INTRO:

SELECTIONS AT BOTTOM IF YOU WANT TO SKIP THE WAFFLE! :)

First a big thank you for all the kind comments last week on twitter and elsewhere, and a record number of blog hits too. Without your visits there would be no blog - and whether occasional, regular or new visitor you are all of course equally appreciated! Thanks.

A winning Nap always helps, and last week saw the blog get off to a  decent start with two of the three main selections winning. Nap selection Faulkner took the plaudits at a nice price, despite missing the break and almost running up the backside of a rival a furlong and a half out, but switched and showed that trademark turn of foot to win we have already come to expect. I thought in the last three or four strides the horse just looked to be coming to the end of his stamina, but connections know better than me and there is talk of a step up to a mile. 

Surfer was a convincing winner, having a lovely rail trip and really only had to see off one challenger in the straight before asserting, handling the surface well and scoring decisively. So it was left to Tamaathul to disappoint, fading very tamely in the home straight.

Do Skip this next section if you don't want to read my thoughts on the surface :)

But it wasn't all about the day. Mike De Kock has since come out and indicated that few of his 50 horses will handle dirt, and he doesn't envisage having many runners on it in future, outside of the Classics (and Classic trials). 

To some that will sound like sour grapes and/or a rant after a disappointing opening day for the stable with only one horse running anywhere near its best, and given we have only had three dirt races at the Carnival, rather knee jerk to say the least.In one sense all he has said is that most of his horses are not suited and won't run on it. End of?

Well, he did make conciliatory noises about badly needing some rain and the surface needing time to bed in, (and suggested it was kind to horses that worked hard on the gallops) but we are talking Dubai here, and while the showers/rains will arrive in their own time, so will the sandstorms and the heat, often approaching 40C is a fact of life.

And for such a high profile trainer to make these comments so early in the piece is genuinely concerning and can't just be glossed over.
The point many have missed, (or one suspects, chosen to miss) is that De Kock has influence.
  
Bizarrely, collective heads in the sand (Sic!) thus far on twitter from many Carnival followers.
 
De Kock had 11 runners on day one and has traditionally posed the biggest challenge to the local dynasties. The Carnival needs him firing on both surfaces, and I'm certain he won't be the only one to feel this way.
Other Carnival 'visitors' will take heed of such a respected figure and the 50 entries for five dirt races this week, with not one of the five races reaching the safety limit (74 in total), does not appear to augur particularly well.

You only need to look at 118 rated Outstrip, who ran abysmally and appeared to loathe every second of the race (reported to be working well on it in the mornings, a very different thing of course) to see that even the best horses can be made fools of, something that was rare on Tapeta.

While the local yards are hardly likely to make 'pronouncements' a la De Kock, (indeed statements of 'loyalty' from the local fraternity would be no surprise) I suspect many horses will have a maximum of one or two attempts on it and quietly revert to grass.  The consequence of course is that the turf races will bulge with entries and the Dirt races will, as this week, have less than full fields and end up the poor relation.

On the plus side we have the first Irish runners on dirt this week, with Micky Halford running three.

It's way too early to write the surface off, but even the most optimistic supporters of the change should admit the initial portents are less than positive. So, let's hope for significant improvement over the Carnival season, because if not it might be a case of repent at leisure for those who hastily championed the change from Tapeta, and if the surface doesn't improve this spring (there's still time!) then I'd give it 2-3 years maximum, depending only on the degree of stubbornness of those who promoted the change. 

There simply may not turn out to be enough horses/pedigrees that act on it to make it worthwhile. Therein is the bottom line.

We shall see!

15 JANUARY.

Anyway on to the day's seven race card, which includes a lower level than usual handicap. Last week the blog put up three bets and it's a similar scenario this time round.

4.30.
The obvious bet on the card is MAFTOOL. A Group Three winner, last seen when fifth in the Dewhurst, (totally unsuited by the soft ground).. Clear on ratings here, and any odds against should be taken. The All-American bred colt, by Hard Spun, has a convincing dirt pedigree, and looks to have an outstanding chance.
 
He does face a raft of likely improvers, and hopefully that will persuade the bookmakers to offer a backable price. Volatile looks the obvious danger. Ran in the Cornwallis over 5f on second start, same day as the Dewhurst, and was a fine third for one so inexperienced and with the step up to 7f a natural progression, (though a risk could be keen, up 2f on third start to a race with a very different tempo) can give the selection plenty to do. Has won on dirt, too, albeit at a modest level in Sweden.

The selection's stable though had a double on the opening night, and therefore Maftool gets the vote.
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The others have to improve to get near this pair. Ajwad has form on dirt but is classified as a 4yo despite being under 4 months older than the selection,  and has to concede 8lbs to the principals as a result, a tough ask.

