Godolphin's Fortify is set to kick off his classic campaign in Thursday's Group 3, $250,000 U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas at Meydan, where he will clash with Mike de Kock's undefeated Soft Falling Rain.
Although not a scoring race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the metric mile test on the Tapeta serves as the first leg of the U.A.E. Triple Crown, which continues with the March 9 Al Bastakiya and culminates in the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby on March 30. The about 1 3/16-mile U.A.E. Derby, however, is part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, offering to the winner a treasure trove of 100 points toward the Kentucky Derby.
The U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas has long been penciled in for Fortify's reappearance. Originally based stateside with Kiaran McLaughlin, the well-bred son of Distorted Humor romped by 5 1/2 lengths in his career debut at Saratoga, then ran into eventual champion Shanghai Bobby in his three remaining starts. Fortify finished second in the Grade 2 Hopeful, third in the Grade 1 Champagne and fourth in the November 3 Breeders' Cup Juvenile when last seen in action.
Subsequently shipped to Dubai for the winter, Fortify will be making his first start for Mahmood al Zarooni, and his first try on a synthetic surface. But one thing is constant: he will once again find himself up against a champion, in this case, the South African Soft Falling Rain, who will try to give de Kock a record fifth win in this race.
Soft Falling Rain clinched champion two-year-old honors in his homeland after a perfect four-for-four season. The son of National Assembly looked every bit as impressive in his Dubai debut, leading every step of the way to win the Guineas Trial on January 17. Soft Falling Rain steps up another furlong in distance here, and as a Southern Hemisphere-bred, must concede 10 pounds to Fortify and the other, younger Northern Hemisphere sophomores.
De Kock has another Guineas hopeful in Zahee. A New Zealand-bred, Zahee was only fourth to Soft Falling Rain in the Trial.
Godolphin likewise has additional arrows in the quiver. Al Zarooni, who has sent out the last two Guineas winners, has another pair of possible runners in Snowboarder and Filfil, while his colleague Saeed bin Suroor has entered the filly Shuruq, runner-up in last Thursday's U.A.E. One Thousand Guineas.
Riding assignments, and post positions, will be announced when the field is finalized at Tuesday's declaration stage.