U.S. turf standout Little Mike and 2012 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Monterosso headline the $400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 Sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I) on the Super Saturday card March 9 at Medyan.
The race is the main prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 30 and one of two group I races on the Super Saturday card of seven Thoroughbred stakes, joining the $300,000 Jebel Hatta.
Patricia and Carlo Vaccarezza's homebred Little Mike makes his 2013 debut following his arrival in Dubai on March 1 along with Donegal Racing's Dullahan, who is entered for the $300,000 Burj Nahar (UAE-III) earlier on the Super Saturday card. Both are trained by 2012 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans.
Little Mike's 2012 record earned him status as a finalist for the Eclipse Award in two categories: turf male and champion older male. He closed an impressive season with 17-1 upset victory over Point of Entry and St Nicholas Abbey in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) while just a tick off Santa Anita's course record. He won four of seven starts during the season, including the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT), and finished third in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (gr. IT).
The 6-year-old Spanish Steps gelding will race on an all-weather surface for the first time in the Al Maktoum Challenge and be guided from his inside post draw by Kieren Fallon. He has an overall record of 12 wins—all on turf—two seconds, and a third from 21 lifetime starts, which include four dirt starts and is tabbed on the morning line at 4-1.
Little Mike got acquainted with the all-weather track the first time March 4, and should he race well on it, the Dubai World Cup would be his goal, but he also could target either of a pair of turf races on the World Cup card March 30: the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) or the $5 million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I).
After nearly a year on the sidelines, Godolphin's Monterosso used a fourth-place finish in last year's Al Maktoum Challenge as a springboard to a memorable and dominant victory in the world's richest race.
Monterosso seized the lead in midstretch in the World Cup and powered to a three-length win over stablemate Capponi but not before jockey Mickael Barzalona gave Godolphin founder Sheikh Mohammed a few tense seconds as the finish line approached, prematurely standing up in the irons and giving a celebratory first pump.
Ahmed Ajtebi will be aboard the 6-year-old Dubawi horse for this year's Al Maktoum Challenge as his mount starts from post five in his first race since a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Coral Eclipse (Eng-I) in July at Sandown. He is 6-1 on the morning line.
Trainer Mahood Al Zarooni said earlier this year that Monterosso has had a good break and only needs the one race on Super Saturday to be ready for his ultimate goal, the 2013 World Cup.
Godolphin also will send out Hunter's Light (7-2), winner of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (UAE-II) Feb. 7 over Zabeel Racing International's Surfer (15-1), who also is entered.
Godolphin's Kassiano (15-1) has been one of the most impressive horses at the Carnival thus far this season, winning three consecutive races, capped by a 6 1/2-length victory in a 2,200-meter (about 1 3/8 mile) handicap Feb. 14, after finishing second in his season debut at Meydan on Jan. 10.
Trainer Mike de Kock saddles Daddy Long Legs (12-1), who is seeking a first victory since winning the 2012 United Arab Emirates Derby (UAE-II), and 2011 Irish classic winner and U.S. grade I victor Treasure Beach (30-1), who was 10th behind Little Mike in the Breeders' Cup Turf after a runner-up finish to Point of Entry in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) in September at Belmont.
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