South African champion Soft Falling Rain extended his unbeaten sequence to six in Thursday's Group 3, $250,000 U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas at Meydan, while leading Godolphin hope Fortify could do no better than sixth.
Soft Falling Rain was handing trainer Mike de Kock a record fifth win in the Guineas. The National Assembly colt followed a well-worn path: like de Kock's most recent winners, Asiatic Boy (2007), Honour Devil (2008) and Musir (2010), he captured a seven-furlong conditions race -- now dubbed the U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas Trial -- in his local debut on January 17.
Once more guided by Paul Hanagan, Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum's retained rider, Soft Falling Rain took a strong hold as he chased the pace set by Deauville Prince. Fortify, who was last seen finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was biding his time farther back.
As Soft Falling Rain ranged up boldly turning for home, Fortify also improved his position in the second flight. But Fortify's move turned out to be brief, and he failed to factor in the stretch.
In contrast, Soft Falling Rain stormed to the front and kept on to score by 2 1/4 lengths. Making light of his 131-pound impost as a Southern Hemisphere-bred, he also scuttled any doubt about his ability to cope with the added furlong here, and finished the metric mile on Tapeta in a sharp 1:36 3/5. His time represents a new stakes record since its move to Meydan, smashing the old mark of 1:37 2/5 established by Musir.
Snowboarder, a stablemate of Fortify from the Mahmood al Zarooni yard, rallied best of all to grab second. De Kock's other runner, Zahee, was a one-paced third, and Fortify retreated to sixth in the eight-horse field.
Soft Falling Rain boosted his bankroll to $244,258 from his perfect six-for-six mark. His first four starts had come over the turf at Turffontein. After his 2 1/4-length maiden victory, the bay came right back to take a juvenile plate by 4 1/4 lengths, and captured his first stakes attempt in the Storm Bird, all going the same five-furlong distance. Soft Falling Rain wrapped up South African champion two-year-old honors with a 4 1/2-length demolition job in the Group 1 South African Nursery at about six furlongs on April 28.
Unlike de Kock's previous Guineas heroes, Soft Falling Rain is not certain to try the about 1 3/16 miles of the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby on March 30. His connections believe that the trip might be a bridge too far.
"He is a really nice horse and we will have to decide where he runs next," said Sheikh Hamdan, who was winning his first U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas. "This 1,600 meters really seems to suit him on this surface and we could stick to this trip. The U.A.E. Derby is possible, but he has a lot of speed.
"Wherever he runs here next, we are keen to take him to England and Royal Ascot would be a possibility for him."
"We were a bit concerned about his stamina (for the Guineas), de Kock said, "but he has seen it out well and we will have to think about his next race."
The Guineas was not a scoring race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but the U.A.E. Derby is part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, worth a windfall of 100 points to the winner.
Soft Falling Rain is not eligible for the Kentucky Derby, since he is a four-year-old by Northern Hemisphere reckoning.