News

Dubai World Cup 2018 Features: North America, Mubtaahij, Vazirabad, Librisa Breeze, Monday, March 26, 2018

Seemar Living the American Dream

As Dubai’s senior trainer, Satish Seemar has experienced all the massive changes in the Emirates racing landscape, and he could be forgiven for taking another big night at Meydan as a matter of course. Yet, with five runners to saddle on Saturday, he is approaching the world’s richest single day’s racing with the enthusiasm of a rookie.

“I’ve been here for 27 years,” he said. “It’s the 23rd year of the Dubai World Cup, and this is the best team I’ve ever fielded on the big day.”

His flagbearer is North America, whose appearance in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline he describes as fulfilling “a dream.”

“Since His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum built this amazing racecourse and then started the Godolphin sales of horses, it was his way to tell the rest of us to get on and do something different,” Seemar explained.

“I interpreted that as to mean introducing private ownership, which I started on straight away. I can proudly say that three of my five runners have come from the Godolphin sales, including North America, and are all owned by different people, including a syndicate which has Raven’s Corner.”

North America, the mount of stable jockey Richard Mullen, takes pride of place, after progressing through the three rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge with a better placing each time.

Seemar said, “He’s done nothing but improve since he arrived at Zabeel Stables, after I bought him for Dh140,000 at the April sale in 2016. He came as a maiden rated 75 and was very impressive when he won for us first time out by eight lengths. He then won one handicap by eight and three-quarter lengths and another by a length and a quarter, beating Heavy Metal. And finally he won a Group 3, the Firebreak Stakes, by seven lengths.

“Before World Cup day it rained for 36 hours, and he hadn’t the experience for the sloppy going in the Godolphin Mile, plus being drawn wide didn’t help him at all. When I woke up on the morning of the race, I knew it wasn’t going to be my day, so we had to write it off.”

Starting with a clean sheet this year, North America was well beaten in the Al Maktoum Challenge R1, ran Thunder Snow to a neck in the second round and turned the tables on the Godolphin contender by an impressive five and a quarter lengths in the final stage.

Seemar explained: “The plan was to take it steady with him this year. I wanted to run him earlier than we did, but it didn’t work out because I didn’t think he was 100 per cent ready to go. You have to swallow your ego and excitement, and listen to the horseman’s voice in your head. That’s what we did, and slow and steady, he’s peaking at the right time.

“He’s a thorough gentleman of a horse to deal with, no attitude, no dangerous playing around, just a gentle giant. He has one rider, Abdul Sattar, who’s my oldest staff member at Zabeel. In fact, it’s a mystery how old he is. He’s a very small, fragile man, but he has great hands.”

Seemar added: “We’ve not done anything special with North America in the build-up. We always work five days out, and his final work-out was on Monday as a wake-up call. If everything goes well and the draw is kind, I feel we’re as good as any other horse in the field. It’s the first time I’ve felt that at a high level of racing. We definitely belong there.”

-Howard Wright, DWC Notes Team

Dubai is Home for Mubtaahij

If Mubtaahij could speak, he would most likely say “been there, done that” about his foray for the US $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1).

Almost half of the 6-year-old son of Dubawi`s 22 career efforts have been at Meydan, and he was the runner-up to North American champion California Chrome in the 2016 edition as well as finishing fourth behind Arrogate last year.

In 2015, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum`s horse won four of five starts at this track, including the UAE Derby. Formerly with Mike De Kock, he moved to the legendary conditioner Bob Baffert in July of last year.

“He’s just an old warrior and he runs well on that track and likes that surface. He’s never run a bad race there," Baffert said.

Baffert will also saddle West Coast, the reigning American champion 3-year-old male, in the race and he has no compunctions about leading over Mubtaahij as well.

“He’s doing really well so we sent him,” he said. “His owner told me that if I think he’s doing really well and is going to be competitive to bring him so that’s why he’s here. This race is in the Sheikh`s backyard. We have some other horses for him and he`s a very nice man and he`s very patient.

“It’s huge. It’s a great event and it’s their Kentucky Derby so they all want to be involved. At the same time, he said it’s only if we think this horse is going to be competitive to bring him. I think he’ll be very competitive.”

Mubtaahij has not tasted victory since September 2017, when he captured the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) in Southern California. He was second last time out in another Grade 1 affair, the Santa Anita Handicap on March 10, and Baffert saw encouraging signs.

"We tried something different and took the blinkers off him, and the track was sloppy that day," he said. "“He has a lot of class. Those good horses hold their class as long as you don’t overdo it with them. You don’t have to train them hard. He stays in shape. He just ran a mile and a quarter (2000m) and he ran really well so I don’t have to do much with him. He’s fine."

On race night, Victor Espinoza will be handed the reins for the first time but he is no stranger to the track either, having been the pilot on California Chrome in the 2016 Dubai World Cup.

"Victor knows his way around this track," Baffert said with a smile. "Mike Smith, who rode him last time, is riding the mare (Forever Unbridled) in the race and Victor was going to be here anyway so he got the call. Victor came by (in California) and breezed him the other day to get to know him and they got along fine.

“The thing about this race is you just don’t know. You need a lot of racing luck. We know what kind of horse West Coast is and he’s doing really well. If we can run one-two, that’s a pretty nice payday. I don`t like to jinx myself, but I have a quiet confidence about my horses.”

A Dubai World Cup win would be a major milestone for HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, who is the first cousin of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The owner campaigns his horses globally and won the UAE Triple Crown in 2007 with Asiatic Boy.

