28 Jan

 Following Soft Whisper's effortless victory in the UAE 1000 Guineas, Philip Sale debates the merits of a classic that is often divisive in racing circles

Philip Sale | Thursday January 28 2021, 9:56pm | Racing Comment  

Few trainers have dominated a single race as Saeed bin Suroor has the UAE 1000 Guineas. Now in its 21st year, Godolphin's longest-serving trainer has won 12 renewals in all, including the first five in succession.  

For today's heroine Soft Whisper, her exertions amounted to little more than a racecourse gallop. History will show a winning margin of some seven-lengths from the frustrating Mnasek (who again missed the break) and yet, had Frankie Dettori so desired, it could have been twice the distance.  

Those that view the UAE classics unfavourably often sight small fields, a dominance of short-priced favourites and a lack of overall substance as reasons to treat the form with nothing but caution.  

With seven winning favourites in the last decade alone (and five of those being odds-on), not to mention the likes of Polar River (2016) and Silva (2019) winning by the best-part of ten and thirteen lengths respectively, one could certainly give credence to this view.  

However, including today's seven-runner contest, the 21-year average for field-sizes sits at a respectable 9.2. And whilst Polar River may have pulverised less than a handful of rivals at a skinny 4/9, equally Silva defeated no less than 14 others at a handsome 33/1.  

Throw in Siyaadah's 50/1 success against 13 rivals in 2010, not to mention Nashmiah's 40/1 triumph versus 10 others in 2017 (winning by a head and leading home 66/1 and 33/1 shots, for that matter) and the race offers more of a mixed-bag than one might initially assume.  

"Lest we forget 2003 victor Mezzo Soprano was a subsequent winner of the Grade One Prix Vermeille at Longchamp"

Ultimately, the merits of any race will be judged on the substance of its form. True as it may be that various fillies have failed to progress beyond the confines of Meydan (and formerly Nad Al Sheba), the roll of honour is certainly not without prestige.  

Lest we forget 2003 victor Mezzo Soprano was a subsequent winner of the Grade One Prix Vermeille at Longchamp, beating Coolmore's Irish 1000 Guineas winner Yesterday in the process.  

Cocoa Beach supplemented her 2008 triumph by subsequently winning the UAE Oaks (one of six to achieve this feat*), twice winning Group Ones in the US (at Belmont Park and Hollywood Park respectively) and twice finishing a length-and-a-half behind the imperious Zenyatta.  

After getting the better off stablemate Reem in 2011, Mahbooba proved herself versatile enough to win the Listed Godolphin Stakes at Newmarket before returning to Meydan the following year to capture the Group 2 Balanchine. She bowed out with a creditable fifth behind Cirrus Des Aigles in the Group 1 Sheema  Classic.  

Still a relatively young broodmare, that Mahbooba is already dam to Mootasadir (112) and Dubai Warrior (115) only adds to her legacy. Just yesterday an Invincible Spirit daughter, Moohareeba, also broke her maiden at Kempton for John Gosden. 

Finally there is Ihtimal, who in 2014 completed a UAE 1,000 Guineas and Oaks double before an agonising third to Miss France in the Newmarket 1,000 Guineas, beaten less than a length.  

A daughter of Shamardal and prolific dam Eastern Joy (six winners from as many foals, including dual Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow), Ihtimal closed out her racing career with a commendable fifth behind Sheikh Hamdan's Taghrooda in the Epsom Oaks. Losing her life as young as four, she remains a sad loss to racing.  

"Only with time will we discover whether Soft Whisper is another Ihtimal or Mahbooba in waiting"

Other than the UAE Oaks, Soft Whisper's future targets are undisclosed. Assuming the daughter of Dubawi overcomes her next obstacle (and both a paucity of opposition and an additional furlong-and-a-half suggests the Oaks is there for the taking), Saeed bin Suroor has cautiously suggested the UAE Derby and Kentucky Oaks as possible targets. However, as the trainer was quick to point out yesterday, he is at the behest of Sheikh Mohammed in this regard.  

The UAE 1000 Guineas may only carry Listed status but as a relatively young race it has already gifted us memories aplenty. Only in time will we discover whether Soft Whisper is an Ihtimal or Mahbooba in waiting, or whether her form quickly plateaus like so many others before her. Nevertheless, her racing career will likely be short and, with luck, a long and happy life as a broodmare awaits.   

As for Saeed bin Suroor, doubtless he is already closely assessing the merits of his two-year-old crop with a view to a thirteenth success in 2022. 


*The six fillies to complete the UAE 1000 Guineas and UAE Oaks double are Satin Kiss (2005), Folk (2007), Cocoa Beach (2011), Ihtimal (2014), Local Time (2015) and Polar River (2016).  

Image courtesy of Fars News Agency, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74611278 

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