Dubai Carnival 2021: the Meydan takeaway as Equilateral stands firm against all-conquering home team

Horse Racing Equilateral Meydan Dubai Carnival
Equilateral (Andrea Atzeni) wins the G2 Meydan Sprint. Photo: Erika Rasmussen//Dubai Racing Club)

By Nicholas Godfrey

Just the five Group races this week on day five of the Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan, where Equilateral breaks the habits of a lifetime to fend off a clean sweep for the home team. Here’s some stuff you might like to know – plus videos and tweets.

What’s going on?

Meydan Sprint: pair of firsts for Al Quoz-bound Equilateral

Popular aphorism deems it impossible to teach an old dog new tricks – but Equilateral certainly broke new ground in at least a couple of ways as he held off Acklam Express, a horse half his age, in the G2 Meydan Sprint.

Although Equilateral was second to Battaash in the G1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, the six-year-old had never before won any sort of Group race.

Moreover, after his course-and-distance handicap on opening night four weeks ago, this was the first time the Hays’ Equiano gelding had completed back-to-back successes in a career dating back to his winning debut as a two-year-old at Bath in August 2017.

With Frankie Dettori switching to third-placed A’Ali, Andrea Atzeni opened his carnival account for 2021. As for Equilateral, he’ll get another shot at G1 success in the Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night.

Balanchine: Summer Romance turns the tables

Giving a good horse a cheap lead and letting them get first run is often a recipe for handing them the entire race.

Three weeks ago, Summer Romance, a G3 winner at Epsom in the summer, weakened tamely under William Buick as joint-favourite after doing too much in front in the G2 Cape Verdi over a mile. James Doyle rode the winner, her Charlie Appleby-trained stablemate Althiqa.

Horse Racing Summer Romance Meydan Dubai Carnival
Summer Romance (James Doyle) wins the G2 Balanchine. Photo: Erika Rasmussen/Dubai Racing Club

Fast forward to the G2 Balanchine over a furlong further, with Buick switched to odds-on favourite Althiqa. A more tractable Summer Romance (3lb pull), ridden by Doyle, makes all in less headstrong fashion for a convincing victory as a 5-1 shot, with the market leader staying on in vain pursuit.

“Those fillies will have a little break now,” said Appleby. “We’ll look at races at Royal Ascot, the Falmouth, and there might be some in France that suit.”

At least the runner-up was consistent. Roger Varian-trained Stylistique was a creditable second in the Cape Verdi – and she was a creditable second here.

James Doyle: Dontcha just love it when a plan comes together?

Reflecting on the turnaround in Summer Romance’s form compared to three weeks ago, James Doyle explained that the four-year-old daughter of Kingman is a buzzy type of filly who benefited from her first run in Dubai.

“Charlie and his team decided to just tinker with a few different things with regard to the prelims,” the jockey added. “We mounted her at the pre-parade ring and headed out after all the runners which helped a bit, and elected to leave the hood on for the race, which also helped.”

Zabeel Mile: D’Bai delivers in Dubai – again

Charlie Appleby, who ended the night well ahead in the carnival rankings with nine winners, was completing a double after the last-gasp victory of D’Bai in the Zabeel Mile. Appleby has won the G2 event five times in the last seven years.

As for D’Bai, well, the clue’s in the name. The veteran seven-year-old likes it at home in Dubai, where he won a handicap in 2018 and then the G2 Al Fahidi Fort in 2019; Appleby had nominated him for Saturday’s Saudi Cup meeting before opting to stay in town

D’Bai was closest at the finish when runner-up again in that 7f event four weeks ago, and duly stepped up for his eighth career win overall when stepped up a furlong, beating former Appleby-trained stablemate First Contact by a head. The latter, who so nearly registered a 66-1 upset, is now with Satish Seemar.

UAE Oaks: Derby question asked as Mnasek romps

Six-time champion trainer Doug Watson landed the UAE Oaks for the third time in six years as Mnasek annihilated her rivals in the G3 event – in the process paying a compliment to her Soft Whisper, who takes on the colts in the Saudi Derby at the weekend.

That Godolphin filly had beaten Mnasek by seven lengths when they met in the UAE 1,000 Guineas, although the margin isn’t an accurate reflection given that the runner-up fluffed the break.

Off rather more alertly, the daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker made no mistake in the Oaks as 6-5 favourite. Watson’s previous winners Polar River (2016) and Rayya (2018) both went on to finish second in UAE Derby.

Al Shindagha Sprint: G3 double for Watson and Dobbs

Doug Watson and Pat Dobbs were back in tandem to complete a G3 double with surprise 25-1 winner Al Tariq in the Al Shindagha Sprint, the last of the five Group contests.

Winner of the Listed Jebel Ali Sprint on his previous outing 13 days ago, the ex-French five-year-old got the better of front-running Important Mission close home. Watson now has five winners at this year’s carnival, one more than Dobbs.

Hot favourite here was UAE stalwart Gladiator King, who was allowed to race after playing up in the starting gate.

New Trails: who saw that coming?

Sights were raised for New Trails after he won Meydan handicaps in 2018 and 2019 – to the extent that he ran in the Dubai World Cup at the end of the latter campaign. 

OK, he was 10th of 12 as a 50-1 chance behind Thunder Snow, but the Curlin Stakes was a long way beneath that class – and his presence in the Listed handicap was reflective of a series of dreadful runs last year, when he completely lost his way.

