Although the Group 2, $1 million UAE Derby typically does not offer a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender, this year it has a good horse who can make noise down the line in Worcester, who is trained by Bob Baffert. Worcester will attempt to break his maiden while starting for the fourth time.
Why fear a maiden in the UAE Derby?
In Worcester’s career debut on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita, he had to face two talented stablemates in Faustin and Sonoran, who ended up finishing 1-2 while Worcester made a late move to pick up fourth while losing by 6 1/4 lengths. For a first-time starter, the margin was not bad.
Faustin went on to finish second in the San Vicente Stakes (G2) while losing by only 1 1/2 lengths to Havnameltdown, and Sonoran ran second to Geaux Rocket Ride in his next maiden try before breaking out with an impressive 7 1/4-length maiden win of his own at Santa Anita on Feb. 20.
Geaux Rocket Ride ran second in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) earlier this month and could end up as the main speed in the Kentucky Derby.
As for Worcester’s second start at Santa Anita on Jan. 15, he sat a little closer to the leaders this time in third as a stalker before finishing well enough to end up second by 1 1/4 lengths to another stablemate, Hejazi.
Hejazi went on to finish fourth in the San Felipe after setting the pace and tiring in the lane. Before breaking his maiden, Hejazi already ran third in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) as a maiden last October while facing two other talented stablemates in Cave Rock and National Treasure. At the time of the race, Cave Rock stood as the division leader.
Then, Worcester gave the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) a shot. Worcester again made use of stalking tactics and sat only two lengths off the pace before following even more stablemates in Newgate and Hard to Figure as they battled through the stretch. Worcester could not catch the pair and ended up finishing two lengths behind the winner Newgate.
For his lone stakes effort, Worcester earned a career-high 112 on TimeformUS, which is likely around the level he needs to win this race.
To summarize the above recaps, Worcester has run in three stakes-quality races because of the level of horses present, even though technically he shows only one stakes attempt. At Santa Anita, Worcester keeps facing a plethora of good runners from the same barn, and now he ships to the Middle East and competes in a race without other Baffert horses.
According to oddschecker.com, Worcester surprisingly is not favored in the UAE Derby. Right now, overseas bettors can find him as the second choice in wagering behind Cairo, which seems odd considering Cairo lacks dirt experience and likely did not face tough competition in his recent two-length synthetic win in the Patton Stakes at Dundalk. The runner-up News At Ten only broke his maiden in his previous start. In fairness to Cairo, he does bring consistency to the table with three wins and two seconds in five starts.
Worcester does not own any wins. But think about why Baffert throws him into a stakes race again. He must see something in Worcester in the mornings. Otherwise, why would Baffert send Worcester all the way to Dubai for a big purse when he could stay home and start him in a maiden race?
For that reason, betting maidens in stakes races is usually a good angle, if the trainer making the move is one who bettors can generally rely on. Baffert has won two Triple Crowns in his legendary career. He knows when a maiden can handle stakes races.
With all that in mind, Worcester deserves a long look when handicapping the UAE Derby. In Southern California, this colt has been a slow learner. But he arguably faces lesser horses in the UAE Derby and might break out with his first career win before moving on to bigger races down the line.