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Ihtimal romps by record margin in UAE Oaks
Godolphin's Ihtimal, a dominant winner of the February 6 U.A.E. One Thousand Guineas, turned the classic double by an even more emphatic margin in Thursday's Group 3, $250,000 U.A.E. Oaks at Meydan. Asserting her superiority at the top of the stretch, the Saeed bin Suroor pupil widened her advantage to a record 10 lengths at the wire.
Ihtimal became the fourth Guineas heroine to follow up in the Oaks, emulating Satin Kiss (2005), Folk (2007) and Cocoa Beach (2008). Satin Kiss and Cocoa Beach were likewise trained by bin Suroor, who now boasts nine Oaks wins on his resume.
There was drama at the gate, as Magroora, one of a trio for Mike de Kock, acted up and had to be scratched. Once the Oaks field was sent on its way, Russian shipper Sign of Lucky strode forward to set the pace. Illuminating Dream advanced on the clubhouse turn and prompted the leader on the backstretch.
Ihtimal, who was tugging at Silvestre de Sousa early, was persuaded to bide her time just about midpack. But the class of the field continued to travel strongly throughout, and it was only a matter of when to turn her loose. Rounding the far turn, de Sousa let out a notch, and Ihtimal easily drew alongside Sign of Lucky and a hard-ridden Illuminating Dream.
Upon straightening into the stretch, Ihtimal lengthened stride, and the race was over. The daughter of Shamardal negotiated about 1 3/16 miles on Tapeta in 1:58.51, exactly equaling the stakes mark set by Khawlah in the 2011 Oaks.
Khawlah, yet another of bin Suroor's Oaks winners, went on to become the only filly to annex the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby. It is yet to be determined whether Ihtimal will bid to follow in her hoofsteps March 29.
"She has always been a real favorite and we must think about the U.A.E. Derby now," bin Suroor said.
When speaking to Godolphin.com, bin Suroor noted that Ihtimal could await classic glory in England.
"She could head for the U.A.E. Derby on World Cup night or go to Newmarket for the One Thousand Guineas (May 4)," the trainer said.
"That was very impressive," de Sousa said. "The pace was not very fast early on and she was a little bit keen but soon settled into a lovely rhythm. I did not want to get stuck in any traffic so was happy to be quite wide and she just took me to the front really traveling before quickening well.
"She's a lovely filly," the rider told the stable's website. "She's not very big when you look at her, but I can't describe how big an engine she has. It's a pleasure to ride a filly like that."
Feedyah, from the yard of fellow Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby, was best of the rest. De Kock's Mensoora checked in a further 1 1/2 lengths adrift in third, and stablemate Magrooma was the same distance back in fourth. More Aspen, Sign of Lucky, Letterfromamerica and Illuminating Dream completed the order of finish.
Ihtimal's scorecard reads 8-4-2-2. The bay progressed over her juvenile campaign, and ended 2013 as one of the top performers in her division in England. Runner-up to Kiyoshi in her premiere at Goodwood last May, she missed by a neck in early June at Newmarket. Ihtimal tried males in the Chesham at Royal Ascot, finishing a creditable third to Berkshire and Bunker. She broke her maiden with a 2 3/4-length score in the Sweet Solera back at Newmarket, and was equally convincing in the May Hill at Doncaster. Ihtimal concluded the season with a third to the ill-fated Chriselliam and to Rizeena in the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket.
Bred by Darley in Ireland, Ihtimal is the first registered foal from the winning Dubai Destination mare Eastern Joy, who is a half-sister to 2007 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) queen West Wind. Ihtimal's second dam, Group 2 victress Red Slippers, is in turn a full sister to Group 2 scorer Romanov and a half-sister to dual classic heroine Balanchine. Also in the family are multiple Group 1 star Saoirse Abu, Group 1 winner Art Connoisseur and Japanese Grade 2 victor Shonan Mighty.