By Jon Lees
GB: Millionaire racehorse Desert Encounter flew out to Dubai on Wednesday to embark on yet another international campaign that could climax in a bid to become the first horse to win three consecutive runnings of the Grade 1 Canadian International.
Now an eight-year-old, Desert Encounter closed out 2019 with a sequence of Pattern-race wins, collecting three G3 races in Britain on the way to his second triumph in Canada’s most prestigious race at Woodbine in October.
Only Joshua Tree has won three Canadian Internationals, in 2010, 2012 and 2013, a feat trainer David Simcock hopes Desert Encounter will get the chance to emulate once he has completed a Dubai Carnival campaign.
Dubai, where Desert Encounter’s owner Abdulla Al Mansoori is based, has been the starting point for the last two campaigns though the horse is yet to win at Meydan.
Simcock said: “We are under no illusions that Desert Encounter will need his first race in Dubai. We are using the ten-furlong Dubai Millennium Stakes in ten days’ time as a stepping stone to the City Of Gold on Super Saturday with the Sheema Classic further down the line.
“We have become very realistic with Desert Encounter. I would almost describe him as a bully. He looks good against opposition he is comfortable with, but when the horses become very good like some of those he has taken on in the Sheema Classic previously, he is very quick to stick two fingers up as if to say ‘this is too hard’.
“He has danced some dances at Ascot where he probably shouldn’t have and run well below his best, but that’s him.”
Simcock went on: “You have to take into account that his owner likes him to run in certain places and Abdulla Al Mansoori is from Dubai. He very much gave me free rein in the second half of last season and the old horse looked great.
“We know the first part of the season is going to be hard. The Group 1 penalty tends to disappear in July and life gets easier. We will campaign him from July onwards with everything leading to Toronto. He is very capable against a certain quality of horses. He is very talented but is he a genuine Group 1 horse in Europe? No.
“It is a testament to his consistency and longevity that he has managed to win £1 million in prize-money.”
Simcock has already saddled two winners at this year’s Dubai Carnival with Universal Order and Woven. His skilful placement also worked for Spanish Mission last season when he netted the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational at Belmont Park on only his seventh start. He too will begin his campaign in Dubai with further overseas travel likely in 2020.
“Spanish Mission won well at the back end of his two-year-old career over a mile and a quarter,” said Simcock. “He had one race at three when the water was tested to see if he could go and race on dirt in America [in the Road to Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton] and it was very evident he didn’t have the pace. Since then he has been a very progressive horse.
“He runs in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy on February 27 over a mile and six and the likelihood is we will step him up to two miles in the Dubai Gold Cup. He is a bright prospect in the staying division. He has trained well this spring, he is very fresh. Finishing the season early last year after Belmont was no bad thing.
“He has a long season in front of him and we will chase whatever prizes we can. He clearly lacks a bit of class over a mile and a half in Europe but in America he suddenly becomes a very decent horse over the trip.”