Thunder Snow Edges Epicharis in UAE Derby to Earn Kentucky Derby Berth

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Thunder Snow (left, blue silks) wins the UAE Derby to earn a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Thunder Snow, only days after being made a late nominee to the U.S. Triple Crown series, justified the investment with a hard-fought victory March 25 in the UAE Derby at Meydan.

The score was worth 100 points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, enough to guarantee a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate should his owner, Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, so choose.

"Sheikh Mohammed has told me that's definitely an option," Godolphin bloodstock advisor John Ferguson said immediately after the race.

"He was the leading horse in England last year and he won a Group 1 in France," Ferguson said. "He is very dear to our hearts. One has to be very happy with that."

Thunder Snow, an Irish-bred colt by the Australian sire Helmet (by Exceed And Excel), prevailed by a short head after a long stretch battle with one of the two Japanese runners in the race, Epicharis, who already had earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby via victory in last month's Hyacinth Stakes in Tokyo.

Rallying from mid-pack to finish a strong third in the UAE Derby, 1 1/4 lengths behind Epicharis, was the Todd Pletcher-trained Master Plan, who won the OBS Championship Stakes in his only previous start this season and was stepping far up in class. Racing for Al Shaqab Racing, WinStar Farm, and China Horse Club, the $850,000 OBS March sale grad was second in his 2-year-old finale  to Tapwrit in Gulfstream’s Pulpit Stakes.

With John Velazquez riding, Master Plan made progress through the stretch but was no threat to the top two. Master Plan earned 20 Kentucky Derby points with the third-place finish.

Brad Weisboard, racing manager for Al Shaqab, said the Kentucky Derby may not be a primary option.

"Todd's team prepped him excellent and he stayed no problem," he said. "It opens up some options. I'm not sure of the Kentucky Derby options but I do think the horse will stay the Belmont Stakes distance. And he can go on any surface, he can go on dirt, turf, synthetic. Most important is he's a nice horse and he ran his race today. Unfortunately he was third best."

Thunder Snow ended his 2-year-old season with a win in the seven-furlong Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in France Oct. 30. He did not run again until the UAE 2000 Guineas Sponsored By District One Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City over the Dubai course on Feb. 23, winning by 5 3/4 lengths. Godolphin paid the $6,000 late nomination fee for the Triple Crown in the week before Saturday's triumph. Bob Kieckhefer


Jack Hobbs Dominates Dubai Sheema Classic

Godolphin’s Jack Hobbs struck the front in mid-stretch and pulled away to an impressive victory in the $6 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic March 25 at Meydan Racecourse.

The 5-year-old son of Halling scored by 2 1/4 lengths over Seventh Heaven in the 2,410-meter (about 1 1/2 miles) turf race that was run over soggy conditions. The finishing time was 2:32.39.

Trained by John Gosden and ridden by William Buick, Jack Hobbs scored his most significant win since the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. The win was his fifth from 10 starts. He made only two starts in 2016, with a third-place finish in Ascot’s QIPCO Champion Stakes to his credit.

Favored Highland Reel went to the front in the Sheema Classic and set a leisurely early tempo, which included an opening quarter mile in :28.7. He was tracked by Postponed early on. After a mile, Postponed went to challenge Highland Reel, but both frontrunners were swallowed up by Jack Hobbs in the select seven-horse cast. Postponed held for third, 1 3/4 lengths behind Seventh Heaven. –Frank Angst

Vivlos Beats the Boys in Dubai Turf

Japan-based filly Vivlos rallied outside through the stretch to secure a half-length victory over the boys in the $6 million Dubai Turf Sponsored by DP World March 25 at Meydan on the Dubai World Cup card.

With the win, Japan-based horses have claimed three of the past four editions of the Dubai Turf.

After Group 1 winner Ribchester struck first to take the lead in early stretch, he was passed by longshot Group 2 winner Heshem, but Vivlos and jockey Joao Moreira were closing most powerfully outside those two as they claimed victory in the about 1 1/8-mile race. Heshem held second, a half-length better than Ribchester with favorite Zarak in fourth.

Trained by Yasuo Tomomichi for owner Kazuhiro Sasaki, lightly raced Vivlos claimed the second stakes win of her career. She closed out 2016 by winning the Shuka Sho against other females in Japan.

