DUBAI //Handicapper Capponi produced the surprise of the night at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday, claiming the newly upgraded Group 1 World Cup warm-up race, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round Three, by four lengths.
Capponi, whose six previous wins all came in handicaps, made the step up to racing's top tier look easy under the Emirati rider Ahmed Ajtebi.
He now goes on to the March 31 Dubai World Cup to vie for the winner's share of the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) prize pot.
Mahmoud Al Zarooni, who trains Capponi for Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, said he knew his runner was better than a mere handicapper.
"After watching how he won his previous races I knew he had some class," said the Godolphin handler. "I told Ahmed to just get him out there at the front and let them all think he was the pacemaker and maybe they would let him go."
Al Zarooni's plan worked and the expected challenges from the rest of the field never materialised.
Silver Pond, a new acquisition for US handler Doug Watson, was the impressive runner-up under Olivier Peslier on his UAE debut. The fancied Prince Bishop from Saeed bin Suroor's Godolphin yard was half-a-length behind Silver Pond under Frankie Dettori.
Capponi had been disqualified from an earlier win after testing positive for a banned substance, a rubbing ointment routinely used on racehorses but not a performance enhancer.
"If someone has something on their hands and touches the horse it can go into their system and it can stay in their systems for a few days," said Al Zarooni.
Ajtebi, who was claiming his sixth Group 1 victory, was hopeful he would keep the plum ride on Capponi in the World Cup.
"Of course we will see what the boss says, but I would love to ride him in the big race," said the rider who has won World Cup day outings, the Duty Free, the Sheema Classic and the Godolphin Mile in the past.
"It has been a bit of a slow season for me so it is amazing to pick up another Group 1 and to be involved in the World Cup meeting."
Watson said that Silver Pond would now chart a course to the World Cup rather than the Sheema Classic, which might also have been on the agenda for him.
"I'm really happy with how he's run that," he said. "It was his first run and coming into this race I wouldn't have thought that he was at his peak fitness.
"This race would have just tuned him up really well and I don't think we will have to do too much more with him now."
Silver Pond's owner Saeed Nasser al Romaithi had earmarked his horse for the World Cup before his Maktoum Challenge outing.
"It's the owner's dream to have a runner in the World Cup and Silver Pond has earned his place in that race," said Watson.
Mike de Kock's Bold Silvano, who represents the trainer's main World Cup hope, was expected to put up a strong run. But he shuffled home 12th and was reported afterwards to have put his tongue over his bit.
"That's just not him," said De Kock afterwards.
"He doesn't ever put in a run like that, so we knew there must have been a reason."
Bin Suroor's Mendip and Herman Brown's Green Destiny, who both put in disappointing performances, were vetted following the race.
Connections of Green Destiny said they suspected he swallowed his tongue while running.