Mubtaahij should feel right at home at Meydan - but don’t expect him to stay there

Mubtaahij at Meydan: this was his eight-length victory in the 2015 UAE Derby under Christophe Soumillon

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

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, 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 Bob Baffert last July.

“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 G1 Awesome Again Stakes in Southern California. He was second last time out in another G1, 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 Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, who is the first cousin of 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.

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