If the big horse runs his race in Saturday's $10 million Dubai World Cup, the rest are running for second place.
It's hard to imagine that I would be saying this after only three lifetime starts in stakes racing, but that's just how good the Juddmonte owned Arrogate has been in winning the Travers, Breeders' Cup Classic, and Pegasus World Cup. A horse that to this point, seems to be simply a cut above the next best dirt horse in the world, the powerful four-year-old son of Unbridled's Song will rule a heavy favorite when he takes on 13 others in what is now the world's second richest race. Mike Smith will again be in the saddle of the Champion 3yo Male of 2016.
Arrogate's top competition in the 2000-meter (about 10 furlongs) race at the beautiful Meydan Racecourse could well come from fellow American shipper, Gun Runner.
Already the winner of five graded stakes, the racy four-year-old son of Candy Ride comes into Dubai on the best form of his career. Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, and trained by Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner closed out his highly successful sophomore season by picking up his first Grade 1 score in the Clark Handicap, while defeating a strong cast of older horses. In 2017, he's only run once, comprehensively dominating the Grade 3 Razorback at Oaklawn Park on February 20. Florent Geroux will once again have the riding duties.
The rest of the strong American band for the Dubai World Cup includes; Hoppertunity, Keen Ice, and Neolithic.
Perhaps the biggest threat to U.S. domination in the Dubai World Cup comes from a name quite familiar to American racefans in the form of Mubtaahij. The five-year-old son of Dubawi ran a big race to be second behind California Chrome last year, and in 2015, he was a strong winner of the UAE Derby, also at Meydan. Although not winning, the Mike de Kock trained charge has consistently performed well in five tries in the United States, including a second in the 2016 Woodward. Most recently, Mubtaahij prepped for this with a solid second in the Curlin Handicap at Meydan.
Mubtaahij looks to be the biggest stumbling block to an American sweep of the top prizes in Saturday's rich race. Hoppertunity looks as good as ever. Like Arrogate, the six-year-old son of Any Given Saturday is trained by Bob Baffert. He comes in off a strong win in the San Antonio last month. That victory was flattered Saturday at Oaklawn Park, when the horse he ran by, Mor Spirit, dominated in the Essex. Hoppertunity also sports strong experience locally, having finished a late-charging third in the World Cup last year.
Keen Ice famously won the 2015 Travers Stakes over American Pharoah, but has not found the winner's circle since. Having said that, he does appreciate the classic distance he will see on Saturday. A strong early pace should only benefit his late run that carried him to a third in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Classic and a fourth in the Pegasus World Cup.
Neolithic, meanwhile, is a vastly improved four-year-old from the barn of Todd Pletcher. Last out, he was part of the early pace in the new $12 million race at Gulfstream Park. While no match for Arrogate at the top of the lane, he was good enough to hold on for a clear third-place finish behind that one and Shaman Ghost. With Arrogate and Gun Runner also liking to be close to the pace, Neolithic will need to have his running shoes on to stick around late.
Among the rest in the World Cup will be the top four finishers from the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 at Meydan. Long River, an American ex-patriot, won the race, with Special Fighter, Furia Cruzada, and Move Up filling out the superfecta. Long River, a son of the great A.P. Indy, tried the Dubai World Cup once before, finishing a non-threatening seventh back in 2015.
Special Fighter, second in the March 4 prep, ran a big race to finish fourth in the Dubai World Cup last year. Furia Cruzada is the only female in the race, and was a multiple Group 1 winner back in Chile before moving to Europe. Move Up, a 4-year-old son of Dubawi, is the only Godolphin owned runner in this year's World Cup.
Finally, the nation of Japan will be well represented with four entrants. Among them is the ever popular, Lani. The son of Tapit ran in each leg of America's Triple Crown last season, with a third-place result in the Belmont Stakes being his best. His recent form has not been good, but he did score in the UAE Derby at Meydan last year.
The other three horses from Japan (Apollo Kentucky, Awardee, and Gold Dream) all sport solid credentials in their native country, but may find the best of American dirt a difficult proposition.
Of course, if we see the same Arrogate that we saw overpower the Travers, run down a two-time Horse of the Year in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and most recently in his dominating win in the Pegasus World Cup, all 13 of his Dubai World Cup foes might be in for a difficult time on Saturday.