The biggest question mark for Hong Kong-trained sprinters Fabulous One and Dundonnell isn’t about class but whether or not they handle the tricky sand surface at Meydan as they kick-off campaigns on Saturday in Dubai.
The duo contest The Track Meydan Golf for horses rated 95 to 108 on Saturday night, with the competitive 1,200m handicap the first chance for both to test a terrain that not all horses adapt to.
Fabulous One and Dundonnell both come off strong runs on the Sha Tin dirt, which is an American-style dirt track, but that form can mean nothing on a far looser and sandier course proper at Meydan.
“It’s all about handling the track and that surface,” Dundonnell’s trainer Caspar Fownes after arriving in Dubai on Thursday morning. “The horse looks great, he is well and we know he is good enough but we won’t really know until Saturday if he handles it or not.”
Likewise, trainer Chris So Wai-yin has Fabulous One set for a first overseas start after a decent debut on the Sha Tin dirt last time out when a close fourth – just a head behind winner Eroico, and inches behind Dundonell – in a tight finish.
Making Fabulous One’s effort even more meritorious was the fact he was first-up and hadn’t raced in over six months while Dundonnell flashed home for second to be beaten a short-head into third.
Since the new surface replaced Meydan’s more traditional dirt track two seasons ago, there have been encouraging examples of Hong Kong horses bringing their best form to the carnival, with Rich Tapestry successful on the sand last season after running well, along with Super Jockey, in the 2015 Group One Golden Shaheen.
That is the same race Dundonnell and Fabulous One are being aimed at in late March and if pedigree is anything to go by then adapting to the sand shouldn’t be a problem either. Dundonnell is American-bred while Fabulous One is by Hong Kong’s most noted dirt track sire Elusive City.
Relatively lofty ratings mean the pair will carry big weights in what looks a decent test of credentials with Dundonnell (Christophe Soumillon) given top weight of 60kg (132 pounds) and Fabulous One (Oisin Murphy) has 58.5kg (129 pounds).
Sheikh Hamdan’s seven-year-old Shaishee (Jim Crowley) has been identified as a danger by most but perhaps the biggest threat could come from another Asian visitor, with Korean sprinter Main Stay (Patrick Cosgrave) finding some form already with a strong first-up effort.
Earlier in the day at Sha Tin, punters will face a somewhat uninspiring card compared to some recent high-quality racing.
Still, there are 10 winners to find and Baba Mama (Derek Leung Ka-chun) looks a great chance with bottom weight in the Sam Shing Handicap.
Baba Mama was thrown in the deep end ratings-wise when Peter Ho Leung entered his four-year-old in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, and now the gelding goes back into Class Two.
This race isn’t easy, but as Western Express showed last Sunday with his barnstorming win, from a ratings standpoint some Class Two races may not have the overall quality of the Classic Mile.
Baba Mama was given little chance in the race, sent out at 77-1 against the likes of Rapper Dragon, but after being taken back from a wide gate he hit the line in a final 400m split of 22.23 seconds, fourth best in the race.
Leading jockey Joao Moreira has his usual book of strong rides but it is early in the day that he could have his best chance when Happy Happy Star heads out for his second start in the Lung Yat Handicap.
Happy Happy Star had to work hard from a wide barrier on debut to sit outside Daring Fit, who proved too strong in the finish.
There was a big gap to the rest and Daring Fit has since given the form a boost with another strong win.
This time Happy Happy Star shouldn’t find it as difficult to find the lead and with the rail in the C+3 position, he should be able to control proceedings from in front.