DUBAI // Mahmood al Zarooni's burgeoning reputation got a significant boost last night when Rewilding won the US$5 million (Dh18.4m) Sheema Classic.
Al Zarooni first garnered attention 12 months ago when saddling Calming Influence to victory in the Godolphin Mile — his first runner as a trainer.
This latest success suggests the 34-year-old Emirati has a big future ahead of him.
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Rewilding had not seen a racecourse for 196 days, having flopped as favourite for the English St Leger at Doncaster in September.
Rewilding's sire is Tiger Hill, who often is responsible for precocious types, and there was a danger the colt's natural abilities had waned.
Al Zarooni was mystified by that performance, but all good trainers have confidence in their abilities and the latest addition to the Godolphin ranks trusted in his methods.
There was valuable input, too, as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, made some suggestions which al Zarooni took on board.
"His Highness told me to run him fresh. He told me to not run him in the Carnival and that I should run him in this race," al Zarooni said.
"This horse likes to be fresh. If you race him every week, it will take a lot out of him."
Last season Rewilding was a large athletic colt, but lacked the bulk that marks the best. The six-month lay-off, however, has worked wonders for his physique and al Zarooni said the four-year-old has matured in the interval.
"He is a big, light horse, he's very athletic," he said. "I would say he has grown into himself."
Rulership led the field for much of the race under a tactical ride from Christophe Soumillon.
The Belgian rallied his four-year-old mount, trained by subsequent Dubai World Cup winning trainer Kotsuhiko Sumii, to the front and held his position. At the same time Frankie Dettori, Rewilding's partner, stalked the field.
When Rulership started to weaken, the pack scented it.
As Rulership was engulfed by the field in the straight, a traffic jam ensued, halting vital momentum for the likes of Chinchon, Calvados Blues and Deem, which allowed Dettori, who was positioned on the stands side, a crucial advantage.
Each winning jockey received a watch last night, but even before he received his second of the night, Dettori timed his run to perfection as Rewilding and his urgent rider flew down the straight to victory.
"It was just a fantastic feeling," Dettori said. "He hit a flat part at the top of the stretch but once we worked through the gears he ran on well."
With the Tapeta track riding slowly, Rewilding was the only horse to break a track record, shaving almost three seconds off the time set by Dar Re Mi in last season's contest.
It was only the third time that Godolphin had won the 2,400m Group 1 race.