That’s all ancient history now after a remarkable performance. New Trails was under pressure nearer last than first as they exited the back straight before finishing strongest of all to regain the winning thread under Fernando Jara, who won the Dubai World Cup on the brilliant Invasor in 2007.

Salem Bin Ghadayer comes to the party

Salem Bin Ghadayer may be leading the UAE trainers’ title race but he hadn’t struck at the carnival until Hypothetical wore down Godolphin’s Bright Start in the opening mile handicap on the dirt.

Hometown verdicts continue

Continuing a distinct carnival trend, six of the seven winners on the card were trained by the home team in the UAE, with two each for Charlie Appleby and Doug Watson, and one each for Salem Bin Ghadayer and Ahmed Bin Harmash.

The exception to prove the rule of domestic dominance was Equilateral, representing Charlie Hills in Britain. After five carnival cards and 30 thoroughbred races in 2021, he and Lord Glitters remain the only European winners, though Uruguay (El Patriota) and Bahrain (Salute The Soldier) have also raised their flag. There have been 25 UAE-trained winners.

Dubai Carnival 2021 thoroughbred wins

Trainers (UAE unless stated)

Charlie Appleby 9

Doug Watson 5

Saeed Bin Suroor 4

Satish Seemar 3

Charlie Hills (GB) 2


William Buick 6

Frankie Dettori

Pat Dobbs 4

Mickael Barzalona 2

James Doyle 2

Tadhg O’Shea 2

Adrie de Vries 2

Shall we talk about it?

Charlie Hills (Equilateral’s trainer): “I’m really delighted. It’s nice to go and win this race. He’s now three from four at Meydan – which is very impressive. I think we’ll look to keep him out there for the Al Quoz Sprint.
“He likes a nice gap between his races. Nicola (Dowell), who is over there, has done a great job with him. He seems to really enjoy it over there and the way he finished there I can’t see six furlongs being a problem. He has a lot of speed. They didn’t go much of a gallop there today.”

Andrea Atzeni (Equilateral’s jockey): “He certainly feels better than he did the last time I rode him, which was about two years ago. It was very good performance – he jumped quite good and then he was in behind but he was travelling so easily that I didn’t want to stop his momentum. He galloped out really well too; he obviously loves it out here.”

Fernando Jara (New Trails’s jockey): “It was a first run of the season, and you can never be sure of a first run, but I am not surprised at his performance. He is a nice horse, and when he gets it right, he has class and is right up there with all these horses.”

Horse Racing Mnasek Meydan Dubai Carnival
Mnasek (Pat Dobbs) wins the G3 UAE Oaks. Photo: Erika Rasmussen//Dubai Racing Club

Pat Dobbs (Mnasek’s jockey): “Mnasek is not as quick as Polar River, but she is tough like her.  She came out and landed a bit flat-footed and she did not have the early speed as the rest of the horses. She was not enjoying the kickback on the inside, so I switched her out down the back, and once she got out of the kickback she travelled smoothly all the way. Frankie was on the inside and was not doing as well as me, and I could see Mickael was a few lengths ahead and he was doing OK but my filly just stayed well.”

Doug Watson (Mnasek’s trainer): “I don’t know if this performance will get her an invite to the UAE Derby – a lot of times it does, if that is the case we will have to see if the owners want to run there. If not she needs to go to America, she is just learning her craft now, and I love the way she broke tonight. She wasn’t over-keen with the kickback, but once she was out of it she travelled well and won nicely.”

Horse Racing D'Bai Meydan Dubai Carnival
D’Bai (William Buick) wins the G2 Zabeel Mile. Photo: Erika Rasmussen//Dubai Racing Club

William Buick (D’Bai’s jockey): “He’s a lovely horse but he just needs a few things to fall right for him. He had a lot of ground to make up but on his day he’s a pretty decent horse and his class saw him through. You just have to conserve him over a mile a little more, but this is a flat track and he won over a mile as a two-year-old.”

Charlie Appleby (Summer Romance’s trainer): “This evening we changed the dynamics for her and kept the hood on, and James got her into a nice rhythm, and she was in a far better rhythm than she was in the Cape Verdi.  I am in the fortunate position to have William and James there who come and ride out and know the horses inside out, which makes such a difference on race night on what they need to try and do, and tonight it has gone right for James and Summer Romance.”

James Doyle (Summer Romance’s jockey): “It’s probably easy to forgive her first up – she was just a bit fresh. You can tell the way she is, even today she was quite racy and enthusiastic about the job so that run would certainly have settled her down a bit. She’s got a lot of het-up kind of enthusiasm so it took that run to get it out of her, although you’d probably have liked to see her run a little bit better.
“I was gifted the lead and I wasn’t going quick. We got quite a nice lead and I was even afforded the luxury of racing away from the rail to help her switch off and while she was always doing a little bit, I wasn’t going overly quick fractions so I was pretty pleased when she got into the straight. I was hopeful she’d hit the line well, and she stuck to her guns.
“Tinkering with the prelims, the decision to leave the hood on … when it does come together, it’s very satisfying.”

Horse Racing Al Tariq Meydan
Al Tariq (Pat Dobbs) wins the G3 Al Shindagha Sprint. Photo: Erika Rasmussen/Dubai Racing Club

Doug Watson (Al Tariq’s trainer): “I am very hopeful we can get him an invite for the Golden Shaheen on World Cup day. This was a good option for him after he won well at Jebel Ali a couple of weeks ago. So hopefully they invite him and he gets four or five weeks to prepare for the big day.”

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