Nations Pride, a Godolphin homebred by Teofilo , starts his 4-year-old season in the Dubai Millennium Stakes (G3) after a hugely successful summer in New York. Ami Please, a Goldencents filly, ships in from California to contest the U.A.E. Oaks (G3) with just one win from five starts back home.
The Dubai Millennium is a steppingstone to bigger turf races at the end of the Dubai season and, for Nations Pride, likely for more international travel. The Oaks is a leg of the Churchill Downs Road to the Kentucky Oaks and trainer Doug O’Neill is looking in that direction.
“Nations Pride has been pleasing us at home and coming back to a mile and a quarter should suit,” said trainer Charlie Appleby, who has won this race six times, including with Royal Fleet in 2022.
Nations Pride finished second in the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes G1T) last summer, followed by victories in the Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes (G1T) and the Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes (G3T) before reporting fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T). The last two were at 1 1/2 miles.
“There will be some improvement to come for whatever he does on his seasonal return, as we hope that he has another international campaign ahead of him this year. Depending on how he goes here, we will consider potentially looking at the Jebel Hatta or the Dubai Turf,” Appleby added.
The Jebel Hatta (G1) is run at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) on Super Saturday, March 4. The Dubai Turf (G1), always a tough international race, is run on Dubai World Cup (G1) night March 25 at the same trip. The difference is the purse—$350,000 for the Jebel Hatta vs. $5 million for the Dubai Turf.
The opposition for the Dubai Millennium includes another of Appleby’s Godolphin herd, Ottoman Fleet , and a Saeed bin Suroor charge, Desert Fire . Ottoman Fleet makes his third start of the Dubai season after a pair of third-place finishes while Desert Fire needs a serious wakeup call after two disappointing Meydan starts.
“She will have the distance advantage so I believe if she runs the same race as the Thousand Guineas, then she should be the winner,” said trainer Salem Bin Ghadayer. “It’s almost the same field except for the American filly. We have a nice draw and we are hoping for a nice race from her.”
The “American filly,” Ami Please, got her sole victory in October going one mile on the Santa Anita turf. She later finished second, six lengths behind a longshot winner, in the Pike Place Dancer Stakes on the Golden Gate Fields grass. Her final 2022 effort produced a third-place finish in the Blue Norther Stakes at Santa Anita, also on the turf.
“She’s a beautiful filly. A lot of talent,” O’Neill said. “She tends to run equally well on dirt or turf. We’ll know a lot more about her in two days.”
The U.A.E. Oaks offers 50 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points to the winner with the next four receiving 20, 15, 10, and 5, respectively. Asked if a good performance would incline him to point Ami Please back across the Atlantic to Kentucky, O’Neill said, “That would be a fair assumption, yes.”
O’Neill also trains Tall Boy , winner of the Feb. 10 U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas (G3), who is teed up for a shot at the U.A.E. Derby (G2) on World Cup night. The Lookin At Lucky colt was 0-for-4 in California as a juvenile but ran impressively to win the Guineas.
“He was knocking on the door out here (California) but he kept running into all those good ones—the Bafferts,” O’Neill said of the colt, who stands just short of 17 hands. “We’re optimistic.”
The Feb. 24 Carnival session is the final date before Super Saturday and features the Balanchine Stakes (G2) for fillies and mares—another prep for the Dubai Turf.