Last Saturday’s Al Maktoum Challenge, a race designed as the perfect trial for the Dubai World Cup, was won impressively by a former Kiaran McLaughlin-trained son of A.P. Indy and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Round Pond. But, with Arrogate dominating the market, the horse remains an outsider for the big race on March 25. Using the tools available via the TRC Global Rankings algorithm, James Willoughby assesses the winner’s prospects.
Trial name: Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3
Our Grade: 2
Date: March 4, 2017
Winner: Long River
Winner Actual RPR: 112
Winning Trainer: Salem bin Ghadayer (TRC Global Ranking: #111)
Winning Jockey: Mickael Barzalona (#47)
Winning Owner: Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum (#133)
Winning Sire: A.P. Indy (#123)
The third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge is over the full Dubai World Cup distance and a Grade 1, so it is not surprising it has been a good guide to the big race itself. Bizarrely, however, the last two winners of both races – Godolphin stalwarts African Story and Prince Bishop – split their victories over two different seasons. For this reason, maybe Long River is one to note for the 2018 World Cup, rather than this season’s.
By then, Long River will be eight years old, but, as African Story and Prince Bishop proved, veteran status has been no bar to numerous horses in Dubai, presumably because the warm weather puts new life in tired legs. Whatever the reason, the son of top-class dirt horses A.P. Indy and Round Pond (the latter smashed up the field in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff) is much improved and has decent claims of running into a place on World Cup night, particularly if he gets the rail and the lead.
Though a 25-1 shot here with bookmakers in Britain, Long River’s success (see YouTube video above) was certainly no flash in the pan. Two starts ago, he delivered a huge effort in the first round of this series when his rider Mickael Barzalona got the fractions all wrong: Long River disputed a pace of 24.48 – 21.63 and still hung on for second. Those familiar with fractional times in the U.S. should realise here that the first of the two quarter-miles was measured without a run-up and is roughly two seconds faster pro-rated.
As poor as Barzalona was there, he was good here, steering Long River to the rail and the lead on a track that was playing towards those tactics on the day (all four dirt winners made all the running).
This time, the first two split times of 25.74 and 24.09 prove that the rider had learned from his previous profligacy. But it would be a slavish handicapper indeed who disregarded this performance on the basis of the presumed bias of the track for, as we have noted, this well-bred horse – third to Tonalist in the 2014 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont (when trained by Kiaran McLaughlin) – has an upward gradient to his form. Moreover, contrary to popular tendencies, it is perverse to systematically downrate any front-running winner on dirt, because early pace is the most successful run-style on dirt.
Long River’s trainer, Salem bin Ghadayer, has had sensational results from a very small team of horses and could be a global star in the making, if getting more stock.
In only his third season and barely 40 years old, he has improved horse after horse during the World Cup Carnival and also sent out Heavy Metal to win the G3 Burj Nahaar on this card.
These results helped him to a huge 25-point week-on-week gain in the TRC trainers’ standings (one of the biggest in the history of the rankings), and that sends him rocketing 222 places up the table to #111. He is now the fourth highest-ranked on the UAE trainers' list.
Bin Ghadayer has struck up a good partnership with Barzalona (who himself gained seven points last week, moving him up to 47 in the world jockeys’ standings), and this seems to be doing the pair of them a power of good. Certainly, the young French rider’s previous ponderous habits on the Dubai dirt seem like a thing of the past and he is riding superbly.
Long River has no shot to beat a peak form Arrogate in the World Cup, but he may do more than enough to prove this performance wasn’t a one-off. He defeated last year’s fourth, Special Fighter, by more than a length and this looks a good guide to his prospects.
Long River is still as big as 50-1 for the race with some British bookmakers. Arrogate is a best-priced 2-5.
James Willoughby’s previous Dubai World Cup trial assessment: February Stakes (Gold Dream)