Mubtaahij was the pride of Dubai after winning the UAE Derby, which now, at least according to the points scale, is viewed as a major Kentucky Derby prep race. He then became one of the few horses to come from outside North America to try to win the Derby. None have come particularly close, and Mubtaahij was ultimately no exception. He has stuck around since then, and after some more acclimatization and a rider change the hope is that he is ready to be more competitive. If he could replicate his UAE Derby form - he romped by more than eight lengths - then he could deliver some serious value at 16/1 in the futures market at Bovada. But can he step up his game? Let's take a look:
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Last race: He entered the Derby with fanfare and intrigue and drew more than just curious public money. It was all for naught, though. Without a real excuse, he just wasn't very good in the race. He was further off the pace early on than probably expected, but he looked reasonably comfortable. He was moving forward through the turn and into the stretch but was really flat down the stretch and was passed by a few horses with barely a fight. He wound up eighth, and frankly that was flattering given the effort. Of course, there are reasons to give him the benefit of the doubt. He had traveled all the way from Dubai since his last race and had to deal with quarantine. He was racing somewhere and in a style which neither his jockey nor his trainer were particularly familiar. And so on. Still, I would have hoped for more. Most significantly, I would have hoped he would have had more left in the tank down the stretch after a reasonably easy trip to that point. He had won past races explosively and by daylight. In this stretch drive he would have struggled to open daylight on a milk wagon.
Career highlights: The Derby was disappointing in large part because he had been so impressive before - at least on paper and in the highlights we had seen. He started his career quite poorly with two underwhelming performances on the turf of Newmarket in England in the fall. When he moved to Dubai after that, though, he was like a new horse. In five races there he won four times and was second by a head the fifth time. His last win was his biggest - in the UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard he won by eight lengths in a tour de force performance reminiscent of the huge prep wins by Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Firing Line and American Pharoah over here. That win was what earned him his spot in the Derby starting gate.
Jockey: Christophe Soumillon rode him in the UAE Derby and again rode him in Kentucky. He is a highly-accomplished European jockey, albeit one who is past his best days. He was very unfamiliar with American racing, though, having only been here a few times for the Breeders' Cup and other major races - usually on turf. The tactics of the Derby would be foreign to him, and it probably impacted the horse. He's not the reason the horse was flat, but he didn't help. There has been a change now, and it's for the better. Irad Ortiz Jr. will get the mount. The young star is based in New York and has had great success on the track at Belmont. The endless stretch can catch newcomers off guard, so the horse will be in much better hands with Ortiz. Pacing is so essential in this race that this is a big improvement.
Trainer: Mike de Kock started his training career in South Africa where he went on to win pretty much every race there is to win there. Now he's an international entity, spending a lot of time in Dubai but also racing throughout Europe and Asia. His forays into North America have been limited, so the spectacle he has been a part of during the Triple Crown is new to him. What he does works, though, and he's more familiar with longer races like this than a lot of North American trainers. One difference that has been on display since the Derby is the way he has worked his horse. Mubtaahij did four timed works in 11 days after the Derby - far more than most horses would do here.
Pedigree: Mubtaahij is a son of Dubawi, a horse that was at his best at distances of about a mile. He has had some success at stud, but again his offspring have raced best at a mile and a quarter and shorter. Stamina is a bit of a concern on that side of the pedigree. Mubtaahij's damsire is Pennekamp, a French runner who won some very big races in Britain. His big wins were at a mile or less, though he was favored in the mile and a half Epsom Derby. He was injured in that race, so we never found out how he could handle it. He was not great as a stud, but his most successful runner won at a mile and three quarters. The stamina is better from the dam side, but I still have some concerns about the ability to handle the distance.
Running style: With so many horses possibly to be fighting for the leader, we are likely to see this horse in more of a stalking role. He won't be far back, but he is likely to give up a few lengths to the leaders at the start. From there he'll look to move forward around the turn and, like seemingly every other horse in the field, will look to take the lead entering the stretch. He has shown the ability to move away in the stretch, but he'll have to be far better than he was in the Derby and sharper than he has looked in his works since the Derby - to do so here.
Belmont outlook: I'm not optimistic. The rider change is a big boost, but I am not optimistic about his chances of getting the distance, and after the Derby I'm not convinced that he is at quite the level of the best here. He has run like an elite horse only in Dubai and has struggled elsewhere so far. I'm not willing to bet that he'll reverse that trend here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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