Dave Harmon

Nine Square Off in Maktoum Challenge Round 2

Al Shemali heads a field of nine in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (UAE-III).

Al Shemali, the upset winner of the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-IT) last year, is set to make his seasonal debut in the $200,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2-Sponsored by Etisalat (UAE-III) at Meydan Racecourse Feb. 3. The Al Maktoum Challenge is one of three stakes races that will share the spotlight on the fourth night of the 2011 Dubai Carnival.

The 9 1/2-furlong contest is the second in the ‘Challenge’ series that serve as preps for the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) to be run on Mar. 26. Although Mendip, the winner of the first leg of the series, is bypassing this race to wait for Round 3 next month, the race still brings together an intriguing field of nine, headlined by five group/grade I winners.

North American racing fans should be familiar with two of the runners, Crowded House and Gitano Hernando. Crowded House, a 5-year-old son of Rainbow Quest, captured the 2008 Racing Post Trophy (Eng-I) over fellow group I winner, Jukebox Jury. Winless in 12 starts since then, Crowded House now is based in California with trainer Ben Cecil. His best performance since the transfer was a strong second to Richard's Kid  in the 2010 Pacific Classic Presented by TVG (gr. I). Crowded House appears to have a strong propensity for synthetic racing surfaces, especially the Tapeta at Meydan, where he finished second twice in stakes races last year.

Ryan Moore will have the mount.

Team Valor and Gary Barber’s Gitano Hernando will be making his first start since finishing a decent fourth to Twice Over in the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes (Eng-I) in October. A 5-year-old horse by Hernando, Gitano Hernando made a splash in his U.S. debut when he got up in the final strides to take the 2009 Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) over Colonel John.

Trainer Marco Botti is plotting a slightly different strategy for Gitano Hernando’s Dubai World Cup try this year, wintering the horse in Dubai for the full racing season instead of just shipping him in for the World Cup. In 2010, Gitano Hernando finished sixth in the World Cup after capturing the listed Winter Derby Trial Stakes at Lingfield. Weichong Marwing will be aboard for the first time.

Dismissed at odds of 40-1, Al Shemali stormed home to take the 2010 Dubai Duty Free (UAE-IT) by 1 1/2 lengths over a quality field that included Take The Points, The Usual Q.T., Good Ba Ba and Presvis. In his lone start since then, the 7-year-old finished a strong third to Lizard's Desire and Gloria De Campeao in the Singapore Airlines International Cup (Sin-I). Regular partner Royston Ffrench will once again have the mount.

Bold Silvano hails from the powerful barn of Mike de Kock. A multiple stakes winner in his native South Africa, Bold Silvano capped off his 2010 season with an impressive victory in the Vodacom Durban July (SAf-I). Christophe Soumillon picks up the mount.

Trainer Pascal Bary sends out the fifth group I winner in the race, Interaction. Winner of both the Clasico Carlos Pelligrini (Arg-IT) and the Gran Premio Clasico Jockey Club (Arg-IT) in Argentina, Interaction will look to improve off of his dull seventh-place finish in his lone start in France last September. Christophe Lemaire will ride.

The field is rounded out by Godolphin’s Spring Of Fame, stakes winner My Indy, and outsiders Silverside and Trois Rois.

Al Shindagha Sprint and UAE 1000 Guineas on Undercard

Mike de Kock’s Our Giant heads a wide open field of 12 in the other group race on the card, the $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint Sponsored by Etisalat (UAE-III). A son of Giant's Causeway , Our Giant is a group I winning sprinter in his native South Africa. He enters the race off of a strong win in a six-furlong conditions race at Meydan on Jan. 13.

Another to watch is Sangaree, a half-brother to Congaree  who will be making his first start for Godolphin. The son of Awesome Again  was transferred from trainer Bob Baffert to Saeed bin Suroor last fall.

The top finishers from the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial Sponsored by Longines will once again do battle in the $250,000 UAE 1000 Guineas Sponsored by Etisalat. Once again, Mike de Kock will have a loaded hand, with Mahbooba, Reem, and Empire Rose representing the trainer. All three fillies are owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum.

Trainer Herman Brown sends out the fourth-place finisher from the Trial, Chocolicious. A 4-year-old daughter of Kahal, Chocolicious captured the Allen Robertson Challenge (SAf-I) last May. Ryan Moore will ride.