Since the first running of the Dubai World Cup (GI) and Cigar’s amazing victory at Nad Al Sheba in 1996, some really talented American-based horses have taken their best shot in the great “Duel in the Desert.” Half of the winners over the last decade have been Americans, including dual Horse of the Year California Chrome, who returned to shine under the lights at Meydan Racecourse after a runner-up finish in the 1 ¼-mile race in 2015.
The rain from earlier in the week and on Friday in Dubai is expected to have cleared out by post time on Saturday and the temperature has cooled a bit. The evening low temperature will be in the mid-70s and dry, so expect a fast track for the big race.
Last year, 2014 and 2016 Horse of the Year California Chrome was the world’s most famous horse heading into the Dubai World Cup, and watching him win the $10 million race the way he did after a year of controversy and drama surrounding his ownership group was a treat for all racing fans, not just the “Chromies”. Victor Espinoza gave the Art Sherman trainee a masterful ride and he won with authority by 3 ¼ lengths over a strong field — despite his saddle slipping back and his girth settling into a bucking strap position.
This year the best horse in the world will be back in the Dubai World Cup starting gate again, but a new runner has taken the spot from the now-retired California Chrome.
Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate, fresh off his 4 ¾-length score in the (new) world’s richest horse race — the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (GI) — two months ago will face a field of 13 other runners from around the world in his quest to become the wealthiest horse in history. With more than $11 million in the bank already, the big gray Bob Baffert trainee is well on his way.
The Unbridled’s Song colt hasn’t missed a beat in the 11 months since his debut, racking up wins in the Travers Stakes (GI) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) among his six career wins. Numbers-wise his “weakest” effort is still better than the rest of this field and while the post position (nine) isn’t ideal for his early running style, Hall of Famer Mike Smith is in the irons and no jockey in the world currently riding has more confidence or more experience than he does. Arrogate has looked perfect every day since arriving in Dubai 10 days ago, so while beating a favorite is a fun prospect, accomplishing it is another. Baffert looks for his third Dubai World Cup victory, while Smith and Juddmonte’s Prince Khalid bin Abdulla seek their first.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner seeks his third straight win after capturing the Clark Handicap (GI) and Razorback Handicap (GII) in his last two. A year ago he was a leading candidate on the Triple Crown trail and, after a respectable third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1), he only scored one more win until late in the year when he got back on track in the Clark.
He might have started in the Pegasus had he not been stuck at Fair Grounds all winter due to an equine herpes virus outbreak, but he kept on training through and impressing in the mornings until the quarantine was lifted and he won the Razorback. Overall, he owns some impressive speed, class and pace numbers that say he’s a legit contender, so his best makes him a good choice to pick up a large check. Trained by Steve Asmussen, who saddled Curlin to win in 2008, Gun Runner will have regular jockey Florent Geroux aboard and the pair will break from post five and most likely head right for the lead.
Fan favorite Hoppertunity doesn’t win too often, but, when he does, it’s usually in thrilling, circle-the-field fashion, much like his last in the San Antonio Stakes (GII) at Sants Anita last month. It seems like the Baffert trainee, who is owned by Watson, Weitman and Pegram, has been around forever and has faced some tough runners throughout his career, like California Chrome a number of times, including for a third-place finish in last year’s Dubai World Cup. Flavien Prat returns and his best behind a hot pace could produce at least as good a finish as last year.
Mubtaahij is a consistent globetrotter, but another who doesn’t reach the winner’s circle all that often. It’s been two years since the colt won the UAE Derby (GI) and then unsuccessfully tackled the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (GI) before traversing the Atlantic three more times. One has to wonder if the connections of the now 6-year-olds were thrilled when California Chrome retired, considering his nice second in this race a year ago, then deflated when Arrogate came along. Regardless, he does like this track (four wins) and is in capable hands back with international powerhouse trainer Mike deKock. He’s a pace stalker and will be ready to take over if the favorites falter under Christophe Soumillon.
Special Fighter was an impressive fourth in this race a year ago and the now 6-year-old will be making his second start of the year after a second to Long River in the Al Maktoum Challenge (GI) three weeks ago. He’s a tough old warrior who may have found a softer spot on the turf for trainer Maria Ritchie, who will be just the second woman to saddle a Dubai World Cup runner.
Keen Ice dances a lot of dances and always gives a decent accounting for himself—he just doesn’t like to win very much since upsetting American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes (GI) at Saratoga 18 months ago. I think his connections hoped he’d not have to face Arrogate again after losing to him by 11 lengths in the Pegasus, but we gotta admire their confidence in this son of Curlin. The truth is, if he gives his absolute best, he’s a great bet for the exacta under jockey Javier Castellano.
Big shoutout to the lady of the bunch, the 6-year-old mare Furia Cruzada. The daughter of Newfoundland has had a super career in her native South America and, then, in Europe on the turf. And she has done a decent job of transitioning to the Middle Eastern desert with a win and a third in two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge. Ignoring her ability and possibility to earn a bigger check here would be a mistake.
Neolithic hails from the Todd Pletcher barn and was third in the Pegasus last time. He’s definitely developing into one of the better American older division stars. Hard to know where he belongs on the list of the also-rans here.
The Japanese sent out Victoire Pisa to win the Dubai World Cup in 2011 and will be represented by Apollo Kentucky, a son of Langfuhr, this year. He’s a Group 1 winner in his homeland and has been in the money in 13 of 19 career starts. However, he’s probably facing the toughest field of his career. He will lead the field to the gate.
Lani made a lot of fans with his antics last year after winning the UAE Derby for Japanese connections. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to duplicate that form in seven starts since. The well-bred son of Tapit always looks good, has shown to like the track, but needs to be a racehorse if his connections expect him to earn a bigger share of the purse.
Gold Dream is another Japanese Group 1 winner who will face the toughest competition of his life. Lightly raced, the 4-year-old colt has been in the money in eight of nine career starts. He’s a bit of a question mark here.
The final Japanese runner is Awardee, a 7-year-old son of Jungle Pocket. He’s consistent, but that may be his best asset.
Long River was a bit of an upset winner in the Al Maktoum Challenge last out. The former American graded stakes-placed runner has his work cut out for him.
The house horse in here is Godolphin’s 4-year-old Move Up, who has had a pretty good turf career in Europe so far. His lone Meydan start was below average indicating he’s probably in tough against this bunch, though trainer Saeed bin Suroor has won this race a record seven times for his owners.
The $10 millon Dubai World Cup will be the night’s ninth race and will leave the gate at approximately 12:45 p.m. EDT.