Dubai: The UAE Derby may only have ten runners, but what it lacks in numbers it certainly makes up for in class.
Mubtaahij has looked one of the best three-year-olds in the UAE this year. His trainer Mike De Kock has won this race five times before and is looking to make it six here.
The way he won the Liste Al Bastikiya last time suggests he is a horse destined for bigger and better things and that could start here on Saturday. His jockey is the flamboyant Christophe Soumillon, who all season has not been able to do the weight to ride this one, but he has dieted and so that is a pointer in its own right.
“Mubtaahij has gone from strength to strength this season and relishes this kind of trip,” De Kock said. “It looks a competitive renewal with the Godolphin duo we have already seen to be more than useful, as well as several we have not come across from America, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Europe.
“All I know is my horse is in good form and a genuine stayer at this trip on a surface he handles well.”
Mubtaahij has been beaten once this season and that was by Maftool, but over a shorter trip.
Maftool has not run since that day and he looks to be a major player having lowered Mubtaahij’s colours. He will be trying to become Saeed Bin Surour’s eighth winner in this race and will be a big player. Since Paul Hanagan returned from injury earlier this season, he has been riding brilliantly and he will be a big asset.
“He is doing very well at home. We think he is improving all the time and Paul Hanagan, who again rides him, has been riding him regularly,” Bin Surour said. “It is a strong race but the extra trip should suit and he has a good chance.”
Golden Barows carries the hopes of Japan in this edition and he will be a popular selection on the ‘Pick 7’ sheets. This son of Tapit has great dirt form and looks sure to be a big player.
He has done everything asked of him so far with ease and his win in the Listed Hyacinth Stakes showed he is more than up to mastering the competition here. Having leading global jockey Ryan Moore on your side is always a plus and he will certainly be to the fore.
Sir Fever arrived with a huge Uruguay reputation and unbeaten. He put his credentials on the line on Super Saturday and was a good second behind Mubtaahij. He looked like he would come on for the run and he certainly will be closer this time. He has been the subject of some promising reports from jockey William Buick and you would certainly ignore this one at your peril.
Faithful Creek ran a mighty race when fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and, with that form in their mind, connections certainly fancied a crack back on the dirt here. Win and they are in the race for the Kentucky Derby — it could be a clever plan from bullish trainer Brian Meehan. He certainly knows how to handle a good one and, with the help of Keiren Fallon, you never know.
The American challenge of My Johnny Be Good and the Saudi Arabian Challenger of Alnajem Alfaiz will be fascinating as it will be interesting to see where they feature on a global scale.
In conclusion, this race looks to be between Maftool and Mubtaahij, who reoppose, but the fly in the ointment for them could well be Golden Barows. It looks a very difficult race and Soumillon more than most will be hoping his dieting will pay off.
— The writer is a freelance journalist and horseracing expert