The Dubai World Cup Carnival continues to pick up pace and classy miler Benbatl tries dirt for the first time at Meydan on Thursday - Richard Mann previews the action.
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Benbatl is the star attraction at Meydan on Thursday when he makes the surprising switch to dirt in Round Two of the Al Maktoum Challenge.
A high-class miler on grass who claimed the Group One Dubai Turf at this meeting in 2018, Benbatl showcased all his old ability when trouncing a smart field in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket as recently as September before running out a similarly impressive victor when reappearing in Group Two company here a month ago.
Boasting an official of rating of 125, he will line up rated 5lb higher than former Jeremy Noseda-trained Gronkowski, with Kimbear the third-highest rated runner in the field with a mark of only 113.
Nevertheless, the switch to dirt will be a completely different test for Benbatl, particularly on such a demanding synthetic track at Meydan, though the fact he is a perennial fast starter who generally likes to make the running should be to his advantage.
It is worth remembering that trainer Saeed bin Suroor has overseen the brilliant dirt career enjoyed by Thunder Snow - himself a smart turf performer before switching surfaces - and with that in mind, there is every chance Benbatl could himself prove to be a success story on the dirt.
It will be fascinating to see how he fares but in Gronkowski he faces a hardened dirt campaigner who ran a personal best at this track when pushing the aforementioned Thunder Snow all the way in the Dubai World Cup last year; he will be no pushover.
The son of Lohnro has been well travelled in his relatively short career to date, starting out in Newmarket before enjoying a short spell in New York with Chad Brown and then joining Salem bin Ghadayer.
The five-year was under the tutelage of bin Ghadayer when going so close in the the big one back in March and while beaten on his return in December, one suspects connections are working back from World Cup night again.
He should be sharper still on Thursday and, along with Kimbear - winner of Round One of the Al Maktoum Challenge - should ensure this race is anything but a comfortable start to Benbatl's dirt career.
EKHTIYAAR will have to concede weight all round when he lines up in the Dubai Sprint but he looks capable of overcoming that burden following another stylish success over this course and distance last month.
An experiment on the dirt went badly wrong when he flopped in December but returned to grass last time, he travelled with all his usual zest before quickening away from Dream Today in the manner of an improving sprinter.
Ekhtiyaar was held in high regard long before former trainer Roger Varian opted to debut him at York back in 2016 and having landed a valuable pot at Newmarket's July meeting the following summer, it was no surprise to see connections keep him in training with a view to chasing the lucrative prize money on offer out in Dubai.
As ever, Doug Watson has proved to be the perfect handler to keep the son of Bated Breath sweet and having landed a good handicap here last winter, he was far from disgraced when running second to the brilliant Blue Point in Group Three company subsequently.
He looks well worth another crack at Group company before too long, particularly with Watson seemingly cajoling further improvement from him, but he should remain a potent force while still able to operate in handicaps and a 2lb rise in the weights is hardly severe given the manner of that recent success.
Like the selection, Roulston Scar got the better of Dream Today over this course and distance last time, making a successful start for new trainer Simon Crisford, and with so few miles on the clock, it is realistic to expect further improvement from a sprinter who appears to be developing all the time.
He gets a handy enough weight concession from Ekhtiyaar to suggest he can go close but his 6lb hike in the weights clearly leaves him with more to do and the Watson charge might just have too many guns at this stage of their respective careers.
As ever here, Godolphin look set to enjoy a good day and the opening Meydan Classic Trial sees Final Song switch back to turf following a her shock defeat in the UAE 1000 Guineas on dirt last time.
She had won well on that same surface previously but her strong turf form - the pick of which saw her finishing third to Raffle Prize at Royal Ascot last June - makes her the one to beat on paper here.
Nevertheless, she may not have as much in hand over WELL OF WISDOM as the figures suggest and I'm keen to bet that the latter can take his form to new heights now stepped up to a mile for the first time.
Charlie Appleby's colt is two from six already and the manner in which he landed the spoils in a 7f Listed event at Longchamp in July would indicate he is crying out for this longer trip, something that was again in evidence when he chased home leading English 2000 fancy Earthlight over 6f next time and when second in Group Three company in Germany on his final start of the season.
His earlier form ties in nicely with the likes of Temple Of Heaven and Fort Myers and with Appleby's string already up and running at the Carnival, Well Of Wisdom could prove too strong for Final Song late on.
The final race on the card, the Mubadala handicap, could be another Godolphin benefit and once again the Appleby stable can claim bragging rights over bin Suroor.
Major Partnership was a good winner for the latter on his Carnival return but a modest offering subsequently tips the scales in favour of BEYOND REASON.
Having only made it to the racetrack twice last summer, it would appear significant that connections have opted to persist with this son of Australia as a four-year-old and his reappearance third to Magic Lily in the Group Two Cape Verdi last time was clearly a big step in the right direction.
Winner at Group Three and Group Two level as a juvenile, he is a classy operator on his day and the way he ran on from the rear in taking fashion last time coupled with this drop in class makes makes him a bet at 7/4.
Posted at 1615 GMT on 05/02/20