The 2013 Dubai World Cup featured one of the most powerful and dominating wins I have seen in recent memory. In the world’s richest race, and against some of the
best ten-furlong horses in the world, Animal Kingdom again showed the talent
and poise that won him the Kentucky Derby. For those who have confidently followed
Animal Kingdom’s troubled career, this win was not surprising. We have all
known that Animal Kingdom is one of the most versatile horses in the world
today, having won on dirt, turf, and synthetic racing surfaces.
Animal Kingdom’s path to the Dubai World Cup was not like
the other American dirt runners. After training for a turf race in the 2012
Breeders’ Cup, Animal Kingdom was shipped to Fair Hill Training Center in
Maryland to spend part of his winter and regroup for a spring time assault on
the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Nothing sounds very unique about this path until
one recognizes that the training surface at Fair Hill is Tapeta. After training
there for a short period, he was shipped to Palm Meadows to focus on turf
training for his prep race in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
Trainer Graham Motion has not been shy about his strategy to
focus the derby winner’s attention to turf. Couple his successful turf history
with the recent majority sale of Animal Kingdom to Arrowfield Stud in
Australia, additional turf graded stake wins would only increase the horse’s
value on the international market. So like all of the recent winners of the
Dubai World Cup, the training surfaces of choice were anything but dirt.
How important is training a horse on synthetic surfaces for
a race that is on a synthetic surface? South African trainer Mike de Kock seems
to think it is not only important, but necessary. In a recent blog by Bloodhorse
turfwriter Steve Haskin, de Kock suggested that a horse actually goes through
musculoskeletal changes as they adapt to the synthetic surface. He claims the
surface is deceivingly fast and when many late shippers train their horses,
they work a little quicker than when on dirt, almost too fast. This makes the
gallops look strong and effortless, but when the horses are exerting race level
speed, they cannot rate their energy distribution like they are used to and
tire at the end of races.
This very accurately describes Royal Delta’s last two trips
to Meydan. Royal Delta is a poster child of thoroughbred racing. She boasts an
exceptional pedigree, proven success at the ten-furlong distance, and is a
two-time Eclipse Award champion. She has previously been successful on synthetic
surfaces, so of course the ten-furlong trip of the Dubai World Cup should be
within her potential. In both years she shipped to Dubai, she certainly lived
up to her grace in morning workouts leading up to the race. She was described
as one of the best workers in the mornings, apparently getting over the surface
In the 2012 edition, she had an extremely troubled trip,
which excused her unusual performance, so in 2013 Mike Smith was looking to give
the 5-year-old every opportunity to become the first mare to win the World Cup.
Shooting straight to the lead, she looked comfortable, relaxed, and like she
was being wound up, ready to be shot of a cannon once pointed down the stretch.
However, it was not Royal Delta that displayed an unrelenting turn of foot.
Instead she didn’t fire at all. She looked like no one expected her to. This
was very uncharacteristic of her usual top form.
Her preparation for the World Cup could not have been more
different than Animal Kingdom. She wintered at Payson training center, and prepped
in the Sabin Stakes on dirt, to which she cruised to an effortless 5 length win. Bill
Mott is one of the best trainers around, and there is no way that Royal Delta
was not in prime physical condition come Dubai World Cup day. It had to be the
Tapeta surface at Meydan. It looks like Mike de Kock’s theories were spot on
for this dirt-loving mare.
Since the Dubai World Cup Carnival’s switch to Tapeta, the
only other US trained horse to find the winner’s circle was Carl O’Callaghan's Kinsale King in the 2010 Golden Shaheen. Before shipping to Meydan,
O’Callaghan decided he wanted to see how his horse would take the Tapeta and
sent his horse to Golden Gate Fields for 3 weeks. Golden Gate, along with Presque
Isle Downs are the only two tracks in the United States to race on the Tapeta
surface. How can something that seems like such common sense be so uncommon for
U.S. horses, especially after O’Callaghan proved it worked?
Presque Isle Downs does not actively host races during the
winter, and is located in Pennsylvania; not exactly an ideal training location
during the early months of the year. Golden Gate Fields, however, is situated in
the temperate winter climate of the San Francisco Bay and runs the winter-spring
meet from October to June. Yet still no top handicap horses show up. The only
reason I can speculate is that there are no races at Golden Gate to make an
extended trip worth it. Looking at the 2013 schedule offered, the only stakes races available in the months of January, February, and March are either $50,000
listed stakes (at six furlongs) or those restricted to three-year-olds.
I wonder what would happen if Golden Gate Fields offered a
$150,000 grade 3 race (similar to the Sabin that Royal Delta used as a prep) in
February. Would Dubai hopefuls show up to train and race? Aside from timing, the
track surface is something that Golden Gate Fields has to offer that Santa
Anita or Gulfstream Park do not.
Money doesn’t exactly grow on trees, so simply offering
another high-pursed race is not as easy as it sounds. However, with the right
marketing, sponsorship, and request for talent, it could become quite a
success. However, if something like this were to happen, it would need to happen
soon. As Animal Kingdom’s spotlight fades, we will refocus our attention to see if top
class runners like Little Mike, Royal Delta, Trinniberg, and Private Zone
can regain the form we all know them to possess.
*-A special thanks to Steve Haskin for his blog that inspired
me to follow up with my own rendition of the importance of training on the Tapeta surface.