03/28/2015 10:46AM

Mubtaahij dominates UAE Derby, on to Kentucky

Dubai Racing Club/Neville Hopwood
Mubtaahij and jockey Christophe Soumillon win the UAE Derby by eight lengths Saturday.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Mubtaahij cruised to an eight-length victory in the $2 million UAE Derby and ran his way into a start in the Kentucky Derby.

A Kentucky Derby start would be a first for South African trainer Mike de Kock, who has long wintered in Dubai, but this was hardly de Kock’s first taste of success in the UAE Derby. He won the race for the sixth time, though Mubtaahij’s performance was the best from a de Kock horse since Asiatic Boy won in 2007.

But Asiatic Boy, a South American import, was a 4-year-old on Northern Hemisphere time, while Mubtaahij, an Irish-bred by Dubawi owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, is a true 3-year-old. The UAE Derby is one in the series of races that award Kentucky Derby qualifying points, and the 100 that Mubtaahij earned this evening are plenty to get him in the field.

Is Mubtaahij good enough to contend in Louisville? Quite possibly. He did get a perfect trip Saturday, settling on the rail as three Japanese horses, Dear Domus, a rank Golden Barows, and Tap That, set fractions of 26.06 seconds, 50.04, and 1:14.31, all faster than par for this racing season, according to Trakus.

Jockey Christophe Soumillon guided Mubtaahij off the fence with a little more than a quarter-mile to run, came about three wide straightening up, and the pair burst to the lead with a strong bit of acceleration. The race was over, and Mubtaahij was geared down to win in 1:58.35 for 1,900 meters, about 1 3/16 miles, on a fast track. The time was the second-fastest of 11 races on the new Meydan dirt surface, according to Trakus.

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Maftool, who handed Mubtaahij his only loss in five starts this winter, was hard ridden a long way out but still managed second, three-quarters of a length in front of Golden Barows. American invader My Johnny Be Good was ninth of 10.

Favored at 6-5 in North American betting, Mubtaahij appeared to win comfortably, which bodes well for his trip to the U.S., the details of which are still being worked out. A flight for the colt already is booked for mid-April, de Kock said, and Mubtaahij will have plenty of time to settle in at Churchill Downs.

“I’m not sure they’re prepared for us over there,” de Kock said affably. “We do things differently – working without shoes, working on turf.”

De Kock wasn’t at all certain how Mubtaahij would act on dirt, but he tried him on the new track here early this year because the 3-year-old series at Meydan all is on the main track.

“He has a high cruising speed and the ability to quicken off it,” de Kock said, describing characteristics that would work well in a race like the Kentucky Derby.

Sole Power wins first outside England

In 2012, trainer Edward Lynam sent Sole Power to Dubai to finish second in the Meydan Sprint, a prep for the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, and then to finish second in the Al Quoz itself. Fine. The next year, Lynam changed things up. He sent Sole Power here straight for the Al Quoz and got the same result – second. This year, Lynam went back to the prep-race route, and for the first time at Meydan, in the March 7 Meydan Sprint, Sole Power didn’t finish second – he finished 12th.

So, what did Sole Power’s worst placing since September 2011 produce? A breakthrough win at Meydan, as the estimable 8-year-old whizzed down the outside of the track under Richard Hughes to tag Peniaphobia in the final furlong.

Sole Power won by a half-length, with Peniaphobia, the tepidly favored Hong Kong raider, a half-length in front of the Wesley Ward-trained Green Mask. The winning time for about five furlongs down a straight course on good turf was 57.24 seconds.

Sole Power seems unaffected by age. In his daily training, he wants to fly down the homestretch, even when he is supposed to go easily. Imagine his relief, having been pent up all week at the Meydan training track, when Hughes, who also was scoring his first win here in advance of impending retirement from the saddle, gave Sole Power his head with about three furlongs left to race. Near the back of the pack, Sole Power sliced through the field and turned on the afterburners with a quarter-mile left to run down Peniaphobia.

By Kyllachy and owned by Mrs. Sabena Power, Sole Power won two Group 1s in 2014 at age 7, and from the look of his performance Saturday, he is ready for more.