03/23/2011 3:51PM

Dubai World Cup: Golden Sword comes alive for de Kock on Tapeta

Andrew Watkins
Golden Sword, with Christophe Soumillon up, wins a 2,000-meter race at Meydan on Feb. 18.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – It’s been an eventful several days for trainer Mike de Kock, the South African whose total of nine wins in World Cup races is second only to the 27 that Saeed bin Suroor has amassed from 212 runners. Bold Silvano, among the top older horses in Dubai this winter, was taken out of World Cup consideration last weekend after suffering what was called a minor injury during routine morning exercise.

But de Kock’s bad luck also was de Kock’s good fortune, since Bold Silvano’s defection allowed the de Kock-trained Golden Sword into the World Cup. A revelation this winter after switching to synthetic-track racing, Golden Sword would have been excluded from a World Cup field capped at 14 entrants had Bold Silvano stayed on course. But Golden Sword, it turns out, still is as close to outside-looking-in as could possibly be, having drawn post 14 when final World Cup entries were taken Wednesday night.

It’d be nice to know how de Kock viewed this chain of events. Good luck finding him. De Kock was nowhere to be seen Tuesday morning, and an assistant reported Wednesday that de Kock wouldn’t be coming to his training yard at all during the day. Up at the Meydan racetrack during training hours for locally based horses, people waited for the de Kock equine contingent to show up for morning exercise, but the horses never came either, doing whatever maintenance work was required on treadmills at the yard.

“Mike is elusive this week,” jockey Kevin Shea, a fellow South African and longtime de Kock rider, said before the post position draw. “He doesn’t like all the media attention and stuff.”

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De Kock has never won the World Cup but came within a nose of the 2010 edition with second-place Lizard’s Desire. He will be plenty busy Saturday night, with eight horses entered in five different stakes. Shea has wound up with the mount on Golden Sword in the World Cup, with Christophe Soumillon, the horse’s pilot in his three previous races this winter, aboard de Kock’s other World Cup runner, Musir.

Golden Sword merits attention, even with the wide draw. De Kock wound up with the horse, a 5-year-old by High Chapparal, after he was culled from the Coolmore racing stable and sold, much like Archipenko, who finished third in the 2008 Dubai Duty Free. In his second start for de Kock, Golden Sword was third in the Group 2 City of Gold here last winter, but he followed that up with a 14th-place Sheema Classic finish and was wholly ineffective last summer racing for a different trainer in England.

But all those races came on turf, and this winter in Dubai, de Kock tried Golden Sword on the Tapeta surface at Meydan. Voila – new horse. After a comeback-race second, Golden Sword won a pair of Tapeta stakes by five lengths combined. His 2,000-meter time of 2:02.4 on Feb. 18 was three seconds faster than Twice Over’s time at the same distance when he won the third leg of the Maktoum Challenge earlier this month.

“He just wasn’t doing as well last year,” said Shea, who has ridden Golden Sword several times during morning work but never in a race. “They don’t lose their ability, they only lose their form, and he’s doing very well now.”

De Kock, one assumes, will show up to throw a saddle on the horse Saturday night.

Japanese translator shares quake story

Mariko Seki was walking her horse near the riding school she operates in the Ibaraki prefecture of Japan on the afternoon of March 11 when the ground began shaking furiously.

“I could not stand up,” Seki said Wednesday during training hours at Meydan Race Course. “The horses, they all panicked.”

Seki is fortunate enough to live about a 3 1/2-hour drive from the area of Japan most directly affected by the powerful offshore quake and the tsumani that followed it. Most of the Thoroughbreds in Japan were similarly lucky, but Seki said there are riding schools in the northeastern coastal area of the country that suffered massive destruction.

“I have many friends who lost all of their horses in the tsunami,” she said.

Seki has worked for various Japanese racing entities, and while serving informally as a translator here for all manner of non-Japanese speakers this week, she is on the World Cup notes team for 2011. She said that Japan’s horse industry escaped the worst of the earthquake, though there was some damage at one of the two major Japan Racing Association-operated training centers, called Miho.

The Japanese horses here for the World Cup – Buena Vista, Victoire Pisa, and Transcend – already had shipped to Dubai when the earthquake struck. Back home, though, the upcoming racing seasons have been rearranged, and surely no one will be approaching tasks as mundane as daily training routines in the same light for the foreseeable future.

“We have to work together in my country to go forward and recover,” Seki said. “Even in racing.”

Fly Down an unknown on synthetic track

Fly Down is an excellent racehorse. He finished second in the 2010 Belmont, almost won the 2010 Travers, and was third behind Blame and Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Nick Zito is an excellent trainer. He has won five Triple Crown races and nearly captured his third Kentucky Derby with Ice Box in 2010.

Fly Down has traveled to Dubai for a start in the $10 million World Cup. And there’s the rub. When Fly Down trained for the first time over the Tapeta surface here, it was the first time he had set foot on a synthetic racing surface. And among Zito’s many accomplishments, knocking out synthetic-track wins will not be counted among them.

Zito, according to longtime assistant trainer Tim Poole, who traveled with Fly Down, actually had a string at Keeneland during the track’s first race meet conducted on Polytrack. That was the fall of 2006. Zito’s runners went 0-3-1 from 15 starts, and the tone had been set.

From statistics dug up on Daily Racing Form ’s database, it appears Zito-trained synthetic-track starters have an overall mark of 3-6-2 from 57 starts. That’s far from encouraging, especially considering Fly Down is stepping into the deepest race of his career, although Poole said Fly Down appears to be comfortable enough on the Tapeta track.

“He goes very well over it,” Poole said, while adding that a good-looking synthetic gallop was a far cry from a strong synthetic racing performance.

Mutaib bin Abdullah, part of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, bought Fly Down before the Jockey Club Gold Cup last fall. Zito was quoted at the time saying that Fly Down would remain a U.S. racehorse “for the next couple races,” but now that Fly Down has shipped to the Middle East, there is the question of whether he’ll stay here after the World Cup.

“That’s not determined at this stage, as far as I know,” Poole said.