Trainer Dallas Stewart has always had a way with fillies and mares dating back to the days he galloped Winning Colors, who became the third female Kentucky Derby winner in history in 1988, while working as an assistant to renowned trainer D. Wayne Lukas. In fact, seven of his nine career Grade 1 victories have come with a female runner.
This Saturday, Stewart will attempt to make history with the most accomplished runner he has ever trained when he saddles Charles Fipke’s champion Forever Unbridled for the US $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline. The 6-year-old Unbridled’s Song mare will be attempting to become the first female winner in the 23-year history of the race. To date, To The Victory (Jpn) has been closest when second to Captain Steve in 2001.
“She can compete with the boys,” Stewart said.
“I’ve been around a couple of good ones and she’s right there. When you run a filly against the boys, you need to feel like they have a chance to win. She’s not three, she’s six, so she’s older than most of the males she’s facing. Not only is she older, but she’s had some great accomplishments. Given those factors and how she’s doing, we’re going to go for it.”
Stewart, 58, is making his first trip to Dubai and a win in this prestigious race would be the biggest of his career.
The native of McCombs, Mississippi spent 11 years working for Lukas and in addition to Winning Colors, also worked closely with Lady’s Secret, who beat males in the 1986 Whitney Handicap (Group 1) and was named that year’s Horse of the Year. He went out on his own in 1997 and to date his runners have won nearly $47 million. Among his most prestigious wins have been with 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, the dam of Forever Unbridled, the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Unbridled Elaine and the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Forever Unbridled, who became his first champion after her victory.
Since arriving in Dubai on March 21, Forever Unbridled has only made Stewart more confident heading into Saturday’s race.
“She’s a really, really good racehorse,” Stewart said.
“She’s won at eight different racetracks. She had three starts and three wins last year, so she’s definitely dedicated to winning. Whether or not she can beat the boys, that’s what we’re going to try and find out. It will be a great pay day if we can get it done, but more importantly, it will be a great accomplishment for her.
“All through her career she’s been very talented. She had an ankle injury early on and we gave her the time off that she needed. She’s bigger and stronger now. She’s not your typical mare. She’s big and strong. She’s massive. She has great energy all the time. She’s come here ready.”
Forever Unbridled is scheduled to be retired after the Dubai World Cup and be bred to top stallion Medaglia d’Oro, who closed out his career with a second in the 2004 edition of the race. Stewart says he is not thinking about that just yet.
“My only concern is getting her ready for Saturday,” Stewart said. “We’re proud to be here. We’re happy for the invite. Hopefully, she’ll represent. She’s always represented us well in the past.”
Godolphin Team Looking Forward to Snow
Godolphin’s Thunder Snow has his chance to rewrite the record books on Saturday in the US $10milllion Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline.
If successful, he would be the eighth winner of the race for Saeed bin Suroor, the most successful trainer in the history of the showpiece race, as well as a seventh to carry the blue of Godolphin. The colt would also become the first UAE Derby sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group winner to follow up in the Dubai World Cup.
Having already won the 2017 UAE 2000 Guineas, he needed every one of the 1900m in the UAE Derby when leading in the final strides to deny Japan’s Epicharis.
A Group 1 winner as a juvenile, in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud, he was also successful at the highest level, again in France, when landing the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly last summer.
Christophe Soumillon was in the saddle for all those big race victories, having partnered him for the first time in the Criterium International, and was also aboard when they were second in the 1600m Al Maktoum Challenge R1, the feature on the first night of the 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival.
They then won the 1900m second round of the challenge but the Belgian jockey was suspended on Super Saturday when, under Oisin Murphy, he was runner-up to North America.
Soumillon will be back in the saddle on Saturday and said: “I was, obviously, disappointed to miss Super Saturday but am really looking forward to getting back on him.
“He handles the dirt well enough but, perhaps, does not quicken on it as well as he does on turf. There looks sure to be a good gallop again on Saturday and we will be hoping for a good draw.”
