Champion trainer Bob Baffert thrives on competition at the highest levels of the sport and that’s what has brought him halfway around the globe to run Mubtaahij and West Coast in Saturday’s Dubai World Cup.
“I bring good horses,” Baffert said. “It’s a privilege to be here.
“The two brothers (His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai Government and Dubai Sports Council) had a vision to have this in the Middle East, so you bring your good horses here. We need this in our game.
“It’s good for our sport and for the breeding in America. It’s very important to bring your good horses here. That’s what makes the history of the Dubai World Cup.
“You’ve got the (American) Classics, the Breeders’ Cup and Dubai World Cup. Those are the three we dream of winning.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to come here and to run a horse here.”
Baffert kept both of his charges in the stable area on Tuesday morning as they adhered to a light schedule limited to walking following their impressive breezes on the dirt track at Meydan the previous day.
“They’re happy. They look great. It was a nice cool morning, so they feel great,” Baffert said.
“The whole key is that they’re eating and drinking water to keep hydrated. They’ve been eating and drinking really well.”
Pegasus World Cup runner up West Coast heads the market for the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Saturday. Is he a good thing? pic.twitter.com/FxEOQnMNWU— Racing Post TV (@RP_TV) March 27, 2018
Baffert said he feels significantly less stressed this year than last, when he came to Dubai with Arrogate, the winner of last year’s World Cup.
The Juddmonte Farms colour-bearer won the race with a stunning and powerful come-from-behind victory after completely missing the break.
“Everything this year is so smooth. The vibe is good. I felt so much pressure last year,” he said.
“Competing on the world stage is really exciting. But they have to break well and they have to fight for it and earn it. You have to know your horse really well.
“Arrogate got light last year, but these horses are holding their weight. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I feel confident.”
The pair will walk again tomorrow and Thursday and they will both be brought to stand in the gate before Saturday’s race.
Meanwhile another great trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who has won the race seven times, is relying this year on Thunder Snow, winner of both the UAE 2000 Guineas and UAE Derby last year.
Equally effective on turf, he is clearly a very smart performer.
“He looks very well indeed and we are very happy with him,” Bin Suroor said.
“Physically, he is as good as we have had him and he has come through all three rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge, winning the middle one and finishing second in the other two.
“The third round, on Super Saturday, was run at a very fast pace, which could well happen again on Saturday.
“It is not going to be a big field, but we will still be hoping for a good draw, so Christophe Soumillon can ride the race he wants to in a very good renewal,” he continued.
“He has two Group 1 wins on turf in Europe and it would be great for the whole team if we could take one on dirt. He showed in the UAE Guineas and Derby last year, as well as three races this year, he handles it well.”
With all the focus on favourites West Coast, Forever Unbridled and Talismanic, American 4-year-old Gunnevera has stepped up his preparations for the Dubai World Cup and may yet spring a big surprise come Saturday.
Trainer Antonio Sano and owner Solomon Del-Valle watched the thoroughbred roll through a gallop of about 2400m at Meydan on Tuesday morning just after 07:00 as exercise rider Victor O’Farell held the son of Dialed In.
“He looks very good,” Sano said. “He maybe lost a little weight after the long flight over here, but he is in very good condition.”
Sano is determined not to overwork his charge and there are no plans for Gunnevera to do any speed work while in Dubai.
The Venezuelan noted that the chestnut drilled three times in March at Gulfstream Park West prior to shipping to the UAE, including a 1400m workout in a brisk 1:24 on March 10.
Gunnevera is not an easy horse to be around in the barn, with Sano noting that he is infamous for biting his caretakers, but the trainer described him as the “best horse of my life,” and if there is a solid pace in the Dubai World Cup, Sano said he expects Gunnevera to be charging forward at the end.
“He’s got a big chance to win,” added Del-Valle.
The global stars are out! ✨ @DubaiWorldCup contenders GUNNEVERA & TALISMANIC, top 🇺🇸 trainer Mark Casse’s first Dubai starter HOLDING GOLD (Al Quoz Sprint) and 2-time defending Dubai Gold Cup champ VAZIRABAD 🇫🇷 glittered this morning! #DubaiWorldCup— Meydan Racing (@DRC_Meydan) March 25, 2018
Meanwhile, another DWC contender Furia Cruzada was kept away from the crowds and closer to his stable by trainer Erwan Charpy in order to maintain a quieter environment for a 6-year-old mare who can be flighty on occasion.
“She cantered for about 2000m out the back today,” Charpy said.
“She’s in good shape and seems very happy. With her, it’s always a day-by-day thing, so I’m not sure what we’ll do on Wednesday.
“The owners are coming for the post position draw and everyone seems very excited.”
A distant third favourite to newly crowned American champions West Coast and Forever Unbridled a week ago, the Andre Fabre trained 5-year-old has narrowed distinctly over the last few days.
One of racing’s most eye-catching runners, the bay/brown with the painted white face, has continued to impress with his speed and attitude in morning work at Meydan Racecourse.
Although this will be his first ever race on dirt, his 17 to date have been mostly on turf with one on Chantilly’s polytrack, the Godolphin great has gone about his business like clockwork, striding out beautifully.
The son of Medaglia d’Oro, the French raider was out on the Meydan dirt at 05:00 on Monday morning with exercise rider Claude Scialacqua aboard.
He was accompanied by his stable companion Cloth of Stars, ridden by exercise rider Amelie Foulon, who will run in the US$6million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup day.
Travelling head lad Joel Pouchin was on hand to watch the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner in Del Mar last November work over 1400m.
Talismanic led down the back stretch and was then joined by Cloth of Stars for the final straight.
“Both horses worked well,” Pouchin said. “We are very pleased with them.”
Lisa-Jane Graffard, who manages racing operations for Godolphin’s French branch and knows Talismanic better than most, is increasingly optimistic that he can handle his upcoming challenges.
“How Talismanic handles the dirt on his first try in competitive conditions is the big unknown and the hurdle he has to overcome,” she said.
“I think it’s worth repeating that he’s the kind of horse that encourages you to try (because) he’s talented, he’s unflappable and he’s adaptable.
“I would say hopeful rather than confident.”