The United States will send out three runners in the world’s richest race, The Dubai World Cup, on Saturday afternoon. Dullahan, Royal Delta and Animal Kingdom will be competing against some of the classiest runners from across the globe in the $10 million showcase of the Dubai Racing Carnival. A victory in the World Cup is a wonderful feather in the cap of any runner, but as far as the American contingent is concerned, a victory would mean something very different for each of them.
If I told you that a horse was a three-time Grade I winner – once as a two-year old and twice as a three-year old, with one of those coming against older horses – you’d think I’m talking about an absolute powerhouse. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case with Dullahan (to this point). With the exception of a late charge in last year’s Kentucky Derby, Dullahan hasn’t run a step on a surface that isn’t synthetic. Prior to his prep in Dubai earlier this month, Dullahan was 3-3 on synthetic surfaces and 0-11 on turf or dirt. Generally regarded as a “synthetic freak”, Dullahan ran in the Grade III Burj Nahaar and proceeded to throw in an absolute clunker, leading many people to believe that he’s just simply not good enough to compete with racehorses of this caliber. Maybe it’s possible that the title of “synthetic freak” may need to be tweaked to “Polytrack freak”, seeing as the surface at Meydan is Tapeta, not Polytrack. We’ll know much more after this weekend. I’m not ready to rule him out as a contender in the World Cup…but it would have been nice if he had done any running at all in the Burj Nahaar. What would a victory in the Dubai World Cup mean for Dullahan in the long run? For starters, it would cement him as the best synthetic runner in the world at the moment. Furthermore, I believe it would make him the greatest synthetic track runner of all time – which at face value may not seem like a great accomplishment, but with the way the industry is trending and with synthetic surfaces continuing to be installed all over the world, that could very well end up being quite the prestigious title.
Royal Delta has been regarded as one of the best thoroughbreds in the world for the better part of a year and a half now, and trainer Bill Mott is hoping that she’ll have the opportunity to strut her stuff in Dubai on Saturday. In last year’s running of the Dubai World Cup, Royal Delta had a trip for the ages – in a bad way. In what seemed to be a nice stalking position throughout the first five furlongs of the race, Royal Delta was cruising along. Suddenly the field bunched up considerably, leading to lanes closing and rider Jose Lezcano having to check her multiple times on the far turn, taking her completely out of the race. Mike Smith has the mount this time around, and Royal Delta seems to have a new running style that should be beneficial in a race like this. She projects to be within a length or two of the pace, and it appears as though she’s sitting on a top effort. What would a victory in the Dubai World Cup mean for Royal Delta? With a victory in this race, she would go down in history as one of the greatest mares in racing history – and that’s with the rest of her five-year old racing season still ahead of her. Her resume is already exceptional, but it would only be enhanced that much more – she would have Grade I victories on both synthetic and dirt surfaces, as well as having beaten a field that includes some of the best males in the world. She’s won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic the past two years, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the goal for her upcoming season. With credentials like that, it would be hard to argue with the historical greatness of Royal Delta. A win on Saturday would go a long way toward an already impressive legacy she’ll leave behind once her racing career is completed.
Graham Motion intended on running Animal Kingdom in last year’s Dubai World Cup, but an early season injury put an end to those thoughts. Sidelined for nearly nine months, Animal Kingdom returned in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November – an ambitious spot considering the field in which he would have to face. After performing admirably in that spot, Motion and Team Valor decided on planning to make the trip to Dubai. Already a graded stakes winner on a synthetic surface, as well as a winner on the turf, Animal Kingdom has every right to enjoy the Tapeta surface at Meydan Racecourse. He’s still very lightly raced due to his unfortunate injury history, but there is little doubt that he’s an extremely talented runner. What would a victory in the Dubai World Cup mean for Animal Kingdom? It could potentially give him the “middle jewel” of a very special (and ambitious) treble. At the moment, plans are for Animal Kingdom to head to Royal Ascot for the final race of his career. If he were to win the World Cup on Saturday, he’d put himself in a position to be the only horse in history to win the Grade I Kentucky Derby on dirt, the Grade I Dubai World Cup on synthetics and the Grade I Prince of Wales’ Stakes on turf. Should he pull this feat off, he would go down as one of the most versatile champions in racing history. There is still a long way to go, especially for a horse that has had his share of injuries – but the thought of that treble is tantalizing.
It is clear that each of the American runners competing in this year’s Dubai World Cup have plenty at stake. It should be interesting to see how the race develops – they’ll need to put forth world-class efforts if they intend on adding the World Cup to their resumes.