Favorites fell and new potential stars shone brightly as “Super Saturday” became “Surprise Saturday” at Meydan, re-shuffling the pecking order for the March 25 Dubai World Cup day.

The biggest winner on the night was a jockey—French-born-and-based Mickael Barzalona. The former Godolphin retained rider, who fell out of favor in 2014 and returned to race in Europe, guided the winners in the evening’s two dirt features, the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3—the biggest Dubai World Cup prep on the card—and the Group 3 Burj Nahaar.

Long River had taken a long time to display his promise, but the 7-year-old son of A.P. Indy forded that long-awaited river by scoring the biggest win of the evening with Barzalona navigating the 1-1/4 mile Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3.

Long River fords the water to capture the Al Maktoum Challenge R3 under Mickael Barzalona. ©Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

Special Fighter, winner of last year’s Al Maktoum Challenge R3, was making his first start since a respectable fourth-place finish in last year’s Dubai World Cup and fought Long River gamely throughout before fading in the last 200 meters of the stretch. Chilean star Furla Cruzada was third.

“We have always known Long River had the potential to win a big race,” admired Barzalona. 
“He really picked up nicely when I asked him and he will be back in three weeks. I would imagine the Dubai World Cup would be the chosen option.”

With a loaded field that will include American stars Arrogate and Hoppertunity, trainer Salem bin Ghadayer could opt for the Godolphin Mile for his speedy front-runner, but even the long odds of upending current Longines World’s Best Racehorse Arrogate may be too much of a temptation to resist.

Three Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 winners (Dubai Millennium in 2000, Street Cry in 2002 and Electrocutionist in 2006) have gone on to win the Dubai World Cup in the same season. It’s worth noting Barzalona guided Monterosso to a surprise Dubai World Cup win in 2012 while riding for Godolphin.

Long River and Barzalona successfully outclassed a stellar eight-horse field that included last year’s UAE Derby winner and Triple Crown participant Lani, a decidedly unsensational 16 lengths off the winner in sixth despite having 2016 Longines World’s Best Jockey Ryan Moore in the irons.

Lani was not the only 2016 star to have a less-than-starstruck evening. Polar River, last year’s filly sensation at Meydan who earned a gate in the Kentucky Oaks even after running second to Lani in the UAE Derby, finished a dead-last 13th in the mile-long Group 3 dirt Burj Nahaar.

Heavy Metal and Mickael Barzalona win the Group 3 Burj Nahaar. ©Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

Heavy Metal was decidedly light-hoofed in that race with Barzalona again at the wheel as the 7-year-old gelded son of Exceed and Excel motored away from Ross by 6 1/2 lengths with Alabaster paled by a 1/2 length in third.

Le Bernardin’s eighth-place finish in the race was another of the evening’s surprises. The 8-year-old Bernardini son has won the last two consecutive Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 contests, but has faded both times by Round 3.

An evening filled with several close finishes saw favored Prize Money with Adrie de Vries up earn all the gold for Godolphin by a neck over Postponed in the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold across 1 1/2 miles of green, leaving Emotionless a dispassionate third by 3/4 of a length.

In the 3/4-mile Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal on the dirt, Morawij kept his head over Cool Cowboy with Dundonnell done the race in third by 1 1/4 lengths.

The much-anticipated return to the track of Reynaldothewizard, consecutive three-time winner of the listed Dubawi Stakes, never happened as he was scratched by trainer Satish Seemar after spiking a slight temperature in the morning. “We don’t want to risk him,” explained Seemar. “We’d rather try to have him right for the big night.”

Godolphin’s Jungle Cat stalks away in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint. ©Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

A full house of 16 gathered for the 3/4-mile Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint with Jungle Cat surviving the fray for Godolphin by 2 lengths over stablemate Baccarat, shining over The Right Man by 1-3/4 lengths.

The evening started off with Cosmo Charlie gaining a length of space over Qatar Man in the listed Al Bastakiya over 9.5 furlongs of dirt with Capezzano dancing all by himself in third a distant five lengths behind the leaders.

The best was saved for last, as has happened often this Carnival season. The top four finishers were within a neck of each other as Decorated Knight jousted to a surprising win in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta, earning the medallion over 1 1/8 lengths of Meydan green. It was a first-time win at Meydan for both English trainer Roger Charlton and Sardinia-born jockey Andrea Atzeni.

The 5-year-old son of Irish Champion Galileo barely necked Godolphin’s Folkswood, with colleen Muffri’Ha and Sanshaawes as close behind as could be. Earnshaw was only a half-length off, earning fifth. Mike de Kock-trained Ertijaal, third in this race last year, was pulled up by jockey Jim Crowley and later found lame.

The ferris wheel that is the Dubai World Cup Carnival season reaches its apex in three weeks when some of the world’s finest horses take the gates for the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest raceday.

The nine-race card begins with the traditional Group 1 Al Kahayla Classic for Purebred Arabians, then gets down to serious Thoroughbred business. There are three Group 1 and one Group 2 turf races and two Group 2 and Group 1 dirt races. Racing culminates in the $10 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup on the Meydan dirt, with $6 million going to the winner.

North American champion Arrogate.

American invader and last year’s third-place finisher Hoppertunity, the best of Godolphin, and a host of other hopefuls all will try to deny 2016 Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, 2017 Pegasus Stakes winner and Longines World’s Best Horse Arrogate the distinction of becoming the 22nd winner of the Dubai World Cup and North America’s all-time richest racehorse.

The 2016-17 Meydan racing season will close following the Dubai World Cup with a concert by international pop star Sia, who clearly will have a tough act to follow.