The US have won the Dubai World Cup (G1 2000m dirt) in three of the last five years and West Coast is all the rage to swell that tally in the fascinating climax to Saturday’s seven-race simulcast programme, the pinnacle of Meydan’s three-month Carnival meeting.
The Bob Baffert-trained West Coast’s form figures read very well, but they would read much better but for him having to encounter Gun Runner who developed into a colossus last year. West Coast had to play third and second fiddle to Gun Runner in two of the richest races in the world – November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1 2000m dirt) at Del Mar and January’s Pegasus World Cup (G1 1800m dirt) at Gulfstream Park.
But with Gun Runner happily retired Baffert is not shy about stating West Coast’s claim to now be the best of the best.
“He’s the top older horse on the stage, has a high cruising speed and is getting better, and better. I don’t want to jinx myself but I feel confident,” says the legendary Californian trainer who adds that West Coast’s character is bang opposite to his 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. “He was sweet as can be but this one’s a brute of a horse.”
Meanwhile this four-year-old brute of a horse worked at Meydan on Tuesday morning under Victor Espinoza – who partners Mubtaahij -West Coast’s stablemate – on Saturday. The 65-year-old maestro trainer – already with three Dubai World Cup victories behind him – commented: “Our horse went well, and it helps when I come here that I now know what to expect and what to deal with. You can’t beat experience.”
Veteran jockey Mike Smith, who has won three times on West Coast, is also long on experience and he famously partnered Baffert’s Arrogate to a dramatic last-to-first victory in the 2017 Dubai World Cup, prompting the silver-haired trainer to revisit the memory this week. “That was the greatest race you will ever see but it was no fun watching it. I was so mad I couldn’t even enjoy the win.”
And 52-year Smith or ‘Big money Mike’ as this big-race rider is often called won’t be on board West Coast on Saturday with the more youthful Javier Castellano – himself a massive US stakes-winning rider – booked. Instead – and perhaps ironically – Smith will partner Forever Unbridled. She is arguably West Coast’s chief threat with her wonderful form last year suggesting that she has a chance of becoming the first filly or mare to capture the Dubai World Cup.
Last seen when surging to victory in Del Mar’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (1800m dirt) in November 2017, Smith says of Forever Unbridled: “She’s a big mare, pretty much as big as the boys and she can definitely compete with them.” Trainer Dallas Stewart doesn’t disagree: “She’s doing great out here and will be competitive. She’s going some extra distance on Saturday but that’s no problem.”
As to how Smith will ride Forever Unbridled, a clue might be in his observation about the Meydan track. “There are big long lanes and you don’t have to be in a hurry. Positioning is always important but it’s not so important at Meydan.”
Some would take issue with Smith as this season’s Meydan dirt races have seen a strong bias towards horses leading, especially when racing near the rail. Time and again – including on Super Saturday earlier this month – inside speed has proved crucial.
However Mike Smith and his years of experience may yet prove correct. Dubai World Cup night with its added influx of horses and jockeys from around the world has – in recent years – had a tendency to lead to some very different tactical scenarios than those for the earlier Meydan Carnival meetings.