Bred in Japan by Northern Racing, Vivlos is a 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact. –Frank Angst


Golden Shaheen No Problem for Mind Your Biscuits

Mind Your Biscuits, a 4-year-old Posse colt bred in New York by Jumping Jack Racing, drew the outside, No. 14 gate for the Golden Shaheen but the draw posed no problem for jockey Joel Rosario. As the field hit mid-stretch, he had his colt in full stride, still well out toward the middle of the track. With 100 meters to go, the issue no longer was in doubt.

"We were confident," Summers said."This was the race we had in mind when I took out my trainers' license."

Summers, part of the ownership team, took over the training duties after Mind Your Biscuits won the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita the day after Christmas. In that race, Sharp Azteca finished second and that one came back at Meydan to finish third in the Godolphin Mile on the opening race of the Dubai World Cup card.

Rosario said he had hoped to work out a bit of a ground-saving trip for Mind Your Biscuits but was never able to get near the rail.

"I was way out there," Rosario admitted of his ride. “He just put in the run he always has at the end.”

Summers said the emergence of Mind Your Biscuits provides his team with many prospects for the remainder of the year. The Metropolitan Handicap is “under consideration,” pending evaluation of the horse, he said, along with all the other major East Coast sprints. Bob Kieckhefer


The Right Man Noses Out Long On Value in Al Quoz Sprint

Pegase Bloodstock's The Right Man secured the first group I victory of his career when he edged Bill Mott-trained Long On Value by a nose in the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments.

A previous Group 3 winner, The Right Man came into the race with career earnings of $219,693 before securing $600,000 in purse money when guided by Francois-Xavier Bertas to victory by in the about six-furlong turf sprint in 1:09.59 on yielding turf. Bred in England by Mrs. James Wigan, The Right Man is a 5-year-old son of Lope de Vega.

Trained by Didier Guillemin, The Right Man prepped for Saturday's race with a third-place finish in an allowance-type race March 4 at Meydan.

Wachtel Stable, George Kerr, and Gary Barber's Long On Value, under Joel Rosario, just missed his first Group/Grade 1 win. A Grade 2-winning 6-year-old son of Value Plus, Long On Value entered the Al Quoz Sprint off a third-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint Stakes Jan. 28.

"I'm kind of speechless," said Mott's assistant, and son, Riley. "For him to come halfway across the world and compete on this stage, it's an absolute thrill. We were just a spec away from getting the win, but we really don't feel like we lost anything. It feels like a win so to speak. We're just really proud of the horse."

Southern California-based multiple stakes winner Richard's Boy finished fifth for owners Rockingham Ranch and trainer Peter Miller. –Frank Angst


Vazirabad Victorious in Dubai Gold Cup

In the $1 million Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors, The Aga Khan homebred Vazirabad edged Beautiful Romance by a neck to win the race a second straight year.

A highweight in France and Dubai, Vazirabad is trained by Alain De Royer-Dupre and he was guided to victory by jockey Christophe Soumillon. A 5-year-old Manduro gelding, Vaziribad completed the 3,200-meter (about two-mile) test in 3:22.52 on yielding turf. –Frank Angst


Second Summer Runs Down Sharp Azteca in Godolphin Mile

In the final strides of the $1 million Godolphin Mile Sponsored by Meydan Sobha, Grade 2 winner Second Summer surged through on the inside to win by a neck over Ross while Sharp Azteca faded to third.

Second Summer was making his third start for trainer Doug Watson since being purchased privately by owner Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid al Nuaimi and transferred to the former's barn. Previously conditioned by Peter Eurton, the 5-year-old Summer Bird gelding was a mainstay on the California circuit, most notably capturing the Californian Stakes over Hard Aces last May prior to running seventh in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes last June in his last stateside start.

After running seventh in the March 4 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) over 2,000 meters, the decision was made to cut the chestnut gelding back in distance on the Dubai World Cup (G1) undercard. It was a call that looked like genius in the stretch, as Second Summer—who was next to last in the field halfway through the mile—advanced in tandem with Ross to his outside, then angled inside under jockey Patrick Dobbs to catch a weakening Sharp Azteca, who chased wicked fractions over a rare muddy Meydan surface.

"You're limited here with the races and we weren't going to get into the Dubai World Cup," Watson said. "We were hoping we were going to win the third leg (of the Maktoum Challenge), but he just didn't run his race. Once he didn't win there, he had won over a mile before, so we thought we'd go ahead and turn him back and try the Godolphin Mile. He did it and he came home nicely."

Bred in Florida by Richard Shultz, Second Summer hit the wire in 1:35.76 and improved his record to five wins from 17 starts. -Alicia Wincze Hughes

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