Thundersnow and Gronkowski fight it out at the Dubai World Cup. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The 2019-2020 UAE racing season is just over a month old but Thursday’s race meeting at Meydan Racecourse signals the start of proper business with the $12.7 million Dubai World Cup Carnival less than four weeks away.

The seven-race card, sponsored by Pillar partner DP World, boasts some of the toughest races thus far with contenders like $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) runner-up Gronkowski set to make his seasonal debut in the Listed 2,000-metre Entisar over dirt.

Trained by Salem Bin Ghadayer and jointly owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds and Khalid Bin Mishref the giant four-year-old son of Australian stallion Lonhro, is being campaigned for a second crack at the Dubai World Cup in March.

Named after former NFL star Dan Gronkowski, Bin Ghadayer’s talented galloper takes on six rivals in Thursday’s test, including dual Meydan scorer New Trails and UAE Derby (G2) third Manguzi. The high-quality field also features Meydan specialist and two-time course winner Saltarin Dubai, plus dual Jebel Ali victor Mystique Moon.

Talento Puma, representing the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, makes his career debut, with Military Law, who was no slouch when previously raced in the UK, completing the field as he makes his second appearance for Emirati handler Musabah Al Muhairi.

Bin Ghadayer, who hinted that the $20 million Saudi Cup could be on Gronkowski’s radar, commented: “He’s doing well and his training is going just right,” Bin Ghadayer said. “He’s going the right way and, at the end of the day, this is going to be a prep race for him.

“I’m happy with him. I would say he is about 80-85 per cent ready and he’s fit for this kind of race. He’ll be in form.

“He’s a sound horse and the only thing I can say is that he can be a bit naughty at the starting gate. Hopefully, he does well with that,” the trainer added.

“To be honest, with how he trains, he shows speed and I won’t worry about him going the 1,800m of the Saudi Cup or 2,000m of (The Entisar).

“Going back to his history, he’s a stayer, but he shows enough speed (to be forwardly placed). We will see how it goes Thursday.”

The Emirati handler, who trains out of the Fazza Racing Stables, owned by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, was also hopeful of a big run from Talento Puma.

“He’s a new horse and we have just had him since this summer,” Bin Ghadayer explained. “He’s had three starts in Argentina and he won going seven furlongs, but how he shows at home that he could be a nine- or 10-furlong horse.

“We need to see one race to confirm how he will be and how far [he wants to run]. For me, he’s not a seven-furlong horse. We’ll see, because Thursday is a different test. We’ll need the race and right now he’s rated 99 and I’d like to improve his rating.”

Ahmad Bin Harmash, another Emirati handler who enjoyed a successful 2018-2019 season, was also looking forward to campaigning New Trails towards a possible shot at the Dubai World Cup.

“Hopefully, the World Cup is the aim again and we think he is an improving horse,” Bin Harmash said.

“Last season we kept him quite busy to get him rated highly enough for the big races, but this time we already have that rating, so we can be more selective with his races.”

Satish Seemar’s Saltarin Dubai has solid form on dirt and assistant trainer Bhupat Seemar proclaimed his fitness and said: “We expect a good effort.”

Meanwhile, Meydan specialist Doug Watson appears to have genuine claims of landing the Listed Garhoud Sprint over 1,200m with the dirt debutant Ekhtiyaar, one of four horses in the race that will carry the colours of highly regarded owner Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance.

Pat Dobbs takes the ride on the 2019 turf Carnival winner who was a noteworthy second to Godolphin star Blue Point in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint.

“Ekhtiyaar works really well on dirt, so this looks the perfect opportunity to try him on it in a race,” said Watson.