charlie Appleby running Good Fortune and Key Victory, and Saeed Bin Suroor represented by A Piece Of History.
Good Fortune won the Dubai Trophy at this time last year (watch above) and runs off the same mark as when finding one too good at Newmarket in August. A Piece Of History, winner of his latest start at Kempton, has his first start at Meydan.
Among the others, it would be no surprise if Cliffs Of Capri put up a bold show. He ran well on several occasions at the Carnival last year and has slipped in the ratings.
Another worth a second look is Rastrelli, winner of three of his seven races, who has his first start for Simon Crisford after being off for 20 months. He was formerly trained by Appleby.
The David O’Meara-conditioned Firmament and Charlie Fellowes charge Chiefofchiefs are other UK challengers.
Another exciting finish to race seven, with Platinum Star swooping in the final strides to prevent Hamama springing a huge shock.
Few got in the race and for much of the last 100 metres it looked certain that Hamama, making her debut on grass and well beaten in the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial only last week, would pull off a stunning result.
However, the ice cool Soumillon had timed things to perfection and collared her in the final strides to win by a neck.
General De Vega was third but the well-fancied Chasing Dreams weakened out of things after having every chance.
Kimbear looked to have the racing world at his feet when landing the Burj Nahaar in 2018 but, unfortunately, his own feet have plagued him and held back his progress.
Last year was something of a write-off for him but Doug Watson, the UAE’s leading trainer, has nursed him bacl to full health.
This dramtic win will have given him huge satisfaction, even if his more fancied runner, Muntazah, coule finish only fourth.What a finish: Kimbear, left, snatches the spoils
Watson said: “He ran a great race. He likes a fight. Last year was such a struggle and this year he has just done everything right. Those are two nice horses that he just finished with and we were lucky to get away with that.
"Pat gave him a great ride. He was fit today and his works were fantastic. He always needs that first run. I was little worried with it being three weeks back (after the Listed Dubai Creek Mile). We’ll give him a nice break now. It’s a great win for Sheikh Rashid. He bought this horse a couple years ago and last year wasn’t his year. Hopefully it is this year."
He was also pleased with Muntazah's run. "I was really pleased with Muntazah. It’s tough to come back being a big heavy horse. He dug in there and finished fourth.”
Pat Dobbs said of the winner: "He was very brave today. He was following (North America) and hit a flat point turning in. Then he got a second wind and stuck his head down at the line.
"Luckily our head was down at the line. His work has been exceptional at home. I didn’t think he’d get beat last time. Doug is a brilliant trainer. He knows how to get them to progress through the year. You’ve got to tip your hat to him.”
The penultimate race on the card is the Dubai Trophy Presented By Longines Record Collection over 1200m on the turf.
Do not be surprised if there is a sea of blue at the finish because Godolphin have five runners and you can make claims for each.
Charlie Appleby runs a trio – Chasing Dreams, Silent Wave and Story Of Light – while Saeed Bin Suroor will be represented by Platinum Star and Colour Image.
Most interesting of the quintet is the unbeaten Chasing Dreams, who won at Newmarket in April before belatedly following up at Wolverhampton six months later.
She was equipped with a hood for those victories but it is discarded here.
Platinum Star is the highest-rated runner in the conditions event. Her rating of 106 is 8lb higher than that of Chasing Dreams, although she does have to concede 5lb.
Having had seven runs, she has also had more opportunities to show what she is capable of. Her best effort during the summer was when runner-up in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Of the others, Swedish challenger General De Vega won on her dirt debut but is bred to make an impact on turf.
Kimbear, trained by Doug Watson and ridden by Pat Dobbs, has won a breathtaking Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1.
He won a race that will long live in the memory by a short head from Secret Ambition, with North America the same distance away in third.
We have been treated to some unveliebable finishes on dirt featuring multiple horses during the first two weeks of the Carnival.
This had to be the best of the lot, even if the "big two" of North America and Muntazah were upstaged.
