03/22/2016 2:03PM

Expectations lower for Mubtaahij this time around

Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club
Mubtaahij easily wins last year's UAE Derby at Meydan.

Basically, since Mubtaahij crossed the wire eight lengths best last March 28 in the UAE Derby, Saturday’s Dubai World Cup has been his major objective. But the race is nearly upon us, and hardly anyone this week is viewing Mubtaahij as a major World Cup contender.

Mubtaahij returned from a long layoff surely needing his first race back, but his fifth-place finish in the Feb. 4 Firebreak Stakes was surprisingly flat. While Mubtaahij improved marginally second out, he still was just fourth March 5 in Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge.

Mubtaahij, however, was racing for the first time in about eight months in the Firebreak, his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, which followed an eighth in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Mike de Kock had undertaken the ambitious plan of sending Mubtaahij from a five-race campaign here last winter into the Triple Crown fray.

“He kept on the schedule we wanted, and everything went well, but he probably was a little shorter than I expected first time back, but sometimes it’s hard to get them back from such a long rest, not only physically, but mentally, too, to get them to want to get in a scrap,” de Kock said Tuesday. “He’d been in England, been in the paddock, got let down properly. In his last race, I thought he’d be closer, but I couldn’t work out the results of the night at all. The times were crazy, and as soon as you stepped away from the rail, you were done.”

Mubtaahij had an easy day Tuesday after putting in his final World Cup work Monday over the Tapeta training track next to Meydan.

“It was a good blowout; he’s sound, moving well,” de Kock said. “I can see the changes in his stride length, and he’s quickening well. I’m not saying he’s the winner, but I see him in the money, I see him in the first four.”