By Geoffrey Riddle
Ertijaal may have won the battle but bookmakers remain unconvinced whether he can land a first Al Quoz Sprint next month after he just held off Godolphin’s Blue Point in the Meydan Sprint on Thursday.
Ertijaal defended his title in the Group Two contest in Dubai by holding off Charlie Appleby’s representative by a head in a thrilling crescendo to the five-furlong event. The winning time of 56.56 seconds, however, was considerably slower than when he posted the track record of 55.90s after he thrashed Jungle Cat 12 months ago.
Despite the comparitively slow time Jim Crowley believes the seven-year-old can improve on last year’s third place finish on inadequately soft ground on March 31.
"You have to be confident," he told Racing UK. "If you look at the race last year on very soft ground he was only beaten three parts of a length and ran a huge race. All being well and the ground stays quick he will be bang there."
Paddy Power clearly do not agree, and Appleby admitted before the race that Blue Point had left a bit to work on for his first start since he won the John Guest Bengough Stakes at Ascot in October.
The Irish firm shunted Ertijaal out to a best-priced 9-4 from 6-4 for the rematch on World Cup night, with Blue Point usurping the head of the market at 6-4 from 11-4. Godolphin won the first Al Quoz Sprint in 2007 and Blue Point is a best-priced 7-4 with Bet365 and Sky Bet to make it a second.
Crowley believes Ertijaal has the battling qualities to keep his head in front.
"I felt that he got to my shoulders and that is where he is going to stay," he said. "I think we would have maintained the distance had the race gone on for longer.
"The thing with this horse is that when another horse comes to him he is very competitive and sticks his neck out.
"Blue Point is a very good horse who has beaten Harry Angel. The time is a bit slower, but we didn’t go as quick early on this time. He was just as impressive.”
Appleby confirmed that Blue Point would head straight for the Al Quoz Sprint.
"I’d rather finish second than second last," he joked.
"I was delighted with him. The race could not have come soon enough. That race will bring him on a ton. It will get all the gassiness and freshness out of him. We can put him in full proper work towards the Al Quoz."
William Buick and Appleby did not have to wait long to enter the winner’s enclosure, however, when Folkswood made up late ground to snatch the Group Three Dubai Millennium Stakes off fellow Godolphin challenger Leshlaa and Pat Cosgrave.
Buick was stuck behind a wall of horses off a steady pace but the gaps came and his mount flew through.
"He was really brave and was a really committed partner," Buick said. "The way it turned out there was a hole on the inside and he went though it. As soon as the gap opened up I was confident it was going to be very close and I’m just glad he got his head in front."
Folkswood raced three times in Australia in the autumn and is a likely runner in the Jebel Hatta, a Group One contest over nine furlongs on Super Saturday on March 10 that acts as a prep for the Dubai Turf.
"I think he has matured from last season and will improve from this run," Buick added. "It would be lovely to see him go on from here."
"He was second in the Jebel Hatta last year and we did it from the front end. This horse showed us in Australia that he does not have to make it any more and is quite versatile."
Another horse who could feature on Super Saturday is South African import Janoobi after he dethroned last year’s winner Championship in the Group Two Zabeel Mile.
Janoobi won the Daisy Guineas in South Africa last year and finished almost tailed off on his first start in Dubai in January over six furlongs. He ran better when second to Godolphin's Jungle Cat over seven and looked perfectly suited to the turf mile on Thursday.
Whether the son of Silvano has the stamina to go up another furlong for the Jebel Hatta next month is open to considerable debate, and Crowley was hardly convincing that his partner could see out the nine furlongs.
“I think if I had gone forward and tried to make the running, as was the plan, we would have eyeballed each other and it would have got messy,” the jockey said.
“That said, in South Africa all of his best races were from the front. “Now you could take a lead on him it might help. That is probably his best trip but you are limited on World Cup night so we’ll have a chat with connections and see where we go.”
Trainer Mike De Kock, who was posting just his second win of his Dubai campaign, revealed that a possible switch of surfaces could be the answer to Janoobi’s lack of stamina.
“We may look to switch him to dirt. I think he is brave enough because you need a fast, brave horse from the gates. Perhaps the Godolphin Mile or the Burj Nahaar. We’ll speak to Sheikh Hamdan.”
“It has been his only target. I’m not convinced he gets another 200 meters, whether we try it or not is up to Sheikh Hamdan but his best form in South Africa is over a mile and he does it hard,” De Kock said.
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