Just seven days out from one of the biggest race days on the planet – the Dubai World Cup – and the main event is shaping up as two-horse race between American champions West Coast and Forever Unbridled.
In a field that also boasts names like North America, Talismanic and Thunder Snow, it would seem unwise to reduce the great race to a head-to-head, but such has been the form of the two multiple Grade 1-winning runners it’s easy to understand why they have been installed as clear favourites.
And both lived up to the favourites’ tag with impressive workouts in the last few days.
West Coast, the champion three-year-old of 2017, owned by Gary and Mary West worked about-1200m in 1:11.80, the fastest of 17 breezes at the distance at Santa Anita Park in greater Los Angeles.
The son of 2000 champion 2-year-old filly and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Caressing is trained by three-time Dubai World Cup winner Bob Baffert.
Working with Cat Burglar, West Coast easily caught his stablemate at the top of the stretch and cleared him in the lane to stride out impressively.
Just a few days earlier in New Orleans Forever Unbridled was just as impressive.
Owned by Charles Fipke and trained by Dallas Stewart, the six-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song and Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Lemons Forever blitzed about-1000m in 59.60 seconds at Fair Grounds.
A four-time G1 winner, Forever Unbridled is America’s reigning champion dirt mare after a perfect three-for-three 2017 campaign.
But she has not raced since her win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November at Del Mar.
“She went in 59 3/5 (seconds) and her last quarter (mile) in 23 seconds after getting her three furlongs in 37 3/5,” Stewart said. “She picked it up nicely the last quarter.
“She’s dedicated to winning all the time: every race, every work, every gallop. We’re very happy to be invited to Dubai and hopefully we can meet the challenge.
“After last year and her season, we’re confident in her and excited for the Dubai World Cup.
“She’s won eight races over eight different racetracks. She loves it wherever she goes and she gives it her all.
Dubai World Cup likely runners: West Coast, Forever Unbridled, Talismanic, Gunnevera, North America, Pavel, Mubtaahij, Thunder Snow, Awardee, Furia Cruzada
UAE’s Saeed Hamoud Al Khayari aboard 8-year-old Dahi was crowned champion of the Dubai Crown Prince Endurance Cup on a memorable day as he registered the biggest win of his career.
Al Khayari completed the four loops in a time of 04:20:28, over two minutes ahead of his closest rival and compatriot Ahmed Ali Saif Al Nassiri, who finished second aboard Vista Du Barthas.
The purpose-built Dubai International Endurance City played host to the prestigious CEI** 120 km Dubai Crown Prince Endurance Cup. HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, along with His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, The Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, were at the venue to witness the ride.
Speaking after the win, Al Khayari said: “This is one of the most important races in the UAE, and I am very pleased to have won such a prestigious race in front of the people of the UAE. There were over 400 participants, from all over the world, and it was a very strong field, with representatives from well-established local and international stables, and some top-ranked international riders, so this win was an important one for me.”
Introduced in 2003 as a dress rehearsal for the Dubai World Cup card three weeks later, all seven races are mirror images of the races to be contested on that ultra-valuable occasion.
Three horses have won the Group 1 US$400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 before following up in the $10 million Dubai World Cup and North America will try and emulate them after a smooth success in the big race of the day on dirt.
Drawn six in a field of 12, Richard Mullen’s mount was well away and ridden positively to get to the lead.
Two-time Group 1 winner Thunder Snow, last year’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and UAE Derby (G2) winner, was among those tracking him throughout and challenged as the two turned for home, ultimately failing to close in on his rival.
In the end, North America was a 5¼ lengths winner to Thunder Snow with multiple G1-winning mare Furia Cruzada finishing a game third, 3¾ lengths farther back.
“Last time, when second to Thunder Snow (in Round 2), was probably a career-best and he has built on that again tonight,” said Mullen of North America.
“I just wanted to get him into a rhythm; not necessarily to lead, but we broke so well, I was able to get to the front and he was then always happy. Obviously the Dubai World Cup is going to be a stronger race, but he deserves his chance.”
In the main turf race, the 1800m Group 1 $300,000 Jebel Hatta, race-goers were treated to a thrilling finish as the lead change hands at least six times in the final 400m.
The telling challenge, though, came from Godolphin’s Blair House, who pounced inside the final 150m under James Doyle, riding for Charlie Appleby.
Saeed bin Suroor-trained Benbatl was a close second, with Mike de Kock-conditioned Janoobi a head astern in third.
Runner-up on his first two Carnival outings this year, Blair House had landed a handicap over this course and distance three weeks ago. The Group 1 $6 million Dubai Turf is the equivalent race on the big day.
Appleby, who won the 2016 Jebel Hatta with Tryster, said: “We knew this horse arrived here in good form and it looked a wide open race, as it transpired to be. I am sure we will have to come back with him in three weeks in what will be a stronger race but he owes us nothing now.”