One season after cruising through a front-end victory in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, Godolphin's Thunder Snow faced several hurdles ahead of this year's renewal of the $12 million race at Meydan.
None of those hurdles would stop his date with history.
Powering through the stretch while racing outside a determined Gronkowski, the 5-year-old son of Helmet found just enough to prevail in a thrilling edition of the Dubai World Cup March 30, becoming the first horse in the 24-year history of the 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-mile) race to win it twice.
Flashing a wide smile after guiding Thunder Snow to a Dubai World Cup victory a second straight year, winning jockey Christophe Soumillon delivered a tongue-in-cheek thank you: "I'd like to thank Sheikh Mohammed for putting the post (finish line) right there."
Winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who received a congratulatory phone call from his mother during the post-race press conference, marveled at the history delivered by Thunder Snow.
"I think this is 191 Group 1 wins for me worldwide," bin Suroor said. "There are so many Group 1s—Dubai Millennium when he won here in 2000. But this is the horse. He's going to be in history for a long time to win the UAE Derby and the World Cup twice."
The prep season didn't go as planned for Thunder Snow, whose training was delayed. He didn't make his seasonal debut until the March 9 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 Sponsored by Emirates Airline at Meydan where he finished second to runaway winner Capezzano, who also started in the World Cup.
But bin Suroor knew Thunder Snow needed that prep race and when he delivered a workout March 23 similar to his move ahead of last year's Dubai World Cup, the trainer found confidence.
Another challenge arrived at the draw, where Thunder Snow drew post 12. But with his deep confidence in Thunder Snow, Soumillon wasn't bothered, noting the horse at 3 also won the UAE Derby Sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group from post 13 and took last year's World Cup from post 10.
"If you look at the last three years, he's always had the worst draw, but he keeps fighting and doing it," Soumillon said. "It's true, on the outside you get less kickback than others. If you can get to the turn second- or third-deep, and not four-, five-, or six-wide, so much the better."
Soumillon also noted the outside post requires less time in the gate, which he also said is a plus. While his confidence in the horse likely is what provided his bright-side view of post 12, things most assuredly worked out after the gate opened.
In a ride that bin Suroor praised after the race, Soumillon and Thunder Snow were able to engage North America, who unlike last year broke well, entering the first turn. Thunder Snow also broke well and he was steadily angled inside in the run to the first turn, where found himself two wide.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds' Gronkowski raced three-wide under Olsin Murphy and Soumillon and Thunder Snow allowed them to go by out of the turn to challenge North America through the backstretch. Those two dueled through the far turn as Thunder Snow showed interest throughout while drafting behind Gronkowski.
North America faded and Gronkowski took the lead in the stretch, but Thunder Snow quickly moved into the clear for his run. A furlong from the line, the two hooked up for a memorable duel until Thunder Snow prevailed by a nose.
Soumillon said the far-turn position allowed his horse a good blow and when he saw North America come off the bridle, he knew it was down to two horses—sensing no one was coming from behind on this day.
"I knew no one was coming to catch us," Soumillon said. "I was very confident I'd catch him but I didn't want to hit the lead too soon ... I wanted to get to the front late. Finally when I hit it, I let him know he had to go a bit further. He just kept fighting.
Gronkowski, previously was best known for challenging Justify in last year's Belmont Stakes before finishing second there to the 13th Triple Crown winner, settled for the hard-luck runner-up spot but certainly made an impression with his courageous run.
"He's run a great race. I can't believe he was so close," said Phoenix Thoroughbreds Amer Abdulaziz. "When you come that far and you get beaten by such a narrow margin, it is so frustrating, but this is also a victory for us. In the end, we were beaten by a better horse but our horse is a great horse.
"We knew that he was going well, we tried to keep it hush-hush but he's been working so well at home. (Trainer Salem bin Ghadayer) has done a tremendous job with him, the best of any trainer who has had him so far. When he came here, he had a lot of issues and we had to build him up from scratch. We had to clear his mind and he's done it. I can guarantee you this horse will be back here next year and hopefully, he can go one better."
"My horse ran a very, very good race," said Gunnevera's jockey, Emisael Jaramillo. "My position in post number one was no good, but my horse is a beautiful, beautiful horse. It was a very good finish. He finished so good even with the position no good. He gave me everything. He tried so hard. He has so much heart. He gave me all. He was excellent."
Pavel finished fourth in the World Cup a second straight year and was followed by 2018 Xpressbet Florida Derby winner Audible and Yoshida, a Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf. North America faded to seventh and U.S.-based Seeking the Soul was eighth in the field of 12.
Coal Front Edges Heavy Metal in Godolphin Mile
Coal Front rallied sharply in deep stretch to catch front-running defending champion Heavy Metal and win the $1.5 million Godolphin Mile Sponsored by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City—District One by three-quarters of a length March 30 at Meydan.
