Keeneland presents American Graded Stakes Standings: The Dubai Myth?
If Royal Delta felt any ill effects from her long journey to Dubai and back this year, she certainly didn’t show it Saturday night, when she romped by eight lengths in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Game On Dude didn’t seem too bothered either when he made his first start following a 12th place finish in the Dubai World Cup. He dusted a small field by more than seven lengths in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park earlier this month.
But there has been a school of thought through the years that American runners shipping to Dubai are never quite the same upon returning to the U.S.
Is there any validity to that?
Looking specifically at the history of American shippers in the Dubai World Cup race, there are cases of horses that went to Dubai for the annual March event and never raced again. 2005 winner Roses In May, trained by Dale Romans and owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, had a four-month hiatus following the World Cup and was injured in one of his first workouts. He was retired.
For the runner-up that year, Dynever, the World Cup was also his final race. In 2004, Medaglia D’Oro spent his final racing strides finishing second in Dubai. Also-rans Fleetstreet Dancer and Blue Burner in ’04 and ’03, respectively, called it quits after the World Cup.
In 2009, after Well Armed crushed the World Cup field by 14 lengths, he only raced once more, finishing last of eight in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar that August. Albertus Maximus finished sixth in that World Cup and never raced again.
But for each example like that, there are many others who came back just fine.
In 2008, Well Armed returned from his second-place finish in the World Cup to win the San Diego and the Goodwood Stakes and finish second in the Pacific Classic.
Curlin’s 2008 World Cup win was followed by victories in the Stephen Foster Handicap, the Woodward Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In 2004, Pleasantly Perfect returned from his World Cup victory to finish second in the San Diego, win the Pacific Classic and finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before being retired at age six.
Gio Ponti returned in June from his fourth-place finish in the 2010 World Cup to finish second in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap. He went on to win the Man o’ War Stakes that year, finish second in the Arlington Million, win the Shadwell Turf Mile and be runner-up to Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
He returned to Dubai the following year, finished fifth, followed the exact same schedule as 2010 and hit the board in all of those races except the BC Mile.
“It’s a myth,” says trainer Bob Baffert about the idea that Dubai is automatically a troubled trip.
The Hall of Fame trainer speaks from experience. He has maintained a regular presence in Dubai since Silver Charm won the third running of the World Cup in 1998. Baffert admits he was initially worried about the effects the journey might have, so he was overly cautious.
“What I did wrong with Silver Charm is that I gave him too much time off,” said Baffert. “I gave him a month of just walking, and he got really heavy and soft. It took a long time to get him back.”
Following his victory in the World Cup, Silver Charm didn’t win again until the fall, taking both the Kentucky Cup Classic and the Goodwood before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and winning the Clark Handicap.
“I just put him on the couch for 30 days, basically,” Baffert said of Silver Charm’s regiment following Dubai. “They don’t need that much time off. Just a couple of weeks.”
One thing that is different between then and now is that the World Cup is run on Tapeta, not dirt. The synthetic surface was installed in 2010 with the opening of the new home to the World Cup, Meydan Racecourse.
“I think it’s different now,” Baffert said. “That track is really demanding. When I get them back here, they need some time.”
Baffert said Game On Dude was “tired and quiet” for a couple of weeks following his trip this year.
“As soon as he woke up, that’s when he went back to the track, and he was fine. They’ll tip you off.”
It’s hard to make sweeping statements about the effects of Dubai on American runners. Each horse handles it differently, said Baffert.
Plus, there are so many other factors that could be involved. Horses that struggled or were retired following the World Cup – some of them were around the traditional retirement age and/or headed for stud careers anyway. Others sustained injuries that could have occurred if they never traveled anywhere. It may also depend on how the horse performs in Dubai. Baffert said Richard’s Kid, who finished seventh in the 2010 World Cup and returned to the U.S. to win the Pacific Classic and the Goodwood that year, looked great coming back.
“He didn’t run his race over there.” If a horse doesn’t run well, it’s usually not that taxing, Baffert said.
While there’s certainly anecdotal evidence to suggest some horses have trouble rebounding from a trip halfway around the world, a majority of World Cup participants, like Royal Delta and Game On Dude, that were performing well before heading to Dubai come back to resume their winning ways in the States.