Benbatl, trained by Saeed Bin Surour for Godolphin, faces a test for his World Cup credentials. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai Godolphin’s turf star Benbatl tackles dirt for the first time in 18 starts in Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge (G2) at Meydan on Thursday as he bids to prove his versatility and announce himself as a bona fide contender for the $12million Dubai World Cup (G1).

Animal Kingdom and California Chrome, both Dubai World Cup winners, have won on turf following dirt starts. Benbatl will be attempting to do the opposite, which can pose a greater challenge given the variables of the two surfaces.

However, it is hoped that the six-year-old son of top Darley sire Dubawi, whose offspring have proven themselves equally adept on dirt, can pass the litmus test with flying colours.

The switch to dirt is not the only challenge Benbatl confronts, but some strong opposition in the form of Gronkowski, narrow loser to Thunder Snow in last year’s Dubai World Cup and Kimbear, impressive winner of Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, two weeks ago.

Gronkowski finished third in that race run over 1,600-meters with first and second placed Military Law and Saltarin Dubai, also returning for Thursday’s 1,800m contest.

Benbatl’s famous handler, Saeed Bin Surour, is not opposed to taking risks and with the support and encouragement of Godolphin supremo, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, embarks on another adventure at his favourite race track.

“This is a test for him to see if he can handle the dirt,” said Bin Surour. “Sheikh Mohammed made the decision to run him and see if he’s going to like the dirt.

“He works very well on the all-weather Tapeta at Al Quoz (Godolphin’s Dubai headquarters), but that is Tapeta. On Thursday, it’ll be his first time on dirt, so we will see.”

“He needed his last race, (Singspiel Stakes) and has improved from that,” Bin Suroor continued. “That race was just to get him fit and he is ready to try the dirt.

“ There’s no excuse now that he’s had a run and is fit. He’s an easy horse to train; a proper horse who has won in England, Germany, Australia and Dubai. Just a class horse.”

Commenting on Kimbear’s chance of adding Round 2 to his opening win, trainer Doug Watson said: “He came out of his run in great shape and when I look back on his run in the Santa Anita Derby (in 2017), he didn’t run a bad race,” he said.

“He’s matured and the nice thing about him you can ride him however you want. He takes kickback and he’s just in really good form right now. We’re hopeful he’ll stay the trip.”

Thursday’s card also features the UAE 2000 Guineas where the Satish Seemar-trained Commanding holds genuine claims.

The Irish-bred colt has shown his liking for the Meydan dirt with two wins in three starts and a hat-trick will not come as a surprise, although he faces a stiffer test in a race that has attracted a full field of 16 runners.

GN Selections

1. 1. Final Songl 2, Bella Fever.

2. 1. Comicas; 2. Yattwee.

3. 1. Commanding; 2. Laser Show.

4. 1. Ekhtiyaar: 2. Roulston Scar.

5. 1. Benbatl; 2. Kimbear.

6. 1. Key Victory; 2. Epic Hero.

7. 1. Beyond Reason; 2. Rodaini.

Day’s Best: Ekhtiyaar.