This weekend’s thoroughbred racing calendar includes the richest night in racing in Dubai and three key prep races on the road to the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.
At Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates races with purses totaling $27 million are on tap with the $10 million Dubai World Cup headlining the card. The races from Dubai will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network on Saturday morning starting at 10:30 a.m. EDT, with the World Cup post time scheduled for 12:45 p.m. EDT.
Arrogate (1-5) will look to extend his current win streak to seven and catapult his earnings over $17 million against a field of 13 horses. His last three wins have come in the $1.25 million Travers, the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and the $12 million Pegasus in January. That Arrogate could amass that much in earnings after eight career races is nothing short of spectacular. Bob Baffert will be looking to win his third career Dubai World Cup after winning previously in 1998 (Silver Charm) and 2001 (Captain Steve).
The son of Unbridled’s Song’s biggest challenge will come from Gun Runner (8-1), who was impressive late in last year’s sophomore season, winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap against older horses. He missed the Pegasus in January due to quarantine issues at the Fair Grounds that prevented his first head-to-head meeting with Arrogate.
Two other horses that should be closing late and could factor in the exotics are Bob Baffert’s Hoppertunity (15-1), winner of last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont at a mile-and-a-quarter and Mubtaahij (8-1). The latter was last year’s runner-up to California Chrome in the World Cup and he was sharp in the local prep for this year’s race.
Other U.S. horses making the trip for trainer Todd Pletcher are 2015 Travers winner Keen Ice (20-1) and Neolithic (20-1), as the seven-time Eclipse winning trainer looks to bring home the big prize for the first time.
Post Time Outlook (Dubai World Cup): 1 – Arrogate; 2- Gun Runner; 3 – Mubtaahij and 4 – Hoppertunity
Earlier on the World Cup card is the UAE Derby, the first Derby prep race worth 100-40-20-10 points to the first five finishers which will basically assure the top two finishers a gate in Louisville.
Post time for the 1-3/16 mile UAE Derby is 9:25 a.m. EDT from Dubai and a full field of 14 colts is entered in the $2 million race. Japanese horse Epicharis (5-1), a grandson of Sunday Silence, is entered in the field after already qualifying for the Derby winning an automatic gate with his win in the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse in February. Last year’s race winner, Lani, also hailed from Japan and is entered in the World Cup later in the evening.
Pletcher and Johnny Velazquez will team up on Master Plan (6-1), a promising colt who has been moving forward off his 2-year-old campaign. If you’re looking for a local hunch bet, Lancaster Bomber (7-1) makes his 2017 debut after a second-place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, trying the dirt for the first time.
Godolphin is always dangerous in this race and they will send out the Hard Spun colt out of an Elusive Quality mare, moving from turf-to-dirt, named Top Score (15-1) and the favorite Thunder Snow (8-5).
Post Time Outlook (UAE Derby): 1 – Top Score, 2 – Epicharis, 3 – Thunder Snow, 4 – Lancaster Bomber
Back in the States, the Derby Trail hits Northern Kentucky just outside Cincinnati at Turfway Park on Saturday afternoon for the $500,000 Jack Cincinnati Casino Spiral Stakes. The Spiral is worth 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the top four finishers.
Run on the synthetic Polytrack surface, the race typically attracts turf horses trying to qualify for the Derby. The race did produce the 2011 winner in Animal Kingdom for trainer H. Graham Motion.
Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have won this race two of the last three years and three times in total. They will run another Kitten’s Joy colt named Kitten’s Cat (4-1) who has hit the board in six of his seven career races and will run on a surface other than turf for the first time.
Pletcher, who already has two horses in the top four on the Derby leaderboard, will enter Bronson (10-1), a son of Medaglia d’Oro in the Spiral. A $350,000 purchase at the Keeneland September sale, the sophomore colt is the most expensive horse in the race. He comes out of a win on a sloppy Gulfstream track in January. Manny Franco will ride Bronson.
Fast and Accurate (15-1) has a win over the Turfway surface and is a son of Hansen, who looks to be trending upward and comes in second off the layoff for trainer Mike Maker.
The Mark Casse-trained King and His Court (5-1) postward, an Ontario-bred, will try to improve on his ninth-place effort in last month’s Sam F. Davis at Tampa. He’s had good fortune on the synthetic surface at Woodbine and maybe the return to the faux dirt will be the remedy for the Court Vision gelding. It’s likely we’ll see him down the road in the Canadian Triple Crown.
Post Time Outlook (Spiral): 1 – Kitten’s Cat, 2 – Bronson, 3 – Fast and Accurate, 4 – King and His Court
On Sunday, New Mexico will be the scene of the Sunland Derby, the final 50 point race of the Derby prep season. A field of seven will attack the speedy Sunland surface racing 1 1/16-miles for valuable Derby points.
Trainer Bob Baffert will try and win his third Sunland Derby in the last four editions of the race. Last year’s race was canceled due to an outbreak of equine herpesvirus. Bronze Age (3-1), a son of Mineshaft, was installed as the favorite coming off his maiden win. The front-running colt will try and take them gate-to-wire.
Conquest Mo Money (9-2) won the local prep for the race for trainer Miguel Hernandez and is 3-for-3.
Kimbear (15-1) will try and close into a potential hot pace at decent odds and beat last weekend’s second-place 112-1 finisher in the Rebel.
Post Time Outlook (Sunland Derby): 1 – Conquest Mo Money, 2 – Bronze Age, 3 - Kimbear
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.