04/16/2015 2:35PM

Mubtaahij begins long journey to Kentucky Derby

Dubai Racing Club/Neville Hopwood
Mubtaahij wins the United Arab Emirates Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.

Thursday morning might have marked one of the most international moments in Kentucky Derby history.

Trainer Mike de Kock was reached by phone at home in South Africa, the good 3-year-old he trains, Mubtaahij, having left Dubai earlier in the day en route – and it is a circuitous route – to Louisville.

“I think he’s somewhere over Iraq about now,” de Kock speculated, having just watched another talented 3-year-old he trains, Tannaaf, run well in a rich stakes at Newmarket in England.

Mubtaahij was a flashy eight-length winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby at Meydan in his most recent start, running his record in dirt races to 4 for 5 and convincing his connections, de Kock and owner Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, to put the 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points he earned in the race to good use and head to Kentucky.

De Kock long ago established his international credentials. He has shipped horses around the globe and won big races. But the itinerary presented to him for Mubtaahij’s date at the Derby gave even de Kock pause.

“You don’t give it much thought at first,” de Kock said. “You think of going to the race, and then later, you start thinking about how you get there.”

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

Here’s how it works for Mubtaahij: The flight de Kock referenced Thursday was bound for Amsterdam. There, Mubtaahij will change planes and fly to Chicago, take a short van ride from O’Hare Airport to Arlington, and spend two days there in the USDA-certified quarantine facility. De Kock said he might keep Mubtaahij at Arlington an extra day or two, but one way or another, he then will travel by van to the Skylight training center in Goshen, Ky., and be based there until the Tuesday before the Derby, when de Kock will send him on to Churchill Downs.

Because of international shipping regulations, Mubtaahij’s regular groom wasn’t permitted to travel with him. De Kock’s assistant, Trevor Brown, and an exercise rider will be awaiting the colt’s arrival in Chicago. De Kock wanted to send his special feed mix along, but that also was forbidden.

It’s a lot to ask of a horse, and de Kock wouldn’t try it with just any colt.

“I wouldn’t do it if he didn’t have the temperament for it,” said de Kock. “He can get very fresh, but he’s a horse that’s not stupid. He’s very sensible.”

Mubtaahij is going to Skylight to train on the Polytrack surface there, keeping some degree of continuity with his training in Dubai, which has all been done over a Tapeta training track. The day before he left, Mubtaahij worked seven furlongs after a warm-up canter, and knowing Mubtaahij would spend the next five or six days doing nothing more strenuous than walking, de Kock said he put a fairly stiff work into a colt already fit after a busy winter of racing.

Mubtaahij might or might not prove good enough for what looks like a Derby field well above average, but for him, just getting there is half the battle.