Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter got the better of thrilling duel with stablemate Ispolini to make a winning return in the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan.
Cross Counter became the first British-trained horse in history to win the Flemington showpiece last November and despite having been off the track since, he was the 7-4 favourite for his Dubai debut in the hands of William Buick.
The four-year-old travelled powerfully in behind the pacesetters for much of the two-mile journey, but it clear he had a real fight on his hands when Ispolini – already a dual winner at this year’s Carnival – enjoyed a dream run up the rail under Brett Doyle rounding the home turn.
Charlie Appleby’s Godolphin pair settled down to fight it out and after a pulsating battle, it was Cross Counter who eventually came out on top by a length and a quarter.
Appleby said: “Obviously there was a little bit of pressure bringing the winner of a Melbourne Cup back from a break, but I’ve been very happy with all my team and I always felt whatever Cross Counter did tonight, there would be more improvement to come into the season.
“I see no reason why the Ascot Gold Cup won’t be on his agenda and I’m also delighted with Ispolini, who is also improving.”
Todd Pletcher’s American raider Coal Front (5-1) lunged late under Jose Ortiz to deny the front-running Heavy Metal a second successive win in the Godolphin Mile.
Ortiz went on to complete a double on board the Brendan Walsh-trained Plus Que Parfait, who was a shock 25-1 winner of the UAE Derby.
Appleby’s UAE Oaks heroine Divine Image, Aidan O’Brien’s Van Beethoven and the William Haggas-trained Jahbath – unbeaten on the all-weather in Britain – were all disappointing.
X Y Jet justified 7-4 favouritism in the Golden Shaheen, with the only European-trained runner – David Marnane’s Tato Key – never threatening to land a telling blow.
Winning trainer Jorge Navarro said: “The important thing was to keep my horse fresh for this one day. Coming into it he was really chilled – as cold as ice – and a very happy horse.
“You have to remember, he has lost twice by a bad nose in this race (beaten a head in 2018 and a neck in 2016), which makes winning it today so much more enjoyable.
“I’m very proud of him.”