By Ed McNamara
I’ve always found the Dubai World Cup a tough read. Horses from all over the globe — 14 from seven countries this year — coming into a hot climate after endless flights. Except for the locally based runners, they’re competing on an unfamiliar surface. Handicapping doesn’t get much trickier.
Yet in the first 24 runnings, for the most part the form of the best horses has held up, with winners Cigar, Silver Charm, Dubai Millennium, Invasor, Curlin and California Chrome all performing up to expectations. This year’s renewal has no horse remotely of their caliber, which complicates the pari-mutuel equation.
U.S.-based Mystic Guide is the now lukewarm 9-4 favorite on the BUSR odds, but he’s never run 1 1/4 miles. He has the perfect breeding [Ghostzapper out of an A.P. Indy mare] for the distance, with a sire and grandsire who both won the 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic. But sometimes pedigree doesn’t carry a horse that final grueling final eighth of a mile.
Mystic Guide is a homebred for Godolphin, the international breeding and racing superpower founded by Sheikh Mohammed, creator of the Dubai World Cup. It has a long track record of being kind to the “house horse,” because Sheikh Mohammed has won it eight times, including the last two with Thunder Snow.
Michael Stidham, in his first venture outside North America, trains Mystic Guide.
“You always worry with a trip like this that your horse could go either way,” Stidham said Tuesday at Meydan Racecourse. “But from everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve heard from my assistant, Ben Trask, he’s thriving. I’ve never met Sheikh Mohammed, and I hope to. It’s an honor to be running this horse in front of him.”
So, time to try to pick a winner.
Mystic Guide is talented and capable of improvement, but I’m not going to take short odds on a horse trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time. And I don’t like the win chances of the other Americans — Jesus’ Team, Sleepy Eyes Todd and Title Ready.
I’m going with French shipper Magny Cours, trained by the brilliant Andre Fabre and ridden by big-race standout William Buick. He’s 10-1 in the morning line, but I have the feeling he’ll be closer to 6-1 or 7-1. That’s all right. Post 12 is no bargain, and he’s never run on dirt, but he’s by outstanding dirt sire Medaglia d’Oro and out of an A.P. Indy mare. He’s won his last three races, and his recent victory over 1 3/16 miles on Chantilly’s synthetic surface should set him up perfectly. He’s also owned by Sheikh Mohammed.
Salute The Soldier was the top performer on Meydan’s main track this winter, and I think he’ll complete the exacta with Magny Cours. I see Mystic Guide running a good one but coming up a bit short down the stretch.
1. Magny Cours 2. Salute The Soldier 3. Mystic Guide
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.