Ertijaal bids to retain his crown in eagerly anticipated Group 2 Sprint
There may only be six runners, but Thursday’s 5f Group 2 Meydan Sprint, one of three turf features on the eighth night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, is one of the most eagerly awaited Meydan clashes of 2018.
Not only does the sextet include the three most recent winners of a race inaugurated in 2011, but also Godolphin's exciting Blue Point and the progressive Hit The Bid.
Winner of the race last year when he broke the track record, Sheikh Hamdan's Ertijaal has suffered just one defeat in six course-and-distance appearances, when second in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in 2016, a race which is now over a furlong further.
Jim Crowley rides the Ali Rashid Al Rayhi-trained seven-year-old and said: "I'm really looking forward to riding him in a race again and he's in great form.
"He won well in a fast time at the first meeting when giving away lumps of weight and this was always the plan.
"The 6f Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint is the main target again and, hopefully, we don't get the torrential rain on the big night we had last year."
At that first meeting, Crowley's mount was never headed in a 5f turf handicap, chased throughout by Hit The Bid, a first UAE runner for Ireland's Darren Bunyan.
His only subsequent start was a winning one, over this course and distance two weeks ago, under Oisin Murphy who rides him for the third time this year.
Bunyan said: "We've been patient with him. World Cup night and the Al Quoz Sprint is the real target so we're working back from there.
"He ran well the first day and won nicely last time but we have left something to work with. Hopefully, he's going to be a top-notch sprinter."
When Ertijaal won this last year he was chased home by Jungle Cat, trained by Charlie Appleby for Godolphin who combine with local debutant Blue Point, the 2016 Gimcrack winner.
Sir Maximilian won the race in 2015 for Ian Williams, a year before Sheikh Hamdan's second runner, Fityaan, landed the spoils. Out Do, for David O'Meara, completes the field.
Championship back once more
The official feature is the Group 2 Zabeel Mile in which Championship bids to defend his crown for Ahmad bin Harmash.
Sadly ruled out of Super Saturday and World Cup night last year after a setback, Bin Harmash's stable star was well beaten on his return in the 7f Al Fahidi Fort, a race he also won last year.
South Africa provide a serious challenge with Mike de Kock, seeking a fourth win in the race, saddling both Noah From Goa, the mount of Christophe Soumillon, and Al Fahidi Fort runner-up Janoobi.
Crowley rides the latter for Sheikh Hamdan and said: "He needed his first run and showed a great attitude when second last time. The extra furlong should suit him and he should be competitive in an open race."
A Grade 1 winner in South Africa, Whisky Baron is a first UAE runner for Brett Crawford having run once in England last September.
For Godolphin, Dream Castle, fifth in last year's 2,000 Guineas for Saeed Bin Suroor, and Appleby's Bay Of Poets have to be respected.
Folkswood out to emulate Tryster
Appleby also saddles Folkswood, one of ten declared in the 1m2f Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes and a winner in Australia last October. He was then third to Winx in the Cox Plate before finishing fifth in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes.
Appleby won this contest in 2016 with Tryster, subsequent winner of the Group 1 Jebel Hatta, Folkswood's next target, on Super Saturday.
De Kock is again double-handed with Soumillon electing to partner Light The Lights over Al Sahem, while Special Fighter, the 2016 Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 is a fascinating contender for Maria Ritchie.
Well beaten in the Dubai World Cup when last seen, he was fourth in that race in 2016 and his having a first turf outing since winning, in China, in April 2015.
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