After an unexpected turn of events at the start, Godolphin’s Thunder Snow seized the initiative under a brilliant Christophe Soumillon and upset heavy favorite West Coast in Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1). The homebred crowned a banner four-win night at Meydan for Sheikh Mohammed’s elite operation, giving Godolphin a ninth World Cup and trainer Saeed bin Suroor his eighth.
The plot twist came when projected pacesetter North America, who’d easily defeated Thunder Snow in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday, missed the start – and with it his golden chance from post 2.
Thunder Snow, on the other hand, put himself right in the mix early. Drawn widest of all in post 10, he initially matched strides with West Coast. But jockey Javier Castellano aboard the favorite conceded the lead to Thunder Snow. Soumillon didn’t think twice about accepting the gift on the speed-favoring track. Taking command entering the clubhouse turn, Thunder Snow smoothly angled over to set up shop on the rail. The oft mercurial colt settled into his comfort zone and never looked back, drawing off by 5 3/4 lengths in a track-record 2:01.38 for about 1 1/4 miles.
West Coast boxed on for a one-paced second over hard-trying stablemate Mubtaahij, who now has a World Cup third to go along with his second to California Chrome (2016) and fourth to Arrogate (2017). That Bob Baffert pair crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths clear of Pavel in a useful fourth. Champion older dirt mare Forever Unbridled worked her way into fifth in her swan song before visiting Medaglia d’Oro.
Japan’s Awardee finished sixth, just one spot below last year, while fellow World Cup veteran Furia Cruzada did better in seventh. Gunnevera was not a factor, and jockey Joel Rosario reported that he never recovered after stumbled badly at one point. Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Talismanic was in a decent position in the opening stages but labored the farther he went on the unfamiliar surface and wound up a distant ninth. A disheartened North America trudged home a tailed-off last, with the added insult of seeing his own track record from Round 3 (2:01.71) eclipsed by Thunder Snow.
Thunder Snow made history as the first UAE Derby (G2) winner to add the Dubai World Cup to his resume. His other dirt wins came in last spring’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and the February 8 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), where he wore down North America. Famously pulled up early in the Kentucky Derby (G1) when bucking uncontrollably on the off going, he didn’t race on dirt again until the 2018 Dubai Carnival opener, checking in second to Saturday’s Godolphin Mile (G2) hero Heavy Metal in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2).
High-class on the European turf, Thunder Snow captured the 2016 Criterium International (G1) and last summer’s Prix Jean Prat (G1), and his placings include the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1), St James’s Palace (G1), Prix Jacques le Marois (G1), Champagne (G2), and Vintage (G2).
Thunder Snow is by Australian star Helmet and out of the prolific Dubai Destination mare Eastern Joy, the dam of English classic-placed Group 2 heroine Ihtimal; current UAE 1000 Guineas winner Winter Lightning, last seen third in the UAE Oaks (G3); Group 3 scorer First Victory; and multiple Group 1-placed stakes victress Always Smile. Eastern Joy is herself a half-sister to French classic winner West Wind, and from the family of 1994 Irish Derby (G1) and Epsom Oaks (G1) star Balanchine.
Quotes from Dubai Racing Club
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor: “I am very happy with the horse and jockey. I told Christophe (Soumillon) the horse has a good turn of foot and I told him to use it. The jockey is the best of the best.
“When I saw him he was confident in front and I thought surely the horse was going to win from then.
“We have the best owner in Sheikh Mohammed. He is the best leader and gives us the best horses. It is a brilliant win and I will give the trophy to my mother and brothers and family.
“It was always on my mind to run him in the Dubai World Cup and he will have a break now, before running in Europe or America.”
Jockey Christophe Soumillon: “When I came in the straight I could feel nobody was following me. I knew I had to concentrate because when he sees the big screen, he can do something sometimes. It’s magic. I work hard every day to make sure someday something crazy like this will happen.
“Saeed gave me lot of confidence before the race. I wasn’t ready to ride him that positively and I thought there would be more speed on the inside. He jumped so well that I thought I would have to make it. The first time I rode him I thought that when he leads that no one can beat him, but it is difficult to make it.
“However, it wasn’t that difficult in the end. Saeed did a great job and the horse made everything – it makes the jockey’s life so easy when ride you great horses. I’m in heaven now, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on but we’re going to have a big party tonight.”
Jockey Javier Castellano on runner-up West Coast: “I had a nice position outside the winner. He was balanced and in a good rhythm. I had every chance in the world to win the race but the best horse clearly won. He fought very hard to the line to keep second place. Very happy with his run.”
Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, who rode Mubtaahij in third: “The early part of the race he wasn’t comfortable on the inside. I tried to get him out before the turn, but the door closed. But he tried his very best and I thought we might get second inside the final eighth, but West Coast kept going. He has been second, third and fourth in this race now; it’s a pretty neat record.”
Jockey Mario Gutierrez on fourth-placer Pavel: “The race went perfectly for us. He got himself into a good position and really went well. We had a big chance, but he just wasn’t quite good enough to win today. I got a great trip, honestly a perfect trip. I’ve not excuse. My horse ran his race.”
Trainer Dallas Stewart on Forever Unbridled’s fifth: “It was a little wide, but that’s the way it played out and we’ll just have to accept that. She came back for this great and we’ve been proud of her all year long. It’s just an honor to be here.”
Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who rode Forever Unbridled: “The speed was just gone today. She got away scrambling a little bit, but she recovered and made some good progress. But then they just left us. She hadn’t run in about four months and she was a little tired.”
Trainer Mikio Matsunaga on sixth Awardee: “The pace was a bit fast. But he toughed it out. He could not follow them when the pace picked up around the far turn, but I think he gave his best.”
Jockey Yutake Take on Awardee: “Since we started from the inside gate, I wanted to take the lead, but the outside horses went faster and then he found his stride. He was in better form than last year and he ran his race, but this is the Dubai World Cup, it is not easy.”
Jockey Antonio Fresu on Furia Cruzada in seventh: “She tried her best and ran well but that was a very good race.”
Joel Rosario, who guided Gunnevera in eighth: “I think at one point he tripped himself, anyway he stumbled and I thought he might go down, but he recovered. But that took something out of him, and he sort of emptied – it wasn’t his night.”
Jockey Mickael Barzalona on Talismanic’s ninth-place result: “He had a good enough run but perhaps he didn’t handle the dirt.”
Trainer Satish Seemar on the trailing North America: “When he missed the break, I knew it was not going to be his night. He was loaded second and although he’s a gentle giant, he can jiggle around in the stalls, which is what happened. He has never had to take the kickback, because he has always dominated, and that’s why being drawn in gate 2 was important. But, unfortunately it didn’t work out. We still have a good horse. He’ll have the summer off and come back to same route as this year at the Carnival.”