They won’t be the main contenders for the two most valuable turf races on the Dubai World Cup card, but Aidan O’Brien believes Idaho and Lancaster Bomber should command plenty of respect in their assignments at Meydan on Saturday.
Idaho contests the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, a race in which his record-breaking handler has a fine record, having won it in 2013 with St Nicholas Abbey, runner-up 12 months prior. Last year O’Brien also prepared Seventh Heaven to finish second to Jack Hobbs.
Perhaps there is a temptation to underrate Idaho. Perhaps the son of Galileo remains tarnished by a stumble in the 2016 St Leger that deposited his jockey on the Doncaster turf. That said, his best form when placing in both the Epsom and Irish Derbies, allied with victories in the Great Voltiguer and the Hardwicke Stakes, should mean he is taken very seriously this weekend.
The X-factor, O’Brien believes, is not so much his ability on the track, but rather how he handles the rigours of travel, something that is slightly unfortunate as his older brother, the mighty Highland Reel, won seven G1 races on three continents.
But even Highland Reel failed to place in either of his two starts in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, so this is a good opportunity for Idaho to get one over his exalted sibling.
“It took us a while to get his travelling routine right. He went across to America and Canada a few times and was never really himself. His best run was when he finished fifth in the Japan Cup, always a very strong race. He shipped better then and that was a longer trip, too,” O’Brien said.
“He is entitled to run well on Saturday as he is bit more experienced. He has a nice draw in two and seems to have travelled well so we’re hopeful.”
Ballydoyle’s record in the Dubai Turf is not as good – none of their four runners to date have finished better than seventh – so one as consistent as Lancaster Bomber might well better on that score at the very least.
It must frustrate that the son of War Front has just one win in a maiden from 15 career starts to his name. Meanwhile, he counts five second-placed finishes in G1s, including two Breeders’ Cups and the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. It is a little reminiscent of his half-brother, Excelebration, who placed in five G1 races, as well as ultimately winning three.
“Lancaster Bomber has progressed well from three to four. He ran at this meeting last year when a good fourth in the UAE Derby, so he knows the environment. Maybe running him on the dirt is something we will keep in mind for later, but for now nine furlongs [1800m] might be as far as he wants to go,” O’Brien said.
“He is one of the highest-rated horses in the race and he loves the fast ground he will get at Meydan. He’s a very hardy horse and he could travel plenty this year.”