Mike de Kock's horses have been improving dramatically after their first run and if Soft Falling Rain can make a similar leap forward then his seven rivals in tonight's UAE 2000 Guineas at Meydan Racecourse might as well stay in their boxes.
Soft Falling Rain was an imperious winner of the trial for the 1,600m Classic a month ago and barely saw another rival as Paul Hanagan set a course for home as soon as the gates opened. The English jockey shrugged off any semblance of a challenge 600 metres out and his mount coasted clear by two-and-a-half lengths from Godolphin's I'm Back.
It has been well documented that De Kock's string had suffered a long and difficult journey to get to Dubai, and it is no surprise that several of his horses have won on their second starts at Meydan.
Rerouted, El Estruendoso, Star Empire and Mushreq all failed to enter the winners' enclosure on their seasonal bow this season but each of the quartet has made up for it since.
Royal Ridge flew in under the radar by warming up in a non-Dubai World Cup Carnival race. He then tackled the hill at Jebel Ali to get him to peak fitness before he stuck his head out the furthest in a three-way finish for a lucrative handicap on the Tapeta surface last week.
"Mine generally improve on their first start … after all the travelling and training that they have done," De Kock told The National.
"I am happy for them to improve with racing throughout the Carnival and if we have one or two for World Cup night that would be a great success."
Soft Falling Rain was an above average winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, run over 1,400m. He bettered the time set by Music Chart, who won the fillies' equivalent, by nearly a second. He was also carrying 7.5kgs more than I'm Back. The penalties were for being not only a southern hemisphere-bred colt but also for recording the Grade 1 success that resulted in him being named the champion juvenile of South Africa.
There was no doubt that when the race was wrapped up, Soft Falling Rain began to edge right under pressure of having to travel the furthest he had ever gone. The prized possession of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid was unbeaten in four starts in South Africa, with his career there culminating in the easy victory in the Grade 1 SA Nursery over 1,160m.
It has led some to suggest that the colt might not be totally genuine in his attitude to racing, but De Kock strongly refutes that claim.
"I wouldn't worry about that," he said. "It was his first run at night, it was his first try going left-handed and he will be more experienced and will be fitter."
As for the distance of tonight's race, De Kock is unsure as to whether his charge will last from his wide draw in Gate 8 and against competition which includes Godolphin's American recruit Fortify.
Soft Falling Rain is by National Assembly, a sire that produces quick-as-lightning sprinters such as National Currency, who made all and trounced the field by over six lengths in the 2004 Al Shindagha Sprint at Nad Al Sheba.
His mother is a mare who was sired by the great Giant's Causeway, who won three Group 1 races over 10 furlongs but as breeding is an inexact science, De Kock says he is relying on intuition and years of experience.
"My gut feeling is that he will get the trip," De Kock said. "He has a high cruising speed from which he can kick off. Hanagan is a professional. I've got the horse fit so it is up to him to judge the pace."
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