Mubtaahij Odds to Win the 2015 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/7/2015
I have been torn about Mubtaahij since we first heard a few months ago that he could be a legitimate contender. One on hand, the more the merrier when it comes to top-level horses in the Kentucky Derby. On the other hand, since I struggle to spell the name, and have no idea at all how to say it, I was kind of hoping he'd get upset in his last race - maybe by a horse with a much more straightforward name. But win he did, and now we not only have a Dubai-based, foreign-bred horse coming over for the Derby, but one with stellar connections, strong breeding, and a legitimate shot at glory. The Maktoum royal family of Dubai is heavily invested in racing and has been hungry to win the Derby for years. They haven't come close, but perhaps they haven't had a shot like this.
UAE Derby: The UAE Derby, which is run on the undercard of the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup, is a Kentucky Derby points race with as many points available as the major American prep races. Winning that race, then, guarantees a spot in the Derby field. Finishing second likely earns a spot, too, though it is unclear whether we will see Maftool come over as well. It was a very impressive effort by Mubtaahij in the $2 million race. He saved ground by following the leaders, made a very professional move to the outside rounding the final turn and exploded to win by eight lengths. There are questions about how good the horses are that he beat, but it was nonetheless a very impressive effort.
Prior experience: A lot of horses just head to Dubai for the rich World Cup racing festival. Not this guy. As his name hints at, the horse has been based in Dubai for much of his career. His last five outings have been at Meydan, Dubai's new and very fancy track. He broke his maiden first time out there after failing to in two previous outings. Then he won an allowance race featuring some of Dubai's top three year olds by five lengths. From there it was time for Dubai's Triple Crown. He missed out on the first leg by a head to Maftool but then won the final two legs - capped by the UAE Derby - very easily. There are obvious concerns here, of course - he has won only on the track at Dubai, he faces brutal travel and a very different climate and surface, and the field he will face in Kentucky is deeper and likely much more talented than what he has seen so far. He's heading over to Kentucky early to acclimatize, though, so hopefully that will help - especially if he records some meaningful works before the race. Still, handicapping him for the big race is going to be a very tough challenge that will require a big leap of faith.
Trainer: Mike de Kock is a stranger to the Derby but a world-class trainer nonetheless. The South African dominated racing in his home country for many years. Now he is an international training, based mostly out of Dubai but racing in Europe, Asia, and Africa - with occasional sorties to the U.S.. With his primary client, Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, the cousin of Dubai's ruler, he has won many huge races and has become the second-winningest trainer in Dubai's history. He has won the UAE Derby six times, but the previous five were with horses born in the Southern hemisphere, so they were not eligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby. The Derby experience will be new to him, but there is no reason to think that he isn't up to this challenge. Though this horse hasn't travelled this far before to race, de Kock has traveled around the world with horses successfully many times, so he'll have the horse as ready as he can.
Jockey: It's hard to know quite yet what will happen here. Christophe Soumillon, the Belgian jockey who has twice been French champion, rode the horse for the first time in the UAE Derby. It obviously worked, but we don't yet know if he will be interested in making the trip to Kentucky for the race. He has won major races around the world, including once in the Breeders' Cup, but the chaos of the Kentucky Derby would be new to him. If I was betting I would say he would come and take advantage of a rare opportunity, but I wouldn't be surprised either way.
Breeding: A lot of times at this time of year we have to rely very heavily on pedigree analysis to figure out if the horse is going to be able to handle the tough Derby distance. With this horse, though, we aren't really forced to speculate. He has twice run 1 3/16 miles - further than any North American three year old has run and just a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby distance. He has looked very good in the final furlong both times, so the Derby distance won't be an issue. His pedigree suits the challenge, though. Sire Dubawi is a son of Dubai World Cup winner Dubai Millenium and has sired two Dubai World Cup winners himself. That race is run at a mile and a quarter like the Kentucky Derby, so we know that the Classic distance is not a concern. Mubtaahij is also the half-brother (meaning he shares a mother) with Lily of the Valley, a European champion in 2010 who won at a mile and a quarter. Distance is no concern at all.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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