- india's first & foremost horse racing portal


By Leslie Wilson Jr | 20 Mar 2024 |

American Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has great memories of the UAE having won the $12 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates on four occasions, the most by any trainer beside Saeed bin Suroor (nine).

However, there is one other memory that will remain with him forever and it’s not a good one.

In 2012 Baffert, who came to Dubai with a horse called Game On Dude, suffered a life-threatening heart attack just days before the race and was rushed to City Hospital where specialists carried out an emergency surgery to save his life.

Game On Dude did not win, but Baffert won the battle for his life as he made a quick recovery.

Earlier this week, he paid tribute to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who famously visited Baffert in the hospital and wished him well.

“I have great memories because I had a heart attack there and Sheikh Mohammed saved me,” Baffert told the Dubai Racing Club.

“I got a second chance; he sent a top guy (doctor) in there and he fixed me. There wouldn’t have been any Triple Crowns if he hadn’t saved me.

“I have so much respect for Sheikh Mohammed and his family – he’s such a visionary and has been really good for American racing.”

Baffert, who is one of the most successful trainers in American racing history, has claimed four Dubai World Cup trophies with Silver Charm (1998), Captain Steve (2001), Arrogate (2017), and Country Grammer (2022), and has sent out Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap hero Newgate in a bid for a fifth title.

The American will not be at Meydan on March 30, and he will be represented by his long-time training partner Jimmy Barnes.

“I love Dubai, I’d love to go but I’m shorthanded of an assistant right now, so Jimmy is going, he’ll be there at the weekend, along with a rider and a groom,” Baffert said.

“With Newgate I know I’m kind of back a little quick, but he’s a really hardy horse who carries a lot of flesh,” says the silver-haired American.

“He’s doing better now than he was going into the Big Cap when he was a little heavy. I really think he’s doing well.”

Baffert confirmed that Newgate will be ridden by three-time Dubai World Cup-winning jockey Frankie Dettori, who was in the saddle when Country Grammer provided the American handler with his fourth trophy after comfortably seeing off the challenge of Hot Rod Charlie (Flavien Prat/Doug O'Neill), Chuwa Wizard (Yuga Kawada, Ryuji Okubo) and Life Is Good (Irad Ortiz Jr./ Todd Pletcher).

“The thing about Frankie Dettori is the great riders don’t need any instructions,” said Baffert of the British ace who is currently based in Santa Anita, north east Los Angeles.

“When the gate opens, they figure it out. The last thing on my mind is worrying about Frankie and what he’s going to do on the horse. My job is to make sure that the horse shows up.”

Assessing the opposition that Newgate and Dettori have to negotiate, which include the defending champion Ushba Tesoro, last year’s UAE Derby scorer Derma Sotogake and recent Saudi Cup victor Senor Bescador, Baffert said: “I’m running against one of my old horses (Laurel River). He’s a really talented horse; a top calibre horse. They can all stay if they don’t go too fast early on.”

Baffert trained the six-year-old son of Into Mischief to win the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar, before the horse was transferred to Bhupat Seemar’s Zabeel Stables in Dubai.

His past victories in Dubai have spanned over 25 years, and not surprisingly the American named one of Dubai World Cup’s most iconic winners as his favourite.

“Arrogate was one of the greatest performances of any racehorses that I’ve ever trained - he was incredible," he said.

“To me, it was like a Secretariat-like performance. What he did that night; not breaking, being last, coming around… Gun Runner was a great horse and he just catches him like it was an exercise gallop.

“Winning the first time with Silver Charm was just really exciting. It’s the only race that you lead your horse up there and you go I think he’s doing well but I really don’t know. I hope he handles everything,” he added.

“I remember Captain Steve; he was normally on the lead but he was four lengths off it and I thought ‘maybe he's not running’ and then he came up and won it. It’s magical, it’s a challenge and I love challenges, but if you have a good horse and he’s ready, you can win it.”

Beside his four Dubai World Cup wins Baffert also won the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) in 2015 with Secret Circle and has sent his favourite sprinter Hopkiins to have another shot at Meydan glory. Hopkins was fourth to the re-opposing Sibelius 12 months ago, and Baffert said: “Hopkins ran well last year and I think he’s doing better this year.”

“He always shows up; he’s big strong horse. I had him and another horse but I decided to go with him because he’s doing so well right now. When you go halfway across the world you have to make sure your horse is in top form because it’s a tough ship.”

The unmistakable ‘white-haired’ Baffert who has defined horse racing for so many years will be conspicuously absent at Meydan Dubai World Cup day, but he could still cause a huge stir should Newgate land the spoils under the legendary Dettori.