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Dubai World Cup Contenders by HRH Haya bint Al Hussein
(24 March 2017)

 

One of the joys for those with a passion for racing is that every horse has a story.

There are the track superstars, of course, who command headlines and much attention. However, even humbler horses are likely to have a tale or two in their background worthy of telling.

Racing is not just about raw talent and speed. It is also about relationships. The affinity between a racehorse and those who train it is crucial to success. How they bond with their jockey can be a critical factor in a race.

Some horses have perhaps overcome career-threatening injuries to make it to the top; others have thrived only after they moved into the care of a different trainer. 

This is part of what makes racing so special.

The horses who will line up to contest the Dubai World Cup are already champions in their own right, with owners who have belief in their talent and ability to win the world's most coveted horse race.

Last year's winner, the American-bred California Chrome, is the kind of horse people will still talk about in decades to come. He is a champion in every respect. As his career peaked, it seemed he was an unstoppable force.

He is living proof of the difference trusting relationships can make in racing. California Chrome was an inconsistent track performer until he was paired with jockey Victor Espinoza. The pair never looked back as they chalked up an impressive series of wins. The horse has now been retired to stud.

Lining up for this year's Dubai World Cup is a racing star of equal stature, Arrogate, owned by Juddmonte Farms. The colt, born in the American racing heartland of Kentucky, is a class act. He was named the Longines World's Best Racehorse in 2016, which reflects his stellar season that year as a three-year-old.

Followers of racing form seem largely agreed that Arrogate is the most likely horse in the field of 14 to win the Cup race. This will no doubt buoy his owner, Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia, who entrusts the horse's care to California-based trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert has reportedly said that Arrogate has travelled well to Dubai.  

Arrogate's quality and form are unquestionable, but racing has a long history of throwing up unlikely champions and surprise performances. The rest of the field this year oozes quality, but the big question is whether they have the ability to match Arrogate.

Two of the likeliest contenders are Mubtaahij and Gun Runner. 

Mubtaahij is an Irish-bred colt whose quality was there for all to see when he won the UAE Derby in 2015. He also ran second to California Chrome in last year's World Cup. The five-year-old, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, shows great consistency in his racing - something which adds to the enjoyment for any owner.

Gun Runner hails from Kentucky and is owned by American-based Winchell Thoroughbreds, a company which spearheads the Winchell family's prominent racing and breeding interests. The horse has raced successfully all over the United States, so is clearly a good traveller. That kind of resilience may well work to his advantage in his relocation to Dubai for his final preparations.

Gun Runner was reported to be travelling in the equine equivalent of "business class", so clearly his people are pulling out all stops to get him just right for the big race. His trainer, Steve Asmussen, won the Cup in 2008 with the great Curlin.

Hoppertunity is another Bob Baffert-trained horse from Kentucky. The six-year-old is owned by American businessman Michael Pegram. 

Mr Pegram shows that racing dreams can come true. He grew up in Indiana, and in his early years enjoyed racing at Ellis Park Racecourse and the Churchill Downs track. He dreamed that one day he would own a winner of the Kentucky Derby, one of the most prestigious races in the US. The horse that delivered that dream was Real Quiet, who stormed home to win the Derby in 1998. Real Quiet marched on to win another top American race, the Preakness Stakes, just weeks later. The Baffert-Pegram team have history in Dubai, too, winning the World Cup in 2001 with Captain Steve.

Most will agree that Hoppertunity has the attributes to step up in the World Cup, and he showed his class in finishing third last year.

Neolithic is yet another horse bred in Kentucky, adding to the strong American contingent. The four-year-old colt earned an invitation to the Dubai World Cup after running a game third in January's Pegasus World Cup Invitational, which was won by Arrogate. It was Neolithic's first run in such top-tier company, which made his effort even more admirable.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has acknowledged the quality of the field that Neolithic faces, but summed it up in one short sentence that epitomises racing: "You never know what can happen."

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