With shipping protocols and other such logistics coming into play, the world's richest race continues to take shape with haste. In as much, the $12 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirate Airline (G1) appears to have a nice balance of familiar faces and new players, in both equine and human form.
One such candidate who has arguably the most enviable connections of any is Dabster, whose trainer Bob Baffert has three victories in the race and was second last year with market favourite West Coast. Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, the son of Curlin carries the same yellow and blue silks as no less than three Dubai World Cup runner-ups—Mubtaahij, Lizard's Desire and Asiatic Boy—the last of whom was coincidentally second to his sire in 2008. The $1 million Fasig-Tipton purchase was nearly joined by stablemate McKinzie as Dubai-bound, but his conditioner decided against it after they worked on Sunday.
“Dabster is definitely going to the Dubai World Cup,” Baffert said. “McKinzie was on the fence. I think they're going to re-card the (Santa Anita Handicap).”
A consistent performer, Dabster is similar in style to another Baffert pupil who took home a nice chunk of the sizable pot a few years ago, Hoppertunity (third in 2016). Dabster, though, has even more to prove. He has not won a graded race, but has two stakes wins to his credit against lesser company. Facing stiff class in recent months, he has held his own, including a head loss to Breeders' Cup winner Battle of Midway, who was expected to be one of the favorites in the Dubai World Cup before his untimely demise.
In 13 starts, the versatile charge has five victories and has proven effective from 1400m to 2800m, including a runner-up at the latter extreme in the Marathon (G2) last fall. Two starts ago, he was a fine third, between 1¼ lengths, in the San Antonio (G2) behind Gift Box and Battle of Midway. The former, trained by John Sadler, was being pointed to the Dubai World Cup until this week.
“He just needs more time,” Sadler said. “When I ship out, I ship to win, so I wasn't going to go just to go. His training was interrupted by the weather, so, unfortunately, we won't make it to Dubai.”
Following the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday at Meydan, the local horses are now sorted for the big day, topped by defending champion Thunder Snow—a respectable runner-up—and runaway winner Capezzano, whose dominance draped the recently completed 2019 Dubai World Cup Carnival.
They were followed home by South Korean invader Dolkong, whose performance was doubly impressive, as it came only nine days after a romp in the Curlin Handicap (Listed) over the same 2000m. Still, all paths lead through the behemoth that is North America, who skipped Round 3—a race he dominated in 2018—to come into Mar. 30 a fresh horse. Fringe players who would likely hope to get into the big dance are New Trails and Gronkowski (both unplaced in Round 3), who ran fairly well, but must improve.
The proverbial x-factor may be Muntazah, who was originally possible for Round 3, but chose to contest the Burj Nahaar (G3) on Super Saturday, dismantling his foes by 10 lengths and setting a track record (1:34.99) for 1600m. The Doug Watson trainee is now more likely for the Godolphin Mile (G2), a race in which he was second last year. Still, if he reverses course, he has the tactical speed and overall class to be a serious threat to all involved.
While invitations have not been confirmed, it is good to keep a watch on possible runners. Below are some possibles and a list that is ultimately pure guess-work until official invitations are announced and a field of probables takes shape.
DWC Watch: Thunder Snow, North America, Capezzano, Muntazah, Audible, Yoshida, Gunnevera, K T Brave, Seeking the Soul, Dabster, New Trials, Gronkowski and Dolkong.
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