Coal Front, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Jose Ortiz—in his first Dubai World Cup card race—waited well back of the early battle between Heavy Metal and the international favorite, Muntazah. Heavy Metal began to edge clear as the field hit the Meydan Racecourse stretch.
Ortiz, however, had kept Coal Front wide of the leaders and in the clear and was in full flight 200 meters from home, closing ground on the tiring, 9-year-old leader. He hit the lead five strides short of the wire in the one-turn, 1,600-meter (about one-mile) test and finished in 1:36.51.
"He's a frontrunner," Ortiz said. "Being where I was, I didn't want to put him behind horses and take the kickback. I was happy where I was. Coal Front was a tough customer. But we had it. I was riding for the win." –Bob Kieckhefer
Cross Counter Secures First Dubai Gold Cup for Appleby
Cross Counter edged out stablemate Ispolini to give Charlie Appleby a 1-2 finish March 30 in the Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored By Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City-District One (G2), the trainer's first Gold Cup success and the first victory of the day for Godolphin at Meydan.
The 4-year-old son of Teofilo, who went off the 15-8 favorite, was prominent throughout and made his move around two furlongs from home, where he just got the better of stablemate Ispolini in what was a thrilling finish.
Call The Wind finished a few lengths behind Cross Counter and Ispolini to take third for French trainer Freddy Head. –BloodHorse Staff
Blue Point Turns Back Belvoir Bay in Al Quoz Sprint
Peter Miller-trained stablemates Belvoir Bay and Stormy Liberal put in impressive runs to earn placings, but top-rated turf sprinter Blue Point proved too good in the $2 million Al Quoz Sprint Sponsored by Azizi Developments (G1) March 30 at Meydan.
Confidently ridden by William Buick in midpack early but close to the leaders in the well-bunched sprint, Godolphin's Blue Point launched a move near midstretch when horses opened to provide a lane. Blue Point didn't miss a beat, quickly surging through to edge past runner-up Belvoir Bay and hold off reigning American champion turf male Stormy Liberal.
"The horse has so much confidence," Buick said to Dubai Racing Club media. "It makes me very confident; we were in great shape throughout." –Frank Angst
Third Time the Charm for X Y Jet in Golden Shaheen
After a pair of runner-up finishes by X Y Jet in previous editions of the $2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (G1)—including a heartbreaking loss when late-running Mind Your Biscuits caught him last year, the veteran sprinter would not be denied this year.
Rocketing out of the gate to a quick advantage under Emisael Jaramillo in the 1,200-meter (about six-furlong) dirt test March 30 at Meydan, X Y Jet enjoyed a clear lead early while racing inside, with Matera Skytracking him and two-time grade 1 winner Imperial Hint saving ground behind the leader.
Coming out of the turn, Japan-based Kentucky-bred grade 3 winner Matera Sky put X Y Jet to the test, but the gutsy gray or roan 7-year-old son of Kantharos dug in to put away that challenge, then held sway through the stretch to score by 1 1/2 lengths. Matera Sky held off a late charge by Raymond Mamone's Imperial Hint, who was moved into the clear in the stretch by jockey Jose Ortiz but settled for third.
Trainer Jorge Navarro, who has nursed Rockingham Ranch and Gelfenstein Farm's X Y Jet back from three surgeries, was emotional after Saturday's victory, the 13th time a U.S.-based horse has won the Golden Shaheen.
"To do what he's done after those three knee surgeries? Wow," Navarro said. "To come to Dubai and prove to the world that he belongs here is pretty amazing. Three times he's shown up." –BloodHorse Staff
Almond Eye Brilliant in Dubai Turf
Almond Eye cemented her status as an international superstar March 30 with a clear victory in the $6 million Dubai Turf Sponsored by DP World at Meydan.
The 4-year-old daughter of Lord Kanaloa remains well on course to an autumn showdown in France with Enable after making her season debut for Silk Racing and trainer Sakae Kunieda on the world's biggest stage and dispatching her rivals with cool brilliance in her first start outside of her native Japan.
Making her first start since a record-smashing triumph Nov. 25 in the Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse, Almond Eye took station off the pace through the early furlongs of the 1,800-meter event (about 1 1/8 miles). Jockey Christophe Lemaire perfectly measured the bay filly's bid from midpack once the field straightened for home, and Almond Eye smoothly started passing rivals.
With 200 meters to go, Almond Eye was in charge and cruising, en route to a 1 1/4-length victory over fellow Japanese runner Vivlos. It was another half-length to Lord Glitters in third. Almond Eye finished in 1:46.78 over good turf.
Anything less than an emphatic win would have crushed the throng of Japanese fans and media following Almond Eye on her first overseas expedition. She achieved cult status at home after sweeping the three races of the Japanese Filly Triple Crown—all Grade 1 events—and was a heavy favorite when she won the Japan Cup against older males, including the 2017 winner. –BloodHorse Staff