Mubtaahij, runaway winner of the UAE Derby, was scheduled to
fly to the United States tonight, April 15 (early Thursday morning Dubai time),
with a stopover in Amsterdam, and will spend two days in quarantine at
Arlington Park before heading to Kentucky, where he will take up residence at
Skylight Training Center in Goshen, run by trainer Conor Murphy, along with
business partner Justin Curran.
Skylight has a Polytrack surface, and Mubtaahij has done all
his training in Dubai over their Tapeta surface training track, so it is
natural for trainer Mike de Kock to want to train the colt on a synthetic
surface and follow the same routine that has proven so successful.
Mubtaahij, owned Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum,
comes to the Kentucky Derby boasting some impressive and unusual credentials.
The Irish-bred son of Dubawi has already run in a Triple
Crown, winning the Al Bastakiya and UAE Derby and getting beat a head in the
UAE 2,000 Guineas. By winning the last two legs of the UAE Triple Crown at
about 1 3/16 miles he becomes only the second horse, along with Canonero II, to
compete in the Derby having run in two races over 1 1/8 miles.
Not only has he already run in a Triple Crown, he has
defeated a Triple Crown winner, easily handling the 4-year-old Sir Fever,
winner of the Uruguayan Triple Crown.
And finally, he has the distinction of breaking his maiden
at Meydan in December as a 2-year-old, defeating 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds.
In the UAE Derby, Mubtaahij displayed a spectacular turn of
foot and burst clear of his opponents, winning by eight lengths, with jockey
Christophe Soumillon looking back twice in the final furlong.
Of course a journey of this sort has some drawbacks, and de
Kock will have to make the proper adjustments.
“Unfortunately, I can’t travel one of my lads because of a
regulation where they need professional flying grooms with them,” de Kock said.
“Also we can’t bring our own feed into the USA, so he has to have a feed
change, sadly. That doesn’t help matters. Normally when I go to Dubai I bring
my own feed from South Africa. But anyway we’re still crackin’ on.”
De Kock feeds his horses a special mix developed over
several years of experimenting.
Americans also will have to get used to the fact that de
Kock, a native of South Africa, doesn’t shoe his horses until the day of the
race, and Mubtaahij will train without shoes. In Dubai, he was stabled in a
special outdoor barn with several other horses in order to get constant fresh
air, as he’s been prone to respiratory infections.
But de kock is looking forward to his big adventure, even
knowing what a tough crop of 3-year-olds there are this year heading to the
“My goodness, I couldn’t have found another year?” he said
jokingly. “I’ve been impressed by one or two of those horses in their trials.
But anyway it is what it is. I’m looking forward to the whole experience, to be
De Kock believes his horse fits well in the Derby because of
his many strong qualities.
“I think the fact that he gets the trip and he has a high
cruising speed that he can kick off of,” he said. “I thought they went quick in
the UAE Derby and he was only a length or two off them, then had the
acceleration in the stretch. I was quite impressed by that. If he had won the
Derby by a head or a length I would have said I’m not going to bother, but the
fact that he ran away from them the way he did, I suppose we have to try.
“He got a lot of kickback (in the UAE Derby). You’re going
to have a full field and get a lot of kickback in the Kentucky Derby, and you
need a horse with a good deal of toughness, which he seems to have. He’s tough,
mentally and physically, and that toughness makes my job a lot easier. I
wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t such a tough horse. One thing about him, he eats,
he’s fit and he’s sound. When you have those characteristics in a horse there’s
a lot you can do with them that you cant normally.”
De Kock had always been high on Mubtaahij, but his first two
starts in England, both at Newmarket, were very disappointing, and soon after,
he decided to try a difference course of action.
“We fancied him to win at Newmarket and he just ran two
disappointing races,” de Kock said. “But he was young and immature. I thought,
’What the hell, let’s take him to Dubai and put him away, and if he’s going
well we might just give him a start on the dirt to see if he handles it well
enough. I went in open minded and not sure if he’d do anything, and he ran
well, breaking his maiden in December beating 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds,
while still a 2-year-old. For me that was quite impressive, even if they
weren’t top horses.
Cummings added, “I was in Dubai for his
Guineas Trial win and really liked what I saw. After the race, Mike had a
barbecue and we discussed the Kentucky Derby. A few days later, I was out for the
morning works with Mike’s assistant, Trevor Brown, who will be in Kentucky, and
I realized that day was the day the Triple Crown’s first entries were closing. Mike
had left for South Africa for the big Cape Thoroughbred Sales. I called him and
said I really think you should enter him and see. He wasn't going to do it
until later, or maybe wait for the Guineas (which he lost, of course). I said, 'It's $600 today and $5,000 later; do it now.' So he called the International
Racing Bureau and got it done.”
As for bypassing the hoopla at Churchill Downs initially and
training some 30 minutes away at a private training center and on a synthetic
surface, de Kock said, “I know it sounds crazy, but he does all his work in
Dubai on the Tapeta track. He has to be on the grounds 72 hours before the race,
but we’d like to come a day or two before that and give him a little spin
around there and let him have a look at it. And we’ll school him in the gate as
“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s something I’ve
really wanted to do all my life and I may never have another horse who
qualifies. Sheikh Mohammed (bin Khalifa) is a keen supporter of the game and he’s
excited about the whole prospect.
“It will be nice and peaceful where he’ll be training. But
after that I’m prepared for the media storm.”