Saeed bin Suroor hopes Thunder Snow can take the first step towards the defence of his Dubai World Cup crown by going one better than 12 months ago in round three of the Al Maktoum Challenge at Meydan.
After signing off last year with a solid third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, the five-year-old will try to claim the fourth Group One victory of his career in the mile-and-a-quarter highlight of ‘Super Saturday’.
Bin Suroor said: “Thunder Snow is doing very good. We gave him a break after he ran in America, which was always the plan.
“He had a hard season last year, starting in Dubai in January and ending in America in November.
“The racing in America is completely different to Europe as they go a lot harder over there from a long way out.
“He finished second at Belmont and third at Churchill Downs and that showed what a tough horse he is.”
Although Bin Suroor reports Thunder Snow to have recovered from his exertions in America, he has warned that his globe-trotting star is likely to benefit from the outing.
He added: “We have taken him out to Meydan for his training and he has been working well and is in good form.
“He is looking good, but he will need the race and will improve for it.
“The Dubai World Cup is the main race for him, but we would like to see him run well on Saturday. He should be spot on for the Dubai World Cup after Saturday.”
Among those lining up against Thunder Snow is the Charlie Appleby-trained Nordic Lights, who will be looking to follow up his last-time-out turf victory at the track when making his debut on the dirt.
Also notable is the presence of Gronkowski, runner-up to American Triple Crown hero Justify in last year’s Belmont Stakes.
Plenty of attention will surround crack sprinter Blue Point in the six-furlong Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint.
The Charlie Appleby-trained five-year-old starred last season with victory in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and was third in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York.
Those victories in Europe came after an unfortunate experience on World Cup night, when he was withdrawn at the start from the Al Quoz Sprint.
Appleby’s charge was an easy winner of a five-furlong Group Two at the track last month, and runs this weekend in preparation for another attempt on the Al Quoz.
The Newmarket trainer said: “He was impressive last time. We are stepping back up to six furlongs and people ask what his best trip is, but he is the track-record holder over five and six furlongs at Ascot.
“He came out of that last race well and is going into this race in good order. He is pretty much confirmed for the Al Quoz, but he needs to be winning this.
“I said before his last race that I had left a bit on him, so that race should put him spot on.
“Dubai World Cup night is not for another three weeks and we felt this run would do him no harm.”
Dream Castle will bid for a first Group One win in the Jebel Hatta over nine furlongs.
The five-year-old finished fifth in the 2000 Guineas two years ago, but failed to really build on that until this winter, when a switch to nine furlongs has seen him win at Group Two and three level.
Bin Suroor said: “The horse had a setback after Dubai last year, so we gave him a break.
“He does look like a very nice horse now and has improved every race this year. We have changed the trip for him and that has made a big difference.
“He seems better over the nine furlongs, although a mile and a quarter shouldn’t be a problem.
“The Jebel Hatta is another big step forward, but the horse is working well which is good to see.”
Appleby saddles four of the 10-runner field with pick of them on jockey bookings appearing to be Wootton, who is the mount of William Buick.
Appleby said: “He is a horse that pleased me on his first start in the Zabeel Mile. He met a bit of trouble in running, but he finished the race strongly. I can’t see any negatives and William has chosen him.
“The extra furlong is a question mark, but on the evidence of his last run it looks like he should appreciate it. We got him at the back end of the year and Dubai was always the plan.”
Loxley drops back in distance having last been seen over 10 furlongs, while Blair House tries his luck again for Appleby after winning the race last year.
He added: “I don’t think it will be too sharp for Loxley. Dropping back to nine furlongs doesn’t worry me. I think he is a proper 10-furlong horse, but nine is within his realm.
“I still feel there is a bit of improvement there and we are looking towards the Dubai Turf for him. He is straightforward and has done everything we have asked of him.
“I was pleased with Blair House’s first start back in the UAE and that has just taken the freshness off him. He is a bit of a nightmare to ride as you have to ride him with luck and wait for the gaps to appear.”
Appleby also fields First Contact and added: “He is not just there to make up the numbers, despite his price – he is there on his own merits. He lost his position at the wrong part of the race last time but he does not look out of place.”
Richard Fahey fields Forest Ranger, but believes he may need the outing.
Fahey said: “We are very happy with Forest Ranger and we are trying to get him to Dubai World Cup night.
“We have got him fairly straight, but the race will put him right. I’d be very comfortable where we are with him.
“His work is very good. He always runs well first time as and he has won first time out for the last three seasons, although it is a Group One this time.”
Appleby takes the wraps off last year’s St Leger fifth Old Persian in the 12-furlong Dubai City of Gold.
He said: “Old Persian is a dual Group Two winner having won the Great Voltigeur and King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.
“We stepped him up to a mile and three-quarters in the St Leger and he blatantly didn’t stay. A mile and a half looks his trip.
“He is in great nick and is a horse we are looking at the Sheema Classic with, so Saturday is not the ultimate goal.
“If he brings his A game – even though he will improve from whatever he does on Saturday – he will be hard to beat.”
Appleby also saddles Spotify, while Charlie Fellowes runs last year’s Melbourne Cup third Prince of Arran.
Fellowes said: “A mile and a half round here will be fine, although it looks a tough race. I think he is pretty fit enough to run a big race, but he will improve for the run as we have one eye on the Dubai Gold Cup.
“He is a different horse this year – last year he had no confidence, whereas now his confidence is sky high and he thinks he is the business. He is much happier now.
“Oisin (Murphy) has ridden him before so he knows him relatively well and you could not have a jockey in better form than him.”