Throughout its 10-year history, the $2 million U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) has been dominated by South African trainer Mike de Kock and Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor. This ironclad trend from old Nad al Sheba carried over into Saturday's first running at Meydan, as de Kock's highly-regarded pair of MUSIR (Redoute's Choice) and Raihana (Elusive Quality) overpowered Godolphin's Mendip (Harlan's Holiday) in the stretch. Confidently handled by Christophe Soumillon, favored Musir produced a last-to-first rally to win a shade cozily from Raihana.
The top two finishers are both Australian-breds, and thus four-year-olds by Northern Hemisphere reckoning. Mendip is a Kentucky-bred three-year-old nominated to the American Triple Crown.
Honored as the champion juvenile in South Africa, Musir was last seen crushing his rivals by 3 1/4 lengths in the February 18 U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas (UAE-G3), the first jewel of the Dubai Triple Crown. He skipped the middle leg, the March 4 Al Bastakiya, leaving the door open for Mendip to win handsomely. The stage was then set for their clash in the U.A.E. Derby, the final Dubai classic.
As expected, Della Barba (Della Francesca) and Timely Jazz (Noverre) flashed early speed, but it was another de Kock entrant, Solid Choice (Redoute's Choice), who hustled to the front around the first turn. Solid Choice sprinted clear to ensure a genuine tempo, while Mendip and Raihana were reserved well off the pace, and Musir was biding his time in an unhurried last in the 14-horse field.
The principals all began to improve their positions on the far turn. Unfortunately, Timely Jazz went wrong suddenly and was pulled up, forcing Mendip to alter course abruptly around him. Raihana made good-looking progress wider out, but Musir was traveling ominously well among rivals.
Straightening into the stretch, Mendip and Raihana commenced their battle for supremacy. Musir adroitly angled to the inside of Mendip, and employing his trademark turn of foot, blazed to the lead. From that point, all Soumillon had to do was show him the whip as his mount was much the best by 1 3/4 lengths. Musir negotiated about 1 3/16 miles on the Tapeta in 1:57 2/5.
De Kock was winning his fifth U.A.E. Derby, having previously saddled Victory Moon (2003), Lundy's Liability (Brz) (2004), Asiatic Boy (Arg) (2007) and Honour Devil (Arg) (2008).
"I was on a horse with huge potential but who was carrying a lot of weight compared to the others and who was going over this distance for the first time," Soumillon said. "The race worked out for me as I was able to sit behind the good horses and he proved himself very courageous in the straight. He had to go through the gap and finished like a really good horse."
Raihana dug down deep to best the previously undefeated Mendip for runner-up honors by 1 1/4 lengths.
"What can I say. Absolutely brilliant," jockey Kevin Shea said of the runner-up. "She traveled well. I'm very happy. I thought I was going to win but not against Musir."
Mendip had 2 1/4 lengths to spare over fourth-place finisher Enak (Orpen). Frozen Power (Oasis Dream [GB]), Siyaadah (Shamardal), Oroveso (Fahim [GB]), Della Barba, Izaaj (Giant's Causeway), Makaanah (Race Leader), Uncle Tom (First American), Mr. Crazy Boy (Numerous) and Solid Choice completed the order of finish.
Musir, a homebred campaigned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, now sports a sterling mark of 6-5-1-0, $1,427,301.
"It's a fantastic result for Sheikh Mohammed (bin Khalifa Al Maktoum), first and second and he bred them himself," de Kock said. "It's huge. I was never worried during the race. I said before that this was a very very good horse and I hope he'll go very well in Australia. He now knows exactly what to do in the race."
A debut winner at Clairwood last May, Musir suffered his only loss so far when a barnstorming second to Solid Choice next time out at the same course. He sealed his divisional championship with a 3 1/2-length coup in the July 4 Golden Horseshoe S. (SAf-G1) at Greyville. Musir did not reappear until February 4 at Meydan, taking a conditions race dubbed the U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas Trial.
Musir is out of the stakes-placed Encosta de Lago mare Dizzy de Lago, and he hails from the family of Japanese champion and emerging young sire King Kamehameha (Kingmambo). Further back, this is the same female line as multiple Grade/Group 1 winner Alwuhush (Nureyev).