5.05.

This 10f event is run on turf, and is a very decent contest so early in the Carnival. Star Empire is a standing dish round here, and though possibly more effective over further, has run really well at this trip too and is expected to make the frame again, while Mr Pommeroy is a really intriguing runner. A prominent racer, was a fine sixth in the French Derby, before being third, beaten less than a length, to Master Carpenter in a Group Three. Given an opening mark of 108 here, has the potential to improve past these.
  
Elleval progressed last year, ending up running a stormer on Finals night when behind Variety Club in a fast time. Not seen for a while though and can be a buzzy type when fresh, and probably best off an end to end gallop. All things considered though, I expect the horse to progress from this run.
  
So the vote goes to HAAFAGUINEA. Beat all bar CatOMountain on reappearance last year, a task that subsequently proved to have been impossible, conceding 2lbs to a 'good thing' that day. Next time just failed to run down Saxo Jack, and not seen since apart from one appearance at Epsom in the summer. Looks a winner in waiting and represents an in form stable.

3.20

A very tightly knit handicap. Famous Kid's progressive profile took a knock at Newmarket last time, but can be expected to be a force this Carnival if forgiven one bad run. Beyond Empire and Duke Derby are hard to weigh up, though the former is proven on the surface, while Pinzolo has been suited by a soft surface and isn't certain to handle this, so Storm Belt is of more interest.
Bolted up on reappearance from an in form horse, and was second last time in a decent race. must go well, but only a nostril behind when second and third to Sanshaawes last year was the American bred ENERGIA DAVOS, (NAP) e/w, and the latter has a 5lbs pull here which can prove decisive.

Marco Botti's charge has been in solid form at Lingfield and with the yard now in excellent form, having been struggling before Christmas, looks set to run a big race.

OTHER RACES IN BRIEF.

These wouldn't Qualify as bets for me, more a case of observations!

2.45 The 1,000 Guineas trial looks a guessing game as to fitness/progression of three local runners, Local Time, Good Place and Comedy Queen. Mike De Kock is represented by the 4yo Ad Idem, who has to concede 8lbs, a harsh ask for a November foal. Would be no surprise to see the Godolphin Blue fill the first three places, but I've no strong opinion in which order. GOOD PLACE has at least been tried in a Group One so she'd be the tentative nominee.

3.55. An 80-93 race presumably to offer horses a more natural progression to full Carnival status. Not an enticing betting heat. As a recent Jebel Ali winner, so race fit and with a good chance of handling the surface, and only 4lbs higher, ASATIR should go close.

5.40

Another race where a Jebel specialist and now prolific sprinter MUARRAB looks to have an excellent chance. It's a massive step up (and slight surprise to see him run here given the opportunities nowadays at his specialist Jebel) to take on established Group performers such as ReynaldotheWizard and Russian Soul. Both lack a recent run though, so Muarrab might get away with it, but again not a strong pick.

6.15

A rancid race from a betting point of view, which revolves around the fitness of Slumdogmillionaire, returning from a 656 day break. Doug Watson's team are in great form and the horse did win its last two events. Add in a 3.25L defeat by Variety Club, and it's obvious the talent is there. The danger might be Free Wheeling for the in form stable of Saeed Bin Suroor (which could have a simply huge day for anyone interested in stable multiple bets) but any number of others have enough bits of form to suggest they can go close. 
If i was having a bet SLUMDOGMILLIONAIRE e/w would be the one.

BETS: Written before markets formed. Will update with prices when markets appear.
Also last week even though I didn't mention Safety Check in the narrative, when i saw 14/1 i mentioned it on twitter, where I have the handle @jimgilch .

A fairly mixed priced group this week, nothing as exciting as Faulkner in terms of likely progressiveness, (though will be interesting to see if Muarrab can take another step forward on this surface) hopefully once the village 'Guessers' price up, something unexpectedly tasty will emerge which I can add here! :) 

Singles. E/W Treble:

3.20 Energia Davos e/w 10/1 Paddy Power NAP
4.30 Maftool EVENS Skybet NB
5.05 HaafaGuinea 7/2 Hills EDIT: 7/2 is exactly where i had this horse but if you can get the 10/1 Mr Pommeroy with Ladbrokes, that's a ludicrous price and worth an e/w saver.

Thanks as always for looking in, genuinely appreciated.

PS: Just for clarity, I won't be blogging the Meydan Saturday 'undercard', though back on turf after hating the dirt, Almoonqith in the 1.20 should be a worthwhile e/w price.