After the fourth race on Super Saturday last year, Dutch jockey Adrie de Vries was singing the praises of Salute The Soldier after the pair pounced to stylishly win the G3 Burj Nahaar (1600m, dirt). This Saturday, De Vries will be hoping to display equal verbal enthusiasm after the Sepoy gelding competes for an even more prestigious prize in the sixth race on Meydan’s 2021 Super Saturday card (6 March) – the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 (2000m, dirt) – a lead-up to the Dubai World Cup (2000m, dirt) itself.
Another sparkling performance on the Meydan dirt occurred when this versatile and enthusiastic six-year-old gelding – also with a great talent on the turf – moved up to 1900m to plunder last month’s Al Maktoum Challenge R2. There he showed enough pace to lie close-up in a G2 encounter that was conducted at a fiendish gallop and, though sectional times inevitably revealed slowing late fractions, he bravely fended off Saturday’s smart rival Thegreatcollection.
Trainer Fawzi Nass will probably be hoping for a more modest early speed battle as Salute The Soldier encounters 2000m for the first time, but De Vries remains extremely positive about this apparently still improving seven-time winner: “What I love about him is that he can take a breather and then prick his ears and kick on again.”
His rating of 113 gives him a technical edge on the field but the opposition is fierce, including the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Dubai Mirage – second in both Meydan starts this year and the mount of Frankie Dettori. With current travel restrictions the veteran superstar rider is spending the whole 2021 World Cup Carnival in Dubai and has already booted home six winners, including a number of exciting and perfectly-timed late winning surges.
However, facts and figures suggest that bigger threats to Salute The Soldier may come from candidates such as Hypothetical, Firnas or even Tailor’s Row, all trained by Salem bin Ghadayer who has a stunning record in this race having won three of the last four editions. Mickael Barzalona rode all three of those Al Maktoum Challenge winners and this time he will be aboard Hypothetical – who needs to prove himself over 2000m but did survive a wide trip to win a 1600m handicap at Meydan last month.
And, Bin Ghadayer doesn’t seem to be dismissing the prospects of Firnas or Tailor’s Row.
Of Firnas the Dubai trainer said: “He’s lightly raced, he has thrived this season and who knows where his improvement will stop?”
While, Tailors Row, who started his career in lowly company and has shown his best form at other United Arab Emirates courses may be considered an outsider of the field, Bin Ghadayer remains enthusiastic over the massive headway the gelding has made during his career, describing him as “an amazing horse.”
Since 2017 Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby has enjoyed an approximately 27% winning strike-rate at Meydan and Al Suhail must have decent chance of enhancing that terrific percentage in the other G1 event on the card – the Jebel Hatta over 1800m on the turf. The Dubawi colt hasn’t been seen since powering six lengths clear of his rivals in a 1600m Listed race at Newmarket last July but has been the subject of positive gallops reports.