Godolphin threw down the gauntlet on the opening of day of the Dubai Carnival with two runners who recently emerged from a six-month ban resulting from the Mahmood al-Zarooni steroid scandal – and were instantly rewarded in Round One of the appropriately named Al-Maktoum Challenge, but with a filly beyond reproach in Shuruq.
The Saeed bin Suroor-trained four-year-old, a Listed and Group Three winner at the Carnival last year, lost her form on turf in Britain last summer and was last seen languishing in the rear alongside the damp dunes of the North Denes in a Listed contest at Yarmouth's Eastern Meeting. Back at the more congenial oasis of Meydan, she set a track record for a mile on the tapeta surface.
Steeler, one of 22 Godolphin horses barred from racing after being administered anabolic steroids by Zarooni, finished fourth after being sent off 3-1 favourite, whether or not in misplaced expectation of illicit improvement on his form when last seen finishing third to Kingsbarns in the Racing Post Trophy in October 2012, when trained by Mark Johnston. Artigiano, the other of Zarooni's victims to return, ran third in a Listed contest.
Charlie Appleby, who took over Zarooni's string last summer after the trainer was banned for eight years for his misdeeds, trained two handicap winners on the card.
Solwhit, the winner of last season's World Hurdle at Cheltenham, has been ruled out of this year's Festival. The 10-year-old had missed his planned reappearance at Leopardstown just after Christmas owing to a fetlock injury. Trainer Charles Byrnes will try to prepare Solwhit for Aintree or Punchestown later in the spring.
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