Now back with original trainer Mike de Kock, Mubtaahij will kick off his five-year-old campaign in Thursday’s listed Curlin H., a course-and-distance prep for the March 25 Dubai World Cup (G1) at Meydan.
The about 1 1/4-mile test, formerly just a handicap, was used by Curlin in 2008 and California Chrome last year as a springboard to World Cup glory. It was elevated to listed stakes status this season, and rebranded in Curlin’s honor, while maintaining handicap conditions.
Mubtaahij rates as the 132-pound highweight as the class of the field. One of the stars of the 2015 Dubai Carnival, the son of Dubawi romped in the UAE Derby (G2) to book his ticket to Churchill Downs. He didn’t do himself justice when eighth behind American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but fared better to finish fourth to the Triple Crown champ in the Belmont (G1).
Freshened for the 2016 Carnival, Mubtaahij took three starts to round into form. He saved his best for last with a runner-up effort to California Chrome in the World Cup.
Mubtaahij subsequently joined Kiaran McLaughlin for a stateside sojourn. His three-race venture didn’t produce a win, but he did prove himself up to US Grade 1 level by missing narrowly to Shaman Ghost in the Woodward (G1) and finishing third in the Suburban (G2). Mubtaahij failed to duplicate that form when a well-beaten fourth to World Cup rival Hoppertunity in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in his latest appearance October 8.
De Kock had originally planned to make the February 11 Firebreak (G3) the starting point for Mubtaahij, but believed he needed a little more time. If he had lined up, it’s doubtful he could have contained the red-hot North America in his first start back over a metric mile.
Although ring-rustiness is a concern off the layoff, especially conceding lumps of weight all around, his rivals are a mixed bag.
In a Wednesday update on his website, de Kock pulled no punches about Mubtaahij’s lack of readiness. Indeed, he emphasized that is of paramount importance, regardless of the opposition.
Mubtaahij arrived back in Dubai on 12 December after a short spell in quarantine, which was really his only period of rest after his US campaign. He ran some cracking races in the US, but he wasn’t moving too well on his return so we had to take things quite easy with him.
He is moving well again, we’re happy with his progress but he is some way off his peak. He’s been with two trainers in a year, he’s visited two continents and was on different feeds. It’s hard to pick them up from exploits like these.
Horses are not machines, they’re no switches you can flick on and off.
The strength of this field tomorrow doesn’t matter. Mubtaahij will need the run, he is not at his best and if he doesn’t put in a satisfactory run we’ll race him again on Super Saturday next week. He will make good improvement going into the World Cup.
As of Tuesday morning’s declaration stage, nine signed on against Mubtaahij.
Doug Watson, known for his stable’s dirt proficiency, has three in the line-up. Seven-year-old Layl has competed in Group company in the past, notably finishing a neck second in last year’s Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2), and he’s likely to move forward in this second start off a layoff. Storm Belt has been off form of late, but the eight-year-old is capable enough on his day. He was second to California Chrome in this handicap a year ago, and in December, Storm Belt dominated the Entisar S. at this trip. Fellow veteran Etijaah has no stakes credits, but enters in good heart after a fine dead-heat second to Godolphin’s Alabaster.
Alabaster, one of two in here for Saeed bin Suroor, is the proven dirt runner off a gutsy handicap score over Emotionless and Etijaah at this track and trip. Stablemate Memorial Day has the second-highest rating in the race (at 109 compared to Mubtaahij’s 117), but that mark is pegged to his performances in British turf handicaps, and the son of Cape Cross is experimenting on dirt.
Longtime Carnival player Gold City was best of the rest behind Frosted in last year’s Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), but the Satish Seemar trainee has yet to hit the board since. Fifth to the mare Furia Cruzada in the February 2 renewal, the eight-year-old may do better down at the handicap level for the first time in three years.
Salem bin Ghadayer’s Hunting Ground, fourth to California Chrome in this spot in 2016, most recently captured a handicap at this track and trip. Sharpalo wheels back on short rest for Ahmad bin Harmash, just six days after his fourth in the Jebel Ali S. The lowest rated entrant, Beach Bar, appears more at home on turf than dirt.
Thursday’s program also features the Aga Khan’s Dubai Gold Cup (G2) hero Vazirabad, prepping in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) versus David Simcock’s globetrotter Sheikhzayedroad and Godolphin mare Beautiful Romance; UAE 1000 Guineas upsetter Nashmiah seeking a second classic in the UAE Oaks (G3), with Nomorerichblondes, Complimenti, and Godolphin’s Calare among those aiming to turn the tables; Godolphin’s filly Really Special swears off the dirt in favor of the Meydan Classic on turf, where she’ll meet the boys Fly at Dawn, Nobelium, and Top Score; and the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 for Purebred Arabians.