The elusive search for value in Dubai World Cup
By Ron Flatter
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LAS VEGAS--Trust me. Dubai World Cup night is one strange experience.
I had the fortune--or misfortune--of covering the very first one that was run after the event’s move seven years ago to Sheikh Mohammed’s lavish racing palace known as Meydan. After dealing with missing credentials, cab drivers getting lost, a rugged bus ride through the desert to attend a pre-race party and a scorching hot race day that made Vegas seem like a winter wonderland by comparison, I vowed that if I ever went back to the Emirates, it would be only under forced hypnosis.
So with pleasure I am forgoing the day-long flight that ends with an airport security check--yes, on arrival. Instead, I will be challenged most by the eternal quest for value in a $10 million race that seldom offers it--and maybe the search for the TV remote control in order to watch it.
Take Saturday, when Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus winner Arrogate will be the odds-on favorite to win the Dubai World Cup. Trainer Bob Baffert sounded like most bettors when he said last week, “We’re just focused on Arrogate. I just hope he shows up like he has in all his races, and we have some racing luck.”
History is on Arrogate’s side. British bookmakers have made the 4-year-old by Unbridled’s Song a 4-to-11 favorite for the 1¼-mile dirt race. In the first 21 runnings of the Dubai World Cup, there have been five horses with odds of even money or shorter. Four of them won, most recently two-time U.S. champion Curlin in 2008.
“It’s going to be an exciting race with good horses,” Baffert said. “American horses seem to be the better horses in there. Gun Runner is in there; he’s going to be tough.”
That may be where the value starts to lie. The 9-to-1 second choice, front-running Gun Runner had a mercurial 2016 that included a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, disappointing losses in the Travers and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and then a stubborn victory in the Clark Handicap. The colt by Candy Ride began his 4-year-old season last month with what amounted to a paid workout--a 5¾-length win as the 1-to-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Oaklawn Handicap.
“We always thought that when he ran as a 3-year-old early on that he would get better and better,” said Gun Runner’s owner Ron Winchell said. “Unfortunately we were hoping that would mean a Kentucky Derby win. He wound up running a good third in that, so you can’t complain too much. It seems as he gets older he’s getting better.”
Two years between wins, 12-to-1 third choice Mubtaahij returns to the scene of his most impressive efforts--his 2015 win in the UAE Derby and last year’s runner-up finish in the Dubai World Cup to California Chrome. Back with trainer Mike de Kock after a year in America with Kiaran McLaughlin, the 5-year-old horse by Dubawi had the misfortune of drawing the outside gate in the field of 14.
“The good news is the horse seems in very good form,” Mubtaahij’s jockey Christophe Soumillon said. “The bad news is the draw, which is going to make it very difficult to get the position I would have liked.”
Three other names familiar to U.S. racing fans--Baffert’s multiple graded-stakes winner Hoppertunity (16-to-1), trainer Todd Pletcher’s third-place Pegasus finisher Neolithic (25-to-1) and 2015 Travers winner Keen Ice (40-to-1) all drew wide--14, 12 and 11 posts, respectively. By comparison Arrogate will start from gate 9; Gun Runner from 5.
Baffert’s return to Dubai comes five years after he suffered a heart attack there, something he prefers not to discuss.
“Everything’s feeling good,” he said, “so I’m not concerned with that.”
A win for Arrogate would lift him past $17 million in earnings for a career that began only last April, moving him past California Chrome’s record $14.7 million for a North American-based horse. The Dubai World Cup is scheduled to start Saturday at 8:45 p.m. Dubai time (12:45 p.m. EDT, 9:45 a.m. PDT).
Thunder Snow is favored in UAE Derby
A Group 1 winner at age 2, British-based Godolphin colt Thunder Snow is 9-to-4 favorite to win the Group 2 UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard.
Sired by the Australian-bred stallion Helmet, Thunder Snow won last month’s UAE 2,000 Guineas over a mile on the same dirt track that will host Saturday’s UAE Derby--a win-and-you’re-in prep for the Kentucky Derby. Of the 12 horses that have used the UAE Derby as a springboard to run for the roses, none finished better than fifth in Kentucky.
Also on Saturday’s race card, Roger Varian-trained Postponed (2-to-1) will try to win for the second year in a row in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic over 1½ miles of turf. Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Highland Reel (7-to-2) is also in the seven-horse field.
Turfway, Sunland host Kentucky preps
Twenty-two horses that have yet to win a graded stakes will race this weekend in a lackluster pair of Kentucky Derby prep races worth 50 points to each winner, meaning each is all but certain to be eligible for Churchill Downs in six weeks.
Two-time stakes winner Kitten’s Cat is no better than a 4-to-1 morning-line favorite against nine other 3-year-olds in Saturday’s Grade 3 $500,000 Spiral Stakes on the synthetic dirt at Turfway Park near Cincinnati.
Bronze Age, a maiden winner in his last race, is the 3-to-1 favorite for Baffert in Sunday’s Grade 3 $800,000 Sunland Derby at Sunland Park near El Paso. Undefeated Conquest Mo Money makes his graded-stakes debut and is the 9-to-2 second choice on the morning line.