By Geoffrey Riddle www.thenational.ae
Newmarket // The Future Champions Day card was sponsored entirely by Dubai on Saturday, but it was Qatar that muscled in on the action when Strong Suit won the Burj Khalifa Challenge Stakes to set up a trip to next month’s Breeders’ Cup meeting.
The three-year-old colt, owned by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, took the Group 2 contest in commanding style and will be sent to Churchill Downs by the trainer Richard Hannon in a bid to deny Goldikova a historic fourth victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Goldikova has held a firm grip over the mile division for the past three years, beating Hannon’s Paco Boy and Dick Turpin a total of six times combined.
Hannon finally got the measure of the legendary mare when Canford Cliffs finished a length ahead at Royal Ascot in June and, after the defeat to Dream Ahead at Longchamp last weekend, her reputation is beginning to tarnish.
Goldikova beat Paco Boy into fourth around the tight bend of Churchill Downs last year, but Richard Hannon Jr, the trainer’s son, believed their colt had the right blend of talent and composure to prevail back at Louisville on November 5.
“This horse would go around that bend and enjoy it,” said Richard Hannon Jr. “He’s not as difficult as Paco Boy. He’s well-balanced and this horse has more speed and it should suit him a lot better.
“Goldikova’s still a good filly but is getting a little older now.”
Strong Suit gave weight away to his eight rivals, including Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s Maqaasid, who looked to challenge with a furlong to go. Strong Suit was galvanised by Richard Hughes, however, and strode out purposefully to win by four-and-a-half lengths from Chachamaidee, who nosed ahead of Maqaasid.
Strong Suit dipped a quarter of a second under the race standard time but the son of Rahy is yet to win at the highest level after three attempts. It is in marked contrast to Goldikova’s 14 Group 1 victories, although there is promise that he might win one before retirement at the end of the season as Rahy sired the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Hawksley Hill.
“It would be a fairy tale if Goldikova won again, and an even bigger fairy tale if Strong Suit won,” said David Redvers, Sheikh Fahad’s racing and bloodstock manager.
Strong Suit could also be joined in Kentucky by Crusade, Aidan O’Brien’s juvenile, who won the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, sponsored by Emaar.
With 16 runners jostling for position across Newmarket’s wide expanse, it was the biggest line-up in the six-furlong sprint for 20 years.
Crusade was always up with the pace under Seamus Heffernan and the pair kicked clear up the hill to hold off Lilbourne Lad, who was supplemented earlier in the week for £15,000 (Dh85,700). Reply, also trained by O’Brien, was third, while Caspar Netscher ran an eye-catching race from the back to take fifth.
Crusade finished a tired fourth over seven furlongs in a Group 3 at Newmarket in September but O’Brien confirmed that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over an extended mile, rather than the turf race, would be considered carefully. More info