The start was as dramatic as the end, with the riders of Muntazah, Heavy Metal and North America all keen to lead.
Heavy Metal won that initial battle before North America, kept out wide, headed him and assumed command soon after.
The early fractions were frantic but Richard Mullen, on North America, seemed to have things under control and was travelling best turning for home.
However, from about 350 metres out, it was clear that last year's runaway winner was going to have a big fight on his hands as Secret Ambition and Kimbear began to get a full head of steam.
With 100 metres to go, it seemed the "finishers" would swamp North America but, much to the eight-year-old's credit, he stuck on doggedly.
The trio past the post as one in a blur and nobody was quite sure who had prevailed. The photo revealed it was Kimbear who had snatched the spoils.
Muntazah, his stablemate, finished fourth.
Charlie Appleby would have been disappointed had Zakouski been beaten this evening and already has the Al Fahidi Fort in mind for his next race.
"We came in with a lot of confidence," the trainer admitted. "The family heve got a lot of talent but also have their quirks.
"I felt conditions would suit him out here and hopefully he will progress and grow confidence.
"On the back of it that tonigt we will drop him back to 7f for the Al Fahidi Fort."
Appleby knows what is required for that Group 2 contest, having landed four of the past five runnings.
Buick added of the Godolphin gelding: "It was a lovely performance from an honest horse. Let's hope he can get his career back on track.
"Mentally, he's matured a lot and he took everything in his stride. He can come back to seven furlongs or stick at a mile."
Muntazah was not at his peak in this race 12 months ago and one wonders whether his return will again be a stepping stone. Doug Watson has already said he will not “panic” if he is beaten.
Watson has his eyes on the the $1.5 million Godolphin Mile for him, while the $12 million Dubai World Cup is the ultimate goal over the weeks ahead.
“He’s had two nice works over at Meydan the last two weeks,” Watson said. “We’ve got him as fit as we can get him. Obviously, it’s a big race, but that’s the way things pan out over here (in Dubai). You have to sometimes go to those bigger races first. Our goals are at the end of the season, so we hope he runs his race on Thursday.
Regards his draw in stall 1, he added: “If it was our second or third run, I’d be very happy with the post. I don’t know how he’s going to jump and travel in the first run of the season. He’s a big, heavy horse and we’ve done more with him than ever before the beginning of the season, but if it’s enough, we don’t know. If he breaks on top, he won’t be taken back. In the (2018) Godolphin Mile, he would have won if we didn’t take him back after he broke on top.
“I just want to see him run well, but I’m not going to panic if he doesn’t — just look at last year’s first race back at Abu Dhabi, when he ran horribly, but then he came back and started to run well. He may take one to get into him, but we’re very happy with where he is soundness-wise and everything. We’ll go from there.”
Of his other runners, Watson said: “Kimbear ran extremely well in the Dubai Creek Mile. It was a funny-run race. The pace was very hot and he was maybe a little out of his depth and ring-rusty, but he’s come out of the race in great shape. He will benefit from the pace, again, for sure.
“With Thegreatcollection, (jockey) Sam (Hitchcott) just got stuck on the rail. He felt that he could have won the race (if he had not encountered traffic) and he wound up finishing fifth. He deserves a run in the race and has been so honest; always tries.”
Satish Seemar is hoping North America has the class to cope with being drawn in stall 8 this evening.
He said: “It’s not an ideal draw, but I know he will give it his best. You have two speed horses inside of him with Muntazah and Heavy Metal and if he breaks on top, he should be alright.
“He’s had that experience before. It’s hard to say what will happen. You can look at it two ways. Either he breaks and jumps out well, takes his spot and wins—or it doesn’t work out. (Muntazah) has the (better) draw and a straight-away advantage, so he is the one to beat, but there’s always a scenario that will change as the race happens.”
His jockey, Richard Mullen, won on Commanding earlier tonight and afterwards hinted he may resist trying to blast out and make all.
