It's hard to believe that 21 years have passed since this writer observed the great Cigar charging down the straight of Dubai's Nad-Al-Sheba track, annexing the inaugural running of what was then the world's richest Thoroughbred horse race, namely the Dubai World Cup (Gr.1-2000 m.). That race, now contested at the state-of-the-art Meydan Racecourse and worth a total of $10 million, has been surpassed in racing's pantheon by the Pegasus World Cup ($12 million) at Gulfstream Park – in value terms but not in prestige.
This year the Dubai World Cup, which will be run under lights at 10:15 p.m. IST on Saturday, March 25th, sees a field of 14 high-class customers headed to the starting gate. A diverse mix of equines and humans (owners. jockeys and trainers) – hailing from such varied locations as Europe, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South America, the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America – is represented.
It is the winner of the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup – and officially the highest rated racehorse in training on the planet – that is a prohibitive 1/3 favourite here. His name is Arrogate (by Unbridled's Song), a steed that has earned in excess of $11 million from a mere seven lifetime starts. What's more, his official rating of 134 is at least 16 points higher than any of his 13 rivals. That would suggest that the big-made grey ought to land the prize for owner Juddmonte Farms, Inc., trainer Bob Baffert and rider Mike Smith with some ease.
A quick run-through of the form of the contenders for the night's feature, in order of card number (which is also the draw number), follows:
#1 APOLLO KENTUCKY : Trained by Kenji Yamauchi, ridden by Christophe-Patrice Lemaire
One of four Japanese-trained runners here, the US-bred Apollo Kentucky has not been seen in public since scoring in the Tokyo Daishoten in his home country at the fag end of last year. It will require all of Lemaire's considerable skills to get the Langfuhr five-year-old to have a say in the destination of the prize.
#2 LONG RIVER : Trained by Salem bin Ghadayer, ridden by Mickael Barzalona
Formerly schooled by Kiaran McLaughlin, this son of A.P. Indy come off a win in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge over course and distance. This is a race that has proved to be an excellent pointer to the big one, which suggests Long River has every chance of running into a place. He will start from one slot away from the fence, which means he should soon be on the rail and able to dictate the pace.
#3 GOLD DREAM : Trained by Osamu Hirata, ridden by Joao Moreira
Perhaps the best shot for runners hailing from the "Land of the Rising Sun", the consistent Gold Dream (by Gold Allure) aims to follow up on his victory in the February Stakes at Tokyo last time out. Replacing regular partner Mirco Demuro in the saddle is the Brazilian ace Moreira, brimful of confidence after stunning the racing world earlier this month by winning no less than 8 races on a single card at Hong Kong's Sha Tin racecourse.
# 4 LANI : Trained by Mikio Matsunaga, and ridden by Ryan Moore
Another who will need the aid of the rider to step up is this American-bred grey son of Tapit. Moore has been known to extract the maximum from his mounts but will be hard put to prevail here. That said, the four-year-old is highly thought of – in the Spring of last year Lani had been sent across from Japan to challenge for the Kentucky Derby as well as the Preakness Stakes but failed to figure on the board in either event.
# 5 GUN RUNNER : Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Florent Geroux
An esteemed customer, he brings his "A" game to this contest, riding a streak of two victories, but it's worth remembering Arrogate trounced this son of Candy Ride when they met in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last year. The margin was 15 lengths and it would be optimistic to suggest that Gun Runner will be able to bridge the gap.
# 6 MOVE UP : Trained by Saeed bin Suroor and ridden by Adrie de Vries
The Dubawi four-year-old will have to do just what his name implies, namely to move up and take higher rank. Godolphin runners have often done just that in this race in the past – the names of African Story and Monterosso spring to mind. Move Up has the benefit of a race on the track but was easily outpointed by Long River on that occasion.
# 7 AWARDEE : Trained by Mikio Matsunaga and ridden by Yutaka Take
Handler Matsunaga is double-handed here and has retained the services of Japanese ace rider Take to guide his other ward, a veteran son of Jungle Pocket. Ten of his 34 starts have yielded victories and Awardee has not been out of 1-2 in the last 12 months. Take knows him well and the distance suits. Still, he has a mountain to climb.
# 8 FURIO CRUZADA : Trained by Ewan Charpy and ridden by Antonio Fresu
The Chilean turf has been making giant strides of late and has sent across the only female in the field in the shape of this daughter of Newfoundland. Furio Cruzada is hoping for a maiden success for a filly or mare as none of that sex has won this race before. Despite her decent efforts on the Meydan track, one doubts her ability to cope with these rivals. Incidentally, last year's hero, California Chrome, will be shuttling to Chile later year.
# 9 ARROGATE : Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith
While being well aware of the pitfalls of racing, one can confidently say the favourite will be standing in the winner's enclosure after the race – barring mishap. Arrogate simply towers over his rivals and little more needs to be said. Baffert has sent out previous winners Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).
# 10 KEEN ICE : Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano
Returning for a second crack in this race, though fielded by a different barn, this son of previous winner Curlin will always be remembered on the turf for his upset of American Pharoah. That came almost two years ago and the fact that Keen Ice has been winless (in 9 starts) since then tells its own tale. It will be interesting to see if Pletcher can conjure up a better performance than Dale Romans last year.
# 11 NEOLITHIC : Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez
A stablemate of Keen Ice, this Qatar racing standard-bearer has crossed swords with Arrogate in the recent past – in the Pegasus World Cup – but came off the worst. Over 8 lengths separated the pair on that occasion and while the Harlan's Holiday colt could hit the board, expecting a win for Neolithic would be rather too much.
# 12 HOPPERTUNITY : Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Flavien Prat
The Pegram silks have been seen in the winner's enclosure before when adorning outsider Captain Steve, 16 years ago. Baffert's second string, an offspring of Any Given Saturday, is a very decent performer who was third in this race last year and has been shining in his morning exercises. Hoppertunity could well assist in completing a stable exacta.
# 13 SPECIAL FIGHTER: Trained by Maria Ritchie and ridden by Fernando Jara
Perhaps none of the 14 runners has greater fondness for the Meydan track than Special Fighter, whose last 8 starts have all come at that spectacular venue. Can "home turf" advantage work in favour of the Teofilo six-year-old? He was after all runner-up to Long River last time out and was close enough to give rise to hopes of a reversal here – but can he pose a challenge to the favourite? Even though he was fourth in this race last year, "unlikely" would be the verdict.
# 14 MUBTAAHIJ: Trained by Mike De Kock and ridden by Christophe Soumillon
Last year's runner-up, a respectable distance behind California Chrome, he did not win at any of his three American forays in 2016 but showed signs of revival in a listed handicap at Meydan last month. A five-year-old by Dubawi, Mubtaahij is primed and ready but it's doubtful if he can topple the colossus at the head of the betting market.