Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum's Mubtaahij made his first start for trainer Bob Baffert in Saturday's Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes, and also added blinkers for the first time in his career. The 5-year-old son of Dubawi, ridden by Drayden Van Dyke, delivered a 1 1/2-length victory for his new conditioner, earning his first graded victory in the U.S. and an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall at Del Mar.
After rating in fourth behind the frontrunning Midnight Storm (8-1), co-second choice Mubtaahij (3-1) came three-wide around the turn to challenge for the lead. Staying on his wrong lead through the stretch, Mubtaahij eventually pulled away nearing the wire, completing nine furlongs over Santa Anita's fast main track in 1:51.32. Stablemate Cupid, the 6-5 favorite, finished fourth.
“This horse, his last two works really impressed us,” said Baffert. “I just threw him in here and he has the class. He's proven. Even last year, those last few races in New York were pretty strong. He needed today. He got a little tired there at the end. He's good to have in the barn.”
Most recently fourth in the 2017 Dubai World Cup, Mubtaahij has been in Baffert's care since July. His first start for the Hall of Famer came in the Awesome Again, though his stablemate Cupid was favored at 6-5 over his 3-1.
“I was getting ready to use Drayden at the beginning of the year but then he broke his arm,” Baffert explained. “I was watching him. He came up through Tom Proctor and he taught him well. He taught him how to be patient, how to be a horseman. He like the horses, he gets along with them. I was waiting for him and now, I have no problem putting him on a good horse. He's pretty smart, does his homework. I like students of the game and Mike Smith has taught him a lot. He listens, he's a good kid and he's been working a lot of my horses. If you work them, we'll throw you a bone. That's the way it works here; just have to wait on the bone. He got one with a little filet on it today.”
As expected, Midnight Storm jumped out to the lead under Tyler Baze, with the remainder of the seven-horse field wrestling for position behind him. Donworth was in second early on, but was hung three-wide in the turn as Curlin Rules forced his way between that horse and Midnight Storm. Outside those three was Cupid, whom Rafael Bejarano was attempting to wrangle back off the pace with little luck early on.
It wasn't until the backstretch that the field settled into positions behind Midnight Storm. Donworth ended up in second in front of Curlin Rules at the rail, with Cupid in the two-path behind Donworth. Through fractions of :23.20 and :47.06, those three urged Midnight Storm's pace, while Mubtaahij and Breaking Lucky moved in unison in fifth position.
“The trip was great,” Van Dyke said. “I was really keeping my eye on Cupid and taking my cue from him. I was placed where I wanted to be and didn't start asking him until late. But when I asked him, he responded.”
Approaching the far turn, Cupid angled three-wide to challenge the leaders while Mubtaahij moved up into fourth position. Donworth drew even with Midnight Storm briefly but dropped back before the head of the lane.
That left Midnight Storm and Cupid together at the front, with Mubtaahij rolling up three-wide. Though he never changed from his right lead, Mubtaahij continued to drive toward the wire and eventually inched away from his competition to score by 1 1/2 lengths. Midnight Storm fought on valiantly at the rail to hold second over the late-running Win the Space (25-1), while Cupid had to settle for fourth.
“I'm disappointed in Cupid,” Baffert said. “I thought Cupid would be on the lead, or close to it. I'm surprised he flattened out at the end.”
Bred in Ireland by Dunmore Stud, Mubtaahij was a $599,760 yearling purchase at Arqana. He raced twice at Newmarket but did not break his maiden until running at Meydan, where he eventually won the UAE Derby to earn a spot in the 2015 Kentucky Derby (he finished eighth). Mubtaahij returned to run fourth in the Belmont before shipping back overseas. In 2016, he finished second to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup, and in 2017, he finished fourth in the same race. Between World Cups, Mubtaahij ran three times in New York, including a close second in the G1 Woodward last year.
The Awesome Again was Mubtaahij's first start since late March, and the win improves his overall record to 5-4-1 from 18 starts. The horse has earned over $4.5 million.
“Well it looks like he'll be in the Breeders' Cup Classic,” Baffert added. “They're all in. They're all being pointed for it, unless they're not training well or something. I just need to figure out how to make up 10 lengths on Bolt d'Oro (laughing), I think I can get five. Solomini is a nice horse and he's learning how to run. I knew I was in with two monster 2-year-olds but I'm just glad I picked up one Grade I today, so it's good.”
Watch the race replay here:
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