THE most anticipated race of the Dubai Carnival season thus far is upon UAE racing fans: Muntazah vs. North America in the Group 2 $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 on Thursday at Meydan Racecourse.

The two Dubawi-sired dominators—and Dubai’s best milers—met once prior in last season’s Round 1, with a below-fitness Muntazah finishing well astern a romping North America. Standing at nearly 17 hands, North America towered over his rivals on the track that day, winning by nine lengths and eclipsing both the stakes and 1600m track record with a mark of 1:35.88.

Owned by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and trained by Doug Watson, a sharper Muntazah would go on to manhandle a similar field by 4¼ lengths in the Firebreak (G3) five weeks later; four weeks prior to smashing North America’s aforementioned mark with a 10-length win in Super Saturday’s Burj Nahaar (G3) in 1:34.99.

Meanwhile, Satish Seemar-conditioned North America stretched out to win the 1900m Al Maktoum Challenge R2 (G2) in facile fashion, but both horses were subsequently past-peak when Muntazah was third in the Godolphin Mile sponsored by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City—District One (G2) and North America faded to seventh as second-favourite in the Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1).

This season, both will make their 2020 debuts in Round 1, with North America officially rated 118 and Muntazah at 116. On Tuesday morning, they drew eyebrow-raising bookend barriers, with Muntazah in post one and North America outside in the eight-hole.