He said: "If we can't get excited about races like this, then we are in the wrong job. Don't be surprised if we ride him a bit different tonight."
Assistant trainer Bhupat Seemar says the imposing eight-year-old’s preparation has gone well and, for a horse of his age, he remains with few miles on the clock. Tonight will be only his 19th run. Compare that with Heavy Metal will be having his 65th.
“All is going well with him. We kind of followed the same route as last year and the year before; the proven track and path,” Bhupat Seemar said. “He’s doing really well and training the way you want to see. He just doesn’t do much at home, so he’s like Reynaldothewizard was—they keep it all for the racetrack. He’s healthy and looking well and I think he’ll be fit enough to run well in Round 1.”
Of Secret Ambition, he said. “The gate crew has done a great job with him. He broke well for the first time, really, (in the Dubai Creek Mile). When he can be up there and eyeballing something in the straight, there aren’t many horses who can pass him.”
The waiting is nearly over! Next up is the Group 2 $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 with Dubai’s best milers, North America and Muntazah, colliding in what promises to be a fascinating clash.
North America boasts seven wins at Meydan and was exceptional when making all and routing his rivals by nine lengths in a record time in last year’s renewal.
Satish Seemar’s star had Muntazah back in third on that occasion but the latter, trained by Doug Watson, was not at peak fitness and subsequently showed his true colours when landing the Firebreak five weeks later; before smashing North America’s record time when a ten-length win in Super Saturday’s Burj Nahaar.
North America was not finished, either, as he easily followed up in the 1900m Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2.
Both horses were below-par on World Cup night, their earlier efforts perhaps taking a toll. This evening the pair return refreshed after more than nine months off and their batteries should be recharged.
However, it is anything but a two-horse race.
Watson will also saddle Group 3 winner Kimbear and the progressive Thegreatcollection, while Seemar has second string to his bow in Secret Ambition, who beat that pair (watch above) in the Listed Dubai Creek Mile last month.
There is also Heavy Metal to consider. He won this race in 2018 and the veteran has no fewer than eight Meydan wins on his CV.
A first winner at the Carnival for Charlie Appleby and William Buick as Zakouski wins the fist division of the Longines Conquest Classic Trophy Handicap with the minimum of fuss.
The son of Shamardal, gelded since his last run in April, sat in a prominent position on the rail and eased clear under Buick when invited to put his stamp on the race.
He won this off a mark of 100 but can expect a considerable hike. That's if he stays in handicap company because, on this performance, pattern company may await.
Yaalail and Wait For Ever filled the places but this was something of an exhibition by the winner.
Saeed Bin Suroor says Benbatl was not at his peak for his win in the Singspiel Stakes.
He said: "He showed a lot of speed. He was 90 per cent and the ground was a question mark but he travelled well. He will improve for this."
The Dubai Turf looks a logical target for Benbatl on World Cup night but Bin Suroor said he would keep his "options open" without elaborating on any other target he might have for the six-year-old.
"We will leave that for later," he said with a smile, when asked what other race he might have in mind.
The fifth race on tonight’s card is the first division of the Longines Conquest Classic over 1600m.
The contest may well revolve around the Charlie Appleby-trained Zakouski, who has his first start in handicap company off a rating of 100.
A son of Shamardal, Zakouski won on his debut at Kempton before be a leading fancy for the Craven Stakes over 1600m at Newmarket in April. However, he faded to finish fifth in that race – a recognised trial for the Qipco 2000 Guineas - and has been absent since.
Zakouski has been gelded in the interim and it will be fascinating to see how he fares against more experienced rivals off a mark that may underestimate him.
Appleby also runs Marhaban, who finished a neck runner-up to the George Scott-trained Lyndon B in a 1600m handicap at Sandown in late August. They meet again, although on this occasion Marhaban is 3lb better off at the weights.
Another to note is David Marnane’s Freescape, who ran well on occasions at last year’s Carnival and journeys over from Ireland after a confidence-boosting win at Dundalk.
