The most anticipated race of the season thus far is upon UAE racing fans: Muntazah versus North America in the G2 $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 on Thursday at Meydan.
The two Dubawi-sired dominators — and Dubai’s best milers — met once before, in last season’s Round 1, with a below-fitness Muntazah finishing well behind a romping North America.
Standing at nearly 17 hands, North America towered over his rivals on the track that day, winning by nine lengths and eclipsing both the stakes and 1600m track record with a mark of 1:35.88.
A sharper Muntazah, who is owned by Sheikh Hamdan and trained by Doug Watson, would go on to hammer a similar field by 4¼ lengths in the G3 Firebreak five weeks later, four weeks before smashing North America’s aforementioned mark with a ten-length win in Super Saturday’s G3 Burj Nahaar in 1:34.99.
Meanwhile, Satish Seemar-conditioned North America stretched out to win the 1900m G2 Al Maktoum Challenge R2 easily, but both horses were subsequently past their best on World Cup day at the end of March, when Muntazah was third in the G2 Godolphin Mile and North America faded to seventh as second favourite in the Dubai World Cup.
This season, both will make their 2020 debuts in Round 1, with North America officially rated 118 and Muntazah at 116. On Tuesday morning, they drew eyebrow-raising bookend barriers, with Muntazah in post one and North America outside in the eight-hole.
“It’s not an ideal draw,” Seemar said. “But I do know he will give it his best. You have two speed horses inside of him with Muntazah and [2018 Godolphin Mile winner] Heavy Metal and, if he breaks on top, he should be alright.
“He’s had that experience before. It’s hard to say what will happen. You can look at it two ways. Either he breaks and jumps out well, takes his spot and wins — or it doesn’t work out. [Muntazah] has the [better] draw and a straight-away advantage, so he is the one to beat, but there’s always a scenario that will change as the race happens.”
Assistant trainer Bhupat Seemar expressed confidence in how the lightly raced 8-year-old has been preparing. “All is going well with him. We kind of followed the same route as last year and the year before; the proven track and path. He’s doing really well and training the way you want to see. He just doesn’t do much at home, so he’s like Reynaldothewizard was — they keep it all for the racetrack. He’s healthy and looking well and I think he’ll be fit enough to run well in Round 1.”