A field of 10 will do battle in the Group 1, $10,000,000 Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday. Dubai World Cup Day is one of the most special events of the year on the international racing calendar, with nine massive stakes races to be contested. The event is a celebration of racing and is truly a unique experience, with one of the richest races in the world run underneath the lights in the desert. Last year’s edition provided racing fans with one of the greatest single race performances of all time, and this year’s field looks to be entertaining, as well.
Leading the American charge will be the Bob Baffert-trained duo of West Coast and Mubtaahij. West Coast is coming off of a very solid second-place effort in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup, while Mubtaahij has enjoyed plenty of success over this track in the past three years. Last year, Baffert captured the Dubai World Cup with Arrogate, but he seems to be a bit more at ease about his chances this year.
“Everything this year is so smooth,” he said. “The vibe is good. I felt so much pressure last year. 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.”
An American filly has been grabbing some of the headlines from the Baffert duo. Forever Unbridled is coming off of a perfect 2017 season in which she captured the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Older Female Horse of the Year honors. The Dallas Stewart trainee will run the final race of her career on Saturday before being bred to top stallion Medaglia d’Oro. After she galloped the track on Monday, Stewart kept his thoughts short and simple.
“She’s doing fantastic,” he said. “She had an awesome morning.”
A European entry familiar to many American fans is Thunder Snow, who famously “freaked out” in the 2017 Kentucky Derby: shortly after the gates opened, he began bucking like a bronco and had to be pulled up before even passing the grandstand for the first time. Since that disaster, though, he’s run quite well, including winning over this surface two races back, and seems to be doing well coming into the race.
“He looks very well indeed and we are very happy with him,” said trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “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 (in the Dubai World Cup).”
The full field for the 2018 Dubai World Cup is as follows from the rail out: Awardee, North America, Gunnevera, Furia Cruzada, Mubtaahij, Forever Unbridled, Talismanic, Pavel, West Coast, and Thunder Snow.
#9 West Coast – Simply put, if West Coast can bring his Pegasus World Cup effort to Dubai, then he should win this race fairly easily. He was competitive in the Pegasus with the eventual winner, Gun Runner, who at that time was the best dirt horse in the world. Gun Runner would be odds-on against this field if he were still running, so West Coast becomes the very logical choice now. The only question mark? What will be his energy level after he ran so well at Gulfstream Park, only to not gain any ground on Gun Runner? If he’s bounced out of that race in good order, then he should excel here, and Baffert seems very optimistic about his chances. West Coast could stamp himself as the number-one horse in America if he can pick up this win under the lights in Dubai.
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#2 North America – Five-for-eight lifetime over the Meydan course, he set a track record last time out when winning round three of the Al Maktoum Challenge by more than 5 lengths over rival Thunder Snow. Last year, North America tried his hand at the Godolphin Mile, only to disappoint because he didn’t care for the sloppy surface that night. This race seems to suit him better from a distance standpoint, and based on the forecast, the track should be fast. He has progressively improved in each of his starts leading up to this race and could be sitting on a big one here. He looks like the main threat to the sure-to-be-heavily-favored West Coast.
#10 Thunder Snow – He can put the disaster that was his Kentucky Derby fully behind him with a win in this race, and he should have a decent shot of making that happen. He’s gained valuable experience at this track over his last three starts, although I would’ve liked to see him win his most recent one. Still, you know that the class is there; he has literally raced all over the world, and bin Suroor has won this race seven times, so you can count on him to have this horse in top shape heading into the big event.
#7 Talismanic – Who knows what will happen with this world-class horse trying the dirt for the time here. If he takes to the surface, then he can obviously be a player, but there are no guarantees. His price should probably influence how you play him. At a short or mid-range price, he’s not worth a play, but if his odds float up to double digits, then he wouldn’t be a bad horse to throw on some tickets. It will be fun to see if he can make a successful transition to the dirt.
#6 Forever Unbridled – She’ll be the sentimental choice as the only filly in the race, and she’s coming into this event sharp. The question is whether she can compete against the boys; from a speed figure standpoint, she looks to be a small notch below. However, she passed the eye test in her last two races; her move in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff was tremendous, and if she can do that again here, then she has a shot.
#3 Gunnevera – He’s the ultimate hit-the-board play in pretty much every race that he enters. This horse shows up for every big race, including last time out in the Pegasus, where he finished third. There’s no doubt what he’s going to do each race: take back early, then make one giant run in the end. This track can sometimes be unkind to closers, but if the pace is hot up front, then he should be able to pick off tired horses and hit the board.
#5 Mubtaahij – Baffert described him as “getting a little long in the tooth” when referring to his age, but this horse is no stranger to success at Meydan. He won the Group 1 UAE Derby in 2015 on his way to the Kentucky Derby, then returned in 2016 to finish second in the Dubai World Cup. He also came to Dubai for the World Cup last year, finishing fourth behind two world-class horses in Arrogate and Gun Runner. He enters this year’s edition off of a second-place effort in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. It’s not like he’s been setting the world on fire with his recent races, but if he can muster up some of that Meydan magic, he could at least hit the board at what should be a huge price.
#8 Pavel – His connections passed up a logical spot in the Santa Anita Handicap, instead aiming for this race. He probably would’ve been one of the favorites in the Big ‘Cap, but this race is a bit over his head. It seems like he’s been spotted over his head for much of his career, but has reportedly looked great since showing up in Dubai.
#4 Furia Cruzada – The other mare in this field, she hasn’t won in a while and was recently defeated by North America and Thunder Snow in her last few races. She will have to show considerable improvement to get the job done here.
#1 Awardee – This horse has struggled in his last few starts, and that will be hard to change in a race of this caliber. He seems overmatched no matter how you look at it.