Talks have begun, and Bob Baffert, trainer of Arrogate, the best racehorse on the globe, has not ruled out flying in last week’s runaway winner of the Pegasus Invitational to the UAE next month for the $10m Dubai World Cup.
That might not be good news for Mike de Kock, who is aiming his stable-star Mubtaahij at the race again but Baffert, who twice lifted the World Cup when it was run at Nad Al Sheba, is in discussions with the superstar’s Saudi Arabia owner-breeder, Khalid Abdullah.
However, Baffert, whose previous wins in Dubai came with Kentucky Derby hero Silver Charm and Captain Steve, stressed Arrogate’s main priority remains retaining his Breeders Cup Classic crown at Del Mar in November.
The inaugural running of the $12m Pegasus, for which each owner had to shell out a $1m entry fee, proved something of an anti-climax.
We were told to expect a shoot-out to rival the Thrilla in Manila (Ali-Frazier) in 1975, but sadly the eagerly-awaited return clash between Arrogate and his arch-rival California Chrome in Florida on Saturday proved a damp squib.
Arrogate, the young pretender, came out on top by a neck when they had that epic scrap up the straight in the Classic at Santa Anita last November, but California Chrome, twice America’s Horse of the Year “never turned up” at Gulfstream Park for what was his farewell appearance, leaving his rival to pick up the $7-million first prize, the richest in racing.
The big two were upsides each other in the stalking position at the 600m pole when veteran jockey Mike Smith asked Arrogate to move through the gears.
The response was both instant and stunning and Arrogate, beaten only once in seven races, made California Chrome look more like a claiming horse than one who had amassed a record $14.7m in prize money as he shot five lengths clear in the space of 100 metres, ultimately winning easing down without breaking sweat.
Clearly this was not the “Chromie” we had come to know and love. It was painful to see him struggle home in ninth position, and it transpired that he had injured his right front knee during the race.
“Chromie”, who was on his way to Kentucky by Sunday morning to take up stallion duties at Taylor Made Farm, will be remembered as one of the best American horses since the turn of the century, with his victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Dubai World Cup earning him superstar status.
However, the capacity crowd at Gulfstream, who wagered a record $40.2m on the 12-race card, were left in no doubt that, while Arrogate had clocked up a success that was “bloodless”, they had witnessed “the real deal”, a horse whom Baffert puts right up there with his 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, though the trainer was insistent “don’t ask me to rank them as it would be like choosing between your children.”
This year’s Dubai Carnival is fast developing into a Godolphin benefit, and the boys in blue won five of the seven races at Meydan’s fourth meeting last week, highlighted by a 200th Carnival celebration for Saeed bin Suroor, courtesy of Very Special who repeated her 2016 success in the Grade 2 Cape Verdi.
British champion jockey Jim Crowley settled Very Special just off the lead, with Christophe Soumillon adopting “catch me if you can” tactics on Mike de Kock’s Tahanee, who faded to finish fifth.
Bin Suroor, who will now aim Very Special at the Grade 2 Balanchine en route to the Grade 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup Night (25 March), has sent out more than 2,000 winners worldwide, including 12 British Classics who have contributed to four UK trainers titles.
He said: “Very Special gets her name because she is just that, but it is also very special to reach this landmark in Dubai which is my home town.
“Sheikh Mohammed has been so supportive over two decades and we always bring a strong team for the Carnival with World Cup Night in mind, and to reach 2,000 in front of my own people is the icing on the cake.”
Bin Suroor, who also has no fewer than seven Dubai World Cups on his mantelpiece, had earlier teamed up with Crowley to win the Grade 2 Al Rashidiya with Promising Run, who nailed Mike de Kock’s brave Light The Lights close home, though the South African trainer was making no excuses.
He said: “We had to do the donkeywork ourselves out in front which was not ideal, but Light The Lights was beaten fair and square and I doubt he’d be good enough either in the Dubai Turf.
“We just don’t have the ammunition for the Carnival this year and it’s been tough going. Apart from Mubtaahij, Fawree and maybe Noah From Goa, we won’t be too involved on World Cup Night, and until the South African government sort out the export protocols that’s unlikely to change.”
Charlie Appleby, Godolphin’s other trainer, celebrated three winners on the card, feature being the triumph of Fly At Dawn in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial. Jockey Mickael Barzalona was impressed and reckons the colt will be even better served by the 1600m in the Guineas back here next month.
We should again be with Godolphin at Meydan on Thursday, when RED GALILEO can clinch his place in the field for the Grade 1 Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup Night by winning the 3200m handicap on turf and CYMRIC, twice successful for John Gosden in Europe last season and also runner-up in the Grade 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly on Arc Day, can win at the first time of asking in his new colours in the 1600m handicap on turf. Cymric was gelded through the winter and been given plenty of time.
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