The word ‘freak’ perhaps only has positive connotations in the world of racing. We mean it in the awesome, rather than the weird, sense. And this week’s Dubai World Cup favourite Arrogate certainly fits that description. There may never have been one this good before.
That’s a big statement, particularly as the 2016 Dubai World Cup was won by one of the most popular horses in decades; California Chrome. Furthermore, the green and pink silks which Arrogate’s jockey Mike Smith will sport on Saturday were carried by another great; Frankel, who went through his career untouched in 14 starts.
Arrogate is different. He has been beaten, for a start. That defeat came at the hands of the little-known Westbrook on Arrogate’s debut at Los Alamitos. Such has been Arrogate’s steep rise to the top since, that it’s amazing to think the inauspicious debut was less than a year ago, in April, 2016.
The lanky roan colt, with his now trademark short tail, hasn’t been beaten since. Wide-margin wins at Santa Anita and Del Mar followed, before a record 13-length demolition of the field in the Grade I Travers Stakes. Arrogate had arrived.
Even then though, hardened racing hacks thought it might be a blip, a fluke. It took a defeat of California Chrome in an epic running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita to dispel the doubters. I flew to Florida to watch him in the Pegasus World Cup in January, which at $12million has overtaken the Dubai World Cup as the world’s richest race. Not at his best that day, he was still far too good and he won so, so easily. California Chrome bowed out on that occasion; retirement beckoning – it seemed like the perfect pass of the baton.
“Dubai might see something great; he’s that good,” said Arrogate’s jockey Mike Smith this week, while trainer Bob Baffert added: “if he runs his race, he’ll win.”
I’ve been to 11 Dubai World Cups, but never has the expectation on one horse been so great. The opposition are no slouches – last year’s second, third and fourth are back again – but Arrogate really is special and we are privileged that his owner, Saudi’s Prince Khalid Abdulla, has sent him here. Flying half a ton of horse halfway around the world isn’t without its risks.
The World Cup had the perfect birth when Cigar won it back in 1996, the race’s first running. It had an impressive teenage spell when greats such as Dubai Millennium and Invasor claimed the trophy, and entered its 20s with Animal Kingdom and California Chrome. This one, though, could be the best of the lot. Anything less than a victory on Saturday will be a huge anticlimax.
Racing’s richest day, the 22nd running of the Dubai World Cup, takes place on Saturday.
Here’s five horses to watch out for at Meydan, as picked by Dubai Racing TV presenter Laura King.
He’s officially the best horse in the world and he could become the richest ever if adding the $6million Dubai World Cup first prize to his haul of $12million that he collected when winning the Pegasus World Cup in January. Trained by dual Dubai World Cup-winning handler Bob Baffert, the four-year-old grey seems to have settled right in at Meydan since arriving last week. He should be far too good for the opposition in the big race.
Something of a legend in European racing circles, Highland Reel has won four Group I races on three different continents. He was only fourth in the Dubai Sheema Classic 12 months ago, but could be a better horse now. He heads a nine-strong contingent trained by Aidan O’Brien, who will fly his horses to Dubai later than everyone else, giving them just two days to acclimatise before racing on Saturday.
“Fawree is nuts” read the memorable quote from trainer Mike De Kock before the three-year-old won his first race at Meydan in January. Since then, his issues with the starting stalls manifested themselves when he broke through the front and ran loose on his intended prep run on ‘Super Saturday.’ A ‘Horse Whisperer,’ Malan Du Toit, was flown in from South Africa to work with him, seemingly with good results. We’ll find out on Saturday just how good, when he lines up in the UAE Derby.
Taking on Fawree is Thunder Snow, who may well be Godolphin’s best chance of a winner on the night. Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, he was an impressive victor of the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas on his most recent start, his first in Dubai. The opposition will be stronger in the UAE Derby, but he has plenty of class and can provide HH Sheikh Mohammed with another win.
From a top stallion, Dubawi, and out of an unbeaten racemare, Zarkava, Zarak is bred to be a star and he looked just that when cantering home in the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes last time out. He didn’t beat many top-notchers on that occasion, but he looked the real deal and might be hard to beat in a very strong edition of the Group 1 Dubai Turf, race seven on the card.