ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- For Mubtaahij, the road to the Kentucky Derby (GI) leads through Arlington Heights.
A blowout winner of the UAE Derby (GII - UAE) on March 28, Mubtaahij arrived at Arlington Park last week. He came out of quarantine on Monday, April 20. The three-year-old Dubawi colt took a stroll on the Arlington track that day, and had his first published drill today. He cantered a mile with his stablemate Umgiyo (probable for the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard), and broke off on his own for the breeze. He breezed three furlongs. Regardless of the workout time1, he looked fit, like he handled the ship well. Per trainer Mike de Kock, "this morning's work was, quite frankly, an easy piece. I'm more than happy with the result." de Kock indicated that Mubtaahij would possibly work again at Arlington over the weekend, and then ship out to Churchill Downs on Monday.
Mubtaahij's connections had originally planned to ship him to Kentucky early this week and train up to the race over the training track at Skylight Training Center in Kentucky. However, once he shipped out to Arlington for quarantine, "Trevor [Brown, assistant trainer] just felt that he looked a little tucked up. He didn't look like he did when he left home." In light of that, de Kock and his team decided to keep him at Arlington to train up to the Derby, and he believes that was the right decision. "Within two or three days, the horse was really bursting out of his skin. He never stopped eating, he never stopped drinking, whatever weight he lost came back."
Mubtaahij's presence on the Derby Trail may have been planned about as far in advance as his training at Arlington. He began his career on the turf at Newmarket, but finished off the board in two disappointing starts over the grass. When asked about his decision to move Mubtaahij to the dirt, de Kock stated, "I wish I could tell you it was a calculated decision. It nearly never happened." de Kock almost left Mubtaahij in England for the winter, but finally decided, "what the hell, let’s get him to Dubai, get some sun on his back." This proved to be the right decision, as Mubtaahij tallied four wins and a second-place finish in five starts over the Meydan dirt.
After besting the likes of UAE 2000 Guineas winner Maftool and Uruguayan Triple Crown winner Sir Fever in Dubai, Mubtaahij will face a new challenge: American dirt horses. de Kock is impressed with what he has seen out of other horses pointing to the Derby, and observed that he "probably picked the worst year when it comes to the opposition." He singled out American Pharoah, in particular, as tough competition. "He doesn't seem to have any flaws, that horse. Whoever beats him will be the winner." Though de Kock does not expect Mubtaahij to match the early speed of horses like American Pharoah, he believes that his charge will stay the ten furlongs of the Kentucky Derby, and be able to come on strong in the final few furlongs of the race.
The Derby will give him his toughest class test yet. But, if Mubtaahij can bring his turn of foot in the UAE Derby with him to Churchill, we may be able to say on May 2 that the way to the roses ran, at least briefly, through the Chicago area.
Mubtaahij gallops down the stretch at Arlington Park on April 21, 2015.
1 The official three-furlong time recorded on Equibase is 36.20 seconds, though earlier reports received from Arlington had him in 37.80 seconds. Picks and Ponderings did not independently clock the work.
All photos and video taken by Nicolle Neulist.
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