Spring has officially sprung, which means horse racing season is upon us. We’ve got 2 major events set to go down this weekend. The 2018 edition of the Florida Derby is set to go down in Hallandale Beach, Florida, on Saturday, but it will be preceded by the Dubai World Cup.
The Dubai World Cup will be accessible to over a billion potential viewers worldwide, with coverage of the event beginning bright and early for those in the United States. Coverage of the event in America will get underway at 7:30am Eastern Time on TVG, with coverage of the main races set to begin at 12:30pm ET on NBC Sports Network.
Here’s a breakdown of what we can expect to see from the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
Last year, Arrogate started the Dubai World Cup from the ninth gate and went on to win. This year, the betting favorite, West Coast, will also begin from that same ninth gate. Both horses were trained by the renowned Bob Baffert, who is on the verge of becoming the second trainer in history to win the race in back-to-back years.
West Coast is currently the No. 3-ranked thoroughbred in the world. The 4-year-old came out victorious in the Travers Stakes in Saratoga Springs in 2017, but he has been beaten in 2 consecutive starts by Gun Runner. Gun Runner, meanwhile, was ranked No. 1 in the world last year before being beaten by Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup. Gun Runner won’t be participating this year, however.
Baffert is confident in West Coast’s chances at glory. The trainer said, “West Coast likes a soft, sandy track. He looks really good and strong, and it’s pleasing that he hasn’t lost a pound since he arrived here.”
As of this writing, West Coast is a massive favorite to emerge victorious at -110. The thoroughbred has a nearly flawless track record, having never finished outside the top-3 in 10 career starts. West Coast will be ridden by jockey Javier Castellano, who will be making his Dubai World Cup debut.
Baffert thinks both of his horses have a good mindset entering the race. He added, “Actually both horses are pretty happy. You can tell if they’re on point when you take them out in the morning. You can tell by the look on their faces and in their eyes if they’re happy.”
West Coast isn’t Baffert’s only hope at repeating as champion. Mubtaahij, who finished second at the 2016 Dubai World Cup behind California Chrome, is also in the field. Mubtaahij drew the 5th post of the 10-post race, though he’s something of a longshot to win at +1600. While West Coast’s wide post isn’t exactly ideal, Baffert doesn’t seem to think the starting post is particularly important considering the lengthy mile-and-a-quarter track.
Baffert said, “I don’t think there’s a really bad post when you’re going a mile-and-a-quarter. The only thing I worry about is the break. The horse is more important than the post, so I’m fine with it.”
American horses have won 11 of the 22 Dubai World Cups to this point, with Baffert accounting for 3 of those triumphs. He also trained Silver Charm, who won in 1998, and Captain Steve, who took home the top prize in 2001.
Baffert’s success in the event has been bested only by Saeed Bin Suroor, who has won the event 7 times. Bin Suroor, who legitimately dresses like an evil movie villain. Bin Suroor is also currently the only trainer to have won the event in successive years, is in charge of Thunder Snow (+1200) this year.
Andre Fabre’s Talismanic (+700) is shaping up to be West Coast’s primary competition in Dubai. This will be Talismanic’s first race on a dirt track after enjoying a good bit of success on turf.
British-born North America, who is, interestingly enough, trained by Vladimir Putin ally Ramzan Akhmadovic Kadyrov, checks in with the next-best odds to win at +800. Gunnevera, who finished 7th in last year’s Kentucky Derby and 5th in the Preakness, is also listed at +800. Gunnevera rebounded from those disappointing efforts to win the Tangelo Stakes last August and finished second in the Travers Stakes after that.
Here’s how the odds are shaking up for all 10 horses in the field:
- West Coast -110
- Talismanic +700
- North America +800
- Gunnevera +800
- Forever Unbridled +800
- Thunder Snow +1200
- Pavel +1400
- Mubtaahij +1600
- Awardee +3300
- Furia Cruzada +6600
Unlike last year’s Kentucky Derby, which was fairly wide open, the 2018 edition of the Dubai World Cup is pretty clearly West Coast’s race to lose. Classic Empire was listed as the favorite to win the Derby last year at just +400. To the surprise if just about nobody, Classic Empire didn’t even place. Always Dreaming (+500) emerged victorious, followed by Lookin at Lee (+2000) and Battle of Midway (+3000).
Mubtaahij, who finished fourth, and Furia Cruzada, who finished 13th (there were 14 entrants last year), are the only horses in this year’s field that also participated in last year’s Dubai World Cup. Arrogate checked in as the massive pre-race favorite at -250. Some London-based books were so confident Arrogate would win that some of them even offered prop bets on by how many lengths he would win the race. That’s a pretty strong show of confidence, and the horse came through in the end. The aforementioned Gun Runner entered the race with the second-best odds at +700. He finished second.
Bookmakers haven’t gone quite that far this year with West Coast, but he’s pretty clearly expected to triumph here. Rather than making some sort of brash upset pick, I’m happy to eat the chalk. West Coast will win, and Baffert will become the second trainer ever to win the $10 million event in back-to-back years.
- West Coast (-110)
- North America (+800)
- Talismanic (+700)