Forty-one days and 16 runners in, the Godolphin team struck for the first time this year when Frankie Dettori and Fight Your Corner took the opening contest on the fourth card of the Dubai Carnival at Nad Al Sheba yesterday. The occasion, which instigated a treble for the blues, also marked a numerical milestone, being the 850th winner worldwide for Sheikh Mohammed's élite squad. For those sporting quizmasters of a fiendish bent, the first was an ex-John Gosden beast named Cutwater, at the first meeting at the Emirates' flaship track on Christmas Eve, 1992.
Dettori was seen at his most forceful on Fight Your Corner, who was racing for only the sixth time since being headhunted from Mark Johnson after his fifth place in High Chaparral's Derby. The Italian drove the six-year-old through a narrow gap between Johnson-trained Carte Sauvage and Taif, from Saudi Arabia, to take the 12-furlong turf contest by half a length.
By contrast, he barely had to move a muscle for his second victory, on Botanical by five and a half lengths in the six-furlong dirt sprint. Between times, though, he had to look on from third place on Rosencrans as stablemate Qais, ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, drew five lengths clear of Italy's Kill Cat in the seven-furlong dirt handicap.
It has taken Saeed Bin Suroor a while to get on the scoreboard; now only 131 winners are needed to top his previous best, set in 2001. All three winners last night were making their seasonal debuts. "We are giving them time," said Bin Suroor.
Botanical, disappointing in Britain last season, was making his dirt debut. "He won very well," said Dettori. "In fact, he took me by surprise." The four-year-old shares his sire, Seeking The Gold, with Qais, a half-brother to Lammtarra who raced in the States at three but missed all of last year. "Very impressive after that long break," said McEvoy. "He dug deep."
There was a double for British visitors in the card's two features. Jeremy Noseda's charge Stagelight, ridden by Eddie Ahern, bettered local challenger Gypsy Johnny to take the UAE 2,000 Guineas and its £65,000 prize and in a cosmopolitan finish to round two of the Maktoum Challenge, Gerard Butler-trained Jack Sullivan, with Darryll Holland on board, beat Chiquitin (Saudi Arabia), Kaneko (Turkey), and Grand Emporium (South Africa).
The 11-day carnival programme, which offers nearly £13.3m in prize-money and climaxes with the Dubai World Cup meeting on 26 March, has realised Sheikh Mohammed's dream of spirited international competition in his homeland, a festival of racing that gives opportunities beyond the mainstream.
Yesterday, 94 horses from 13 nations took part; the fun continues today, when Prince Aaron, from a tiny Newmarket yard, will be a leading contender for the six-furlong turf handicap. His trainer, Conrad Allen, summed the situation up rather well as he reflected on the five-year-old's success on the carnival's opening day, and with it a £37,239 first prize. "It sure as hell beats having a winner at Wolverhampton in January," he said.
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