The top weight is Doug Watson-trained Shadwell colour-bearer Gabr, once trained by Sir Michael Stoute.
No problem for Benbatl, who cruises home in the Singspiel Stakes without being extended.
Christophe Soumillon controlled the race from the front and Benbatl easily put his stamp on proceedings race when he let out an inch of rein with about 400 metres to run.
For The Top and Majestic Mambo chased him home, but the winner was in a different league despite the rain-softened ground perhaps not being ideal.
In truth, it was little more than an exercise canter for the brilliant son of Dubawi.
Richard Mullen was delighted to snatch the spoils on Commanding but said the imposing three-year-old, trained by Satish Seemar, was his own worst enemy for much of the race and suggested he might well be wearing some form of headgear when he next races.
"He felt uncoordinated and unbalanced, which is not the greatest thing but a good thing going forward," Mullen said.
“He was on the wrong lead and hanging. Up the straight he was awkward and switching leads. It felt like he was going through the motions but he knuckled down late.
“We knew he had to up his game, and he’s done that. I think there is more in his tank and that once the penny drops a mile will be his trip. With his inexperience I'd be slightly concerned going two turns.
“In the big race [UAE 2000 Guineas] I wouldn’t be surprised if we put some headgear on him to help him concentrate.”
He added: “In the morning he spends a lot of time on two legs.”
Benbatl helped light up the Dubai World Cup Carnival in 2018 and all eyes will be on him when he makes his return in the $250,000 Singspiel Stakes Presented By Longines Master Collection.
The Godolphin-owned son of Dubawi is one of the highest-rated horses in the world and seeks to repeat his fluent success in the 2018 Singspiel Stakes, after which he went on to run away with the Dubai Turf and win in Group 1 company in Australia before chasing home Winx in the Cox Plate.
Benbatl showed all his powers remain intact when winning the Group 2 Joel Stakes by five lengths at Newmarket in September and his below-par run in the in Ascot’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes the following month is easily forgiven as the ground was very deep.
With rain falling, conditions may again be softish - but nothing like as deep as when Benbatl ran below-par at Ascot last time.
Bin Suroor said: “He’s doing very well. He worked very well last Thursday to prepare for this race. It was very strong and a good work. He had a long time off after a hard (2018 season). He’s in good form and he is ready to go. I’m happy with him and look forward to running.
"The ground at Ascot last time was too heavy for him."
He is officially rated 125, which is the second-highest of any horse trained in Dubai. The Charlie Appleby-conditioned Ghaiyyath has a mark of 126.
Bin Suroor also declared Dream Castle, winner of last year’s Singspiel, but the son of Frankel is now a non-runner. His absence leaves the race as Benbatl’s mercy as the other four runners are rated between 15lb and 23lb inferior to him.
A thrilling UAE 2000 Guineas Trial with Commanding getting up in the final strides to deny Al Modayar by a short head with the fast-finishing Dark Of Night, in the same ownership as the winner, the same distance away in third.
The race was almost almost a replica of when Al Modayar and Commanding met in maiden at Meydan in late November. On that occasion, the former prevailed by a neck having had the benefit of a previous run.
It looked like the tenacious Al Modayar was going to confirm his superiority as Commanding struggled to master him for mch of the final 100 metres but near the finish the latter snatched victiory from the jaws of defeat.
In another few strides, Dark Of Night, well adrift of the pair for much of the straight, would have upstaged then pair of them.
First View disappointed, being in trouble a long way from home.
Two intriguing UAE contenders in the UAE Guineas Trial are the Satish Seemar-trained Commanding, plus the Doug Watson-conditioned Far Sky.
The former, who wears the in-form colours of Nasir Askar, was an emphatic winner of a 1600m maiden last month (watch below) and has taken his connections by surprise.
“He’ s a very big horse and I think he’s going to be even better next year,” said Bhupat Seemar, assistant trainer. “He surprised us because we thought, with him being so big, that he would need more time. I think he’s come forward and progressed again. He’s even bigger and filled out and should run a good race.”