Among the half-dozen or so horses Baffert currently trains for him is multiple Graded stakes winner Vale Dori, who is being freshened from her 2017 season and is expected to return to action.

There had been speculation that after the race Mubtaahij would remain in Dubai to race or be retired, but Baffert put those rumours to rest and said that the horse will be on the flight back to the United States and will rejoin his stable.

-Lynne Snierson, DWC Notes Team

Vazirabad Primed for Third Dubai Gold Cup

French raider Vazirabad will extend his own record even further should he come up with a third consecutive victory in Saturday’s Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors.

Based in the famous training centre of Chantilly, situated about 50km to the north of Paris, France, the now 6-year-old gelding was only seen another four times after becoming the first horse to claim Meydan’s premier staying race for the second time last March.

His handler Alain de Royer Dupré explained: “Following his start in Meydan last year, we were aiming him at the Ascot Gold Cup and the Goodwood Cup, but during his prep race in the Prix Vicomtesse Vigier, a Group 2, he was struck into by a horse that was wearing blinkers.

“There were only three runners in that race and he got a proper knock to his tendon. As we didn’t want to risk further injury by working him too early, it kind of ruined our season a bit. He did win another Group 1 race in the autumn, but he wasn’t the horse as we know him.”

Luckily that incident is now only a distant memory for the son of Manduro, who carries the famous colours of HH Aga Khan. The sun in Dubai seems to suit him and although he was beaten a length and three-quarters by the Charlie Appleby trained Rare Rhythm when he made his seasonal reappearance in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy sponsored by Al Naboodah Civil Engineering (G3), his handler was well pleased with the result.

“I think his run in the prep race this year was much better than last year’s,” said De Royer Dupré, who had flown over specially to oversee that first run of his stable star. “Last year he was the runner-up after a mediocre performance, but this year he and the winner produced a fantastic run up the final straight. I think they left the others seven or eight lengths behind.”

He laughed and added: “It’s funny, we have never seen him so calm before a race. It really was the first time in his career that he was so calm. It’s a sign that he was feeling good, that he was confident.”

Last year, Vazirabad was a different horse when he lined up at the start of the 3200m Dubai Gold Cup and the trainer is hoping for a similar performance this year.

“We always wanted to come back,” he confirmed. “We thought, he did well twice, why not a third time. However, last time out he came up against a real good horse and we will have to beat him. Vazirabad will have come on from that first start, but for all I know, so will Rare Rhythm.

“He is trained by Charlie Appleby, who knows how to get his horses spot on. He is no amateur! But the longer trip should help us a bit. What is a bigger concern to me is the big field. We could easily run into traffic problems. However, we are really happy with Vazirabad and for the time being are not worried. He did his last serious work last Tuesday on the turf course and from now on will only be ticking over on the dirt track.”

He paused and concluded: “You know at his age, the more you age, the less you should work hard. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about!”

-Liz Price, DWC Notes Team

Life’s a Breeze for Sprint King Ivory

Equine speedsters have become synonymous with Dean Ivory’s boutique stable based just a few miles from London’s bustling northern suburbs.

Ivory has forged a formidable reputation as a conditioner of popular sprinters such as Lancelot Du Lac, Sirius Prospect and the plucky Tropics, bought for US $3,700 and - still winning at the age of 10 – now the earner of $725,000 in purses.

But best of all is a 6-year-old set to take on a daunting international challenge in Saturday’s G1 Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments - Librisa Breeze.

Owner Tony Bloom bought the grey for around $135,000 in 2015 and his purchase has been on an upward form trajectory ever since, culminating in a victory in the Group 1 British Champions Sprint at Ascot in October.

“I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,” said Ivory. “Although he won a Group 1 last year he has been very unlucky at times. He has to come from the back or mid-division and finish with a late run so he needs luck in running. Every race last year he got stopped two or three times.

“He’s a big, big horse for the future and, barring any accidents, I think we should have a lot of fun with him this year. I actually think he is going to be even better over 1400-1600m.”

Librisa Breeze arrived in Meydan early on Saturday morning and had a gentle canter around the training track on Monday morning under groom Emily Crossman. With top performers from the UAE, USA, Australia and Ireland all set to line up in a fabulous renewal of Saturday’s sprint, Ivory believes that his stable star – set to be partnered by regular rider Robert Winston - heads into the race with bright prospects.

“I think he’s got every chance,” added Ivory. “I wouldn’t be sending him all that way just to take part - I’m going with the intention of having a big run. I suppose a worry might be the climate, it’s been very cold with us at home and it’s set to be a warm week in Dubai.

“From a trainer’s point of view, to win a Group 1 at home is fantastic, but if we managed to do it in Dubai it would be just be a dream come true - not just for me, but for my owners and all the staff. We’re a team.”

Ivory took over the license from his father Ken at the family’s Harper Lodge Farm in Hertfordshire in 2002 and he has deliberately limited numbers.

“We end up with 50-60 in training through the year and that works for me,” he continued. “Last year I turned a few away, I am a bit selective about horses and owners, but I feel comfortable with the numbers I have. I can pay all the bills, do the job properly and be very hands-on. I think that’s why we are successful.”

But Ivory admits that it is something of a mystery as to why the stable has developed such as a niche with speed horses.
“I’ve no idea what is about sprinters, they just seem to like me,” he said. “We have a long all-weather gallop with twists and turn and I actually train them over a mile and a half. It works and they just seem to enjoy what they are doing when they get to the racecourse.”

-Ed Prosser, DWC Notes Team