Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is looking forward to a top performance from champion West Coast in the Dubai World Cup (G1). Should the favorite run up to billing at Meydan on Saturday, he would give Baffert a second straight World Cup after Arrogate and a fourth overall.
“Now it’s time for West Coast to be the starting quarterback,” Baffert said, harking back to the San Francisco 49ers’ Steve Young inheriting the mantle from Joe Montana. “This race is his coming out party.
“West Coast has gotten beat in his last couple of outs,” when third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and a stronger second in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), both times to now-retired Horse of the Year Gun Runner.
“But I still think he’s the best older horse in the United States right now. He’s run against some really good horses. The way he ran in the Pegasus was pretty impressive and Gun Runner’s not in here.”
The biggest gauge of Baffert’s confidence level may be the fact that he persuaded travel-reluctant owner Gary West to fly halfway around the world for the race, according to the Dubai notes team.
“He’s big and he’s really strong, and he’s got a high cruising speed,” the Hall of Famer said. “He’s a brute. He can carry 126 pounds. He has a good mind but he can be tough to handle. He’ll push you around a little bit. He’s very competitive. He’s a really good, top class horse. He’s on the rise, and he keeps getting better and better. I like the way he’s coming into this race.
“Arrogate and American Pharoah are the closest I’ll ever get to Secretariat. This is West Coast’s chance to put himself right up there with those names.”
Baffert raised eyebrows when commenting that the track officials had done something to a surface that’s been inside-speed biased, most blatantly of all on the March 10 Super Saturday card.
“They fluffed up the track and it has a cut in it and they both (West Coast and stablemate Mubtaahij) went over it great. West Coast likes this kind of track, a soft, sandy track.”
That prompted RacingUK.com’s Geoffrey Riddle to follow up with Dubai Racing Club CEO Frank Gabriel, who pushed back by stating “the track will be the same as it’s always been.”
The first race, the Godolphin Mile (G2), may serve as an indicator of whether the bias remains in force.
World Cup rival Gunnevera had a midweek scare when developing a foot bruise, but apparently trainer Antonio Sano and team have gotten him over it in time.
“Thank God, he is perfect now,” Sano said Thursday. “He had a little bruise on his left front foot, so we pulled the shoe and soaked the foot in water with Epsom salt. We left the shoe off overnight and then replaced it this morning.
“The farrier told me, ‘Antonio, take care of this horse and he’ll be good for the race.’ He did a great, great job with the foot.”
After a light morning of brief jogging and gate schooling Thursday, Gunnevera galloped Friday, and exercise rider Victor O’Farell was satisfied that he felt fine.
“Luckily, he recovered 100 percent,” Sano said Friday. “It’s all OK.
“It was very, very good. The work is finished now, so we’ll know tomorrow how he does. He’s ready.”
Trainer Andre Fabre was forthright in discussing the prospects of Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Talismanic as he tries dirt for the first time in the World Cup.
“I have to be fair, there is still a question mark about the surface,” the French maestro said. “I didn’t want to run Talismanic and Cloth of Stars (the Dubai Sheema Classic [G1] favorite) in the same race and Talismanic was in great shape, so I thought I’d line him up in this race.
“My feeling is that to run on dirt you need more strength. It is a surface that favors stamina and resistance more than speed. And Talismanic has the confirmation and the pedigree to act on this surface.
“I don’t know what sort of chance he has, I have no idea. It is a big race with the horses from North America and Japan. It is very exciting, and I respect all the American horses, but there is no Curlin or Arrogate this year.”
Ahead of the hotly anticipated showdown between Gold Town and Mendelssohn in Saturday’s UAE Derby (G2), Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby and Ballydoyle impresario Aidan O’Brien each spoke of how his sophomore must meet the challenge to earn a Kentucky Derby (G1) trip.
“Everyone is asking if we are going to go to the Kentucky Derby,” Appleby said of Gold Town, “but everyone will find out what we are doing at the same time I do. It’s a point-based entry system so he needs the points, but he needs to go and win on Saturday to justify going. If he wins he will be going, if he gets beat he probably won’t.
“He ticks a lot of boxes – he has home advantage, he has had two runs on the surface and is a Guineas Trial and a (UAE 2000) Guineas (G3) winner but is taking on a different caliber of horse this time. This is going to be a big step up for him but he goes into it in great order.”
O’Brien noted that Mendelssohn has to prove himself not only on the dirt but also on the step up to about 1 3/16 miles.
“Mendelssohn continues to improve and we hope he can run a big race. He did very well over the winter and mentally he is very relaxed. He is American-bred so we hope the dirt will suit him.
“He is quite a strong traveler (in his races) so we will learn more about him at Meydan in terms of the Kentucky Derby. You couldn’t be sure how well he will stay as he goes beyond a mile for the first time but we are hopeful he will get the trip.
“Mendelssohn was out there shouting (whinnying) on the track this morning. It is just a little bit of immaturity, even though he has developed well over the winter. He was a bit like that in America and he won the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile Turf [G1]) so it’s nothing to worry about.
“He wears blinkers on raceday but not in the mornings. All three for the (UAE) Derby are in great form and their preparation has gone very well. Threeandfourpence and Seahenge will like going up in trip, we feel. As for tactics, the intention off all three will be to jump and go forward. If any one of them gets to the front that’s great and if they are handy they are handy. It seems it is best being forward on the surface. Maybe they won’t be able to lead, but they will work it out as they go.”
Dubai Gold Cup (G2) contender Big Orange, who experienced a bout of “tying up” after exercise earlier in the week, has passed his Thursday work with flying colors. To the relief of trainer Michael Bell, the Ascot Gold Cup (G1) hero showed no signs of that enzyme imbalance in the muscles, putting him firmly on course for Saturday’s marathon.
“That was a heartening sight,” Bell said. “The hour after the work was when we worry that the setfast might return but he came back to the barn very, very well. That’s a relief. It’s stressful enough having runners in big races without this added stress.
“I’m very lucky that Gillian (Dolman), who traveled the horse, is very experienced. But in terms of condition, the horse is the best he has ever looked.”
Trainer Satish Seemar spoke of venerable 12-year-old Reynaldothewizard, the 2013 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) hero who is making his fifth appearance in the dirt sprint.
“Everybody knows about Reynaldo, perhaps more than about any other horse in the UAE,” Seemar said. “He’s got fan clubs everywhere, and when he’s entered, I get emails, messages and WhatsApps from around the world.
“People ask me why he’s running at this age, and the answer is simple – he wants to do it. We never force him to do anything, or put him in any danger.
“In his last run in the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) he seemed to be beaten 300 meters out, and standing by the rail I was beginning to think the old boy wants to retire. Just then, something happened in his head and he became a rocket; he wanted to win and he came third, flying at the end.
“He’s OK right now. In fact, this week there’s been an extra spring in his step, and he’s looked happier than ever. (Stable rider) Richard (Mullen) rode him in last piece of serious work on Monday, and you wouldn’t think Reynaldo was an old man. He acted as if he was having a midlife crisis.
“He will tell me when he’s ready to retire.”