Far Sky found one too good over the same 1600m on his debut last month but was drawn widest of all on that occasion. This time, he is drawn next to the rail.
Watson said: “I thought, from the sixteen-hole the other day, he ran a big race. I believe he should run back well and he’s training great.”
Extra spice is added by Scandinavian star three-year-old Nocentsinkentucky. He won his three races last year, all over 1200m, by an aggregate of 37 lengths, but he has much more on his plate this time.
Race three on the card is the $100,000 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial Presented By Longines Dolce Vita (7.40), which will be run over 1600m on the dirt and features a maximum field of 16.
Saeed Bin Suroor scooped last week’s UAE 1000 Guineas Trial and he has a strong hand for the colts’ version with First View, Laser Show and Lost In Time all representing him.
The unbeaten First View, the mount of Christophe Soumillon, looks his principal challenger. The son of Exceed An Excel won on his debut over 1600m at Kempton in October and confirmed himself a good prospect when defying a penalty over the same course and distance a month later.
He is bred along the same cross as UAE fan favourites Secret Ambition, Helmet (sire of Thunder Snow) and Belgian Bill.
Jim Crowley was delighted to see Ekhtiyaar back to his best in the Longines Hydroconquest.
"The leader went off at a fair rate but I ended up picking him up quite early and we found ourselves in front a bit too soon," he said. "He thought he'd done enough.
"It was a good performance giving all that weight, but don't forget he chased home Blue Point here one day. That was perfect and hopefully he will progress again."
It was Doug Watson's third winner of the Carnival and he and Crowley will team up later, of course, with Muntazah in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1.
The jockey said: "It's a tough race but he seems in good order and I'm looking forward to it. I've got Plans A, B and C [as regards tactics].
"If he jumps well, he's got the rail but it's not the be-all-and-end-all that he wins tonight. It would be lovely but I'm certainly not going to bottom him on his first start."
An emphatic win for Ekhtiyaar in the Longines Hydroconquest.
Doug Watson's charge had a class edge over his rivals and, having clearly benefited for his previous run, won with authority in a slick time.
Nine Below Zero raced in a clear lead for much of the way but it played into the hands of Ekhtiyaar, given a cool ride by Jim Crowley.
Dream Today, the winner last year, came through to claim second, with Moqarrab, in the same ownership as the winner, third.
RB Money To Burn looks a Purebred Arabian with a huge future to judge by her dominant display in the opening race on tonight's card.
She strung out her 15 rivals and must have been eight lengths clear with 100 metres left to run.
Her winning margin was about half that but Fabrice Veron, her jockey, denied she was getting tired.
"She has a lot of natural speed and won very easily. She understands the job and wasn't tired," he said.
Asked whether she could stay 2000 metres, he added: "It's possible. She has a lot of speed, but stamina as well."
Doug Watson has begun the Carnival well and his Ekhtiyaar will be hard to beat in the next race – the 1200m Longines Hydroconquest (7.05) – if he reproduces the kind of form that enabled him to chase home Blue Point in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint last year.
Watch that mighty effort below.
Ekhtiyaar will be ridden by Jim Crowley, who rides for main employer HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, but he was well below his best on his return last month and needs to bounce back.
Dream Today and Abrantes fought out the finish of the corresponding race last year and meet again. The former, one of two British runners in the line-up, prevailed by a short head 12 months ago and meets the runner-up, trained in Spain by Guillermo Arizkorreta, on the same terms.
The other challenger from Britain is Summerghand, who gained reward for a number of consistent efforts when winning on the all-weather at Wolverhampton last month. His efforts last summer included finishing a close fifth in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot.
Former USA-based stakes performer Neverland Rock carries the Phoenix Thoroughbreds colours, while Raafid and Moqarrab have outside chances in the same Shadwell blue and white as Ekhtiyaar.