Trainer Dallas Stewart has always had a way with fillies and mares dating back to the days he galloped Winning Colors, who became the third female Kentucky Derby winner in history in 1988, while working as an assistant to renowned trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
In fact, seven of his nine career Grade 1 victories have come with a female runner.
This Saturday, Stewart will attempt to make history with the most accomplished runner he has ever trained when he saddles Charles Fipke’s champion Forever Unbridled for the US $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline.
The 6-year-old Unbridled’s Song mare will be attempting to become the first female winner in the 23-year history of the race. To date, To The Victory (Jpn) has been closest when second to Captain Steve in 2001.
“She can compete with the boys,” Stewart said. “I’ve been around a couple of good ones and she’s right there.
“When you run a filly against the boys, you need to feel like they have a chance to win.
“She’s not three, she’s six, so she’s older than most of the males she’s facing. Not only is she older, but she’s had some great accomplishments.
“Given those factors and how she’s doing, we’re going to go for it.”
Stewart, 58, is making his first trip to Dubai and a win in this prestigious race would be the biggest of his career. The native of McCombs, Mississippi spent 11 years working for Lukas and in addition to Winning Colors, also worked closely with Lady’s Secret, who beat males in the 1986 Whitney Handicap (G1) and was named that year’s Horse of the Year.
He went out on his own in 1997 and to date his runners have won nearly $47 million.
Among his most prestigious wins have been with 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, the dam of Forever Unbridled, the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Unbridled Elaine and the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Forever Unbridled, who became his first champion after her victory.
Since arriving in Dubai on March 21, Forever Unbridled has only made Stewart more confident heading into Saturday’s race.
“She’s a really, really good racehorse,” Stewart said. “She’s won at eight different racetracks.
“She had three starts and three wins last year, so she’s definitely dedicated to winning. Whether or not she can beat the boys, that’s what we’re going to try and find out.
“It will be a great pay day if we can get it done, but more importantly, it will be a great accomplishment for her.
“All through her career she’s been very talented. She had an ankle injury early on and we gave her the time off that she needed. She’s bigger and stronger now.
“She’s not your typical mare. She’s big and strong. She’s massive. She has great energy all the time. She’s come here ready.”
Forever Unbridled is scheduled to be retired after the Dubai World Cup and be bred to top stallion Medaglia d’Oro, who closed out his career with a second in the 2004 edition of the race. Stewart says he is not thinking about that just yet.
“My only concern is getting her ready for Saturday,” Stewart said. “We’re proud to be here. We’re happy for the invite. Hopefully, she’ll represent.
“She’s always represented us well in the past.”
The numbers could not have come out any worse for the international favourites and local heroes at the post position draw for the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Wednesday.
Godolphin hope Thunder Snow, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, fared worst of all drawing the outside lane in post 10.
Heavily favoured West Coast didn’t do much better drawing post 9, while second favourite Forever Unbridled was three spots further in at post 6.
Second Godolphin hope Talismanic was allotted post 7.
But Bob Baffert, trainer of both West Coast and Mubtaahij (who drew post 5) laughed off any disadvantage from the wide berths.
“I’m fine with both,” smiled Baffert.
“Everybody wants the (post) one (drawn by USA runner Awardee), but I do not. I don’t like the one-hole and have never liked the one.
“I’ve heard you have to be on the rail here as it’s a speed biased rail, but I think in a race of this magnitude, when you get all of these good horses together, all that changes.
“We have a fast horse. From the outside, if they break a little slow you’re not going to get in trouble.
“From the inside if you break slow, you’re going to be in trouble.
“I just didn’t want them to draw next to each other. If they’d bump into each other or something else had happened, I’d hate be together.”
Baffert still vividly recalls the horror break suffered last year by Arrogate but the now retired champion still had enough gas to claim the legendary Gun Runner on the straight and win by 2 1/4 lengths.
“To me, the break is so important, as we saw last year (with Arrogate),” continued Baffert. “I don’t want to see that and go through that again.
“I don’t think there’s a really bad post when you’re going a mile-and-a-quarter (2000m). The horse is the more important than the post so I’m fine with it. I’m looking forward to it.”
One spectator who was very happy with his draw was Satish Seemar, trainer of North America who drew Post 2.
The gentle giant loves to run from the front which should be immediately established with the less explosive Awardee on the inside.
“That’s exactly what we wanted – one, two or three,” said Seemar. “I’m very positive.
“We’ve got everything right in his preparation so far, and now we have the perfect draw. He’s still to peak, and he’ll do that on Saturday.”
North America’s jockey Richard Mullen, was similarly delighted: “I’m very happy with the draw.
“When we discussed it this morning, I said to Satish that anything from one to five would be fine but I didn’t want to know if it was higher, so the two stall is ideal.
“He’s a natural front-runner, so I should be able to go forward.”
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.”