The 4-year-old son of Helmet galloped at Al Quoz on Sunday morning, his final piece of serious work before the big race.
“We are very much looking forward to the Dubai World Cup on Saturday and could not be happier with Thunder Snow, who worked very well on Sunday,” Bin Suroor said.
“He is very versatile as we know having won both the UAE 2000 Guineas and UAE Derby last year, as well as Al Maktoum Challenge R2 this year, on the Meydan dirt.
“He is also a dual Group 1 winner, on turf in France and, hopefully, can enjoy another good campaign in Europe after Saturday. He was second on Super Saturday, which was a very good effort over the World Cup course and distance.
“Obviously the Dubai World Cup is a very strong race with American runners like West Coast and Forever Unbridled in the field but our horse is in great shape. Christophe gets on particularly well with him and we are very much looking forward to Saturday and, hopefully, a big performance from him.”
Japanese Trainer Fujisawa Has Reasons to be Cheerful
In Kazuo Fujisawa’s long career there is one phrase he has stuck with: “Happy people make happy horses.”
And there will certainly be some smiles if Rey de Oro can shine in Saturday’s Longines Dubai Sheema Classic.
It was 10 months ago when the colt bested the top 3-year-old in his homeland and provided a first Derby title for Fujisawa in an otherwise very successful 31-year training career.
Perennially one of Japan’s top trainers, Fujisawa opened his training yard in 1987 and since then the 65-year-old has scored a total of 1396 wins from 8064 starts with 26 top-level victories.
On the global stage, he won the 1998 Prix the Jacques le Marois (Group 1), the 2006 Group 1 Cashcall Mile Invitational Stakes (Group 1) and the 2008 Peter Pan Stakes (Group 2). Rey de Oro has the potential to become his conditioner’s fourth international star.
Bred by Japan’s leading breeding operation, Northern Farm, Rey de Oro won his career debut over 2000m in October 2016 then went on to win his next two starts both over 2000m as a 2-year-old, rounding off the season with decisive win in the Hopeful Stakes (Group 2).
“He won all of his starts over 2000m as juvenile, but that was a lot tougher on him than I thought.” Fujisawa said. “But thanks to the training facilities and their staff’s best efforts during his winter spell, he was able to bounce back and was ready for the Classic season.”
His dam La Dorada was trained by Fujisawa and had raced from 1400m to 1800m. His second-dam Lady Blond, a half-sister to the champion Deep Impact, was also a Fujisawa trainee and only raced over 1200m during her career, so his bottom line proves he has solid speed.
The son of King Kamehameha kicked off his 3-year-old season with a fifth-place finish in the Satsuki Sho (Group 1), the Japanese 2000 Gunieas, under Christophe Lemaire, then took the Japanese Derby (Group 1) a week after Fujisawa and Lemaire claimed the Japanese Oaks (Group 1) with Soul Stirring.
Rey de Oro returned that autumn to complete his 3-year-old campaign, starting with a victory in the Kobe Shimbun Hai (Group 2) over 2400m in September. After a two-month spell, Rey de Oro opted to face the older horses in the Japan Cup (Group 1) instead of heading to the third leg of the Triple Crown, Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, Group 1), and ran a superb second to Cheval Grand.
Rey de Oro did live up to his favouritism in his seasonal debut, finishing third in the 2200m Kyoto Kinen (Group 2) in February prior to travelling to Dubai.
“He did not break well and the pace was slow in his prep. The extra distance the distance on Saturday should be good for him.” the trainer said after the race without any pessimism.
It has been nine years since Fujisawa sent a horse to Dubai, and this is his first time to run at Meydan. “The
Bermuda type of grass on the wide turf course here seems to suit him,” he said.
Japan’s contingent for the Dubai World Cup meeting this year has 14 horses, the largest number ever, and they all arrived in Dubai on March 20.
“He is getting more familiarised with the new surroundings and relaxing more day by day. He eats up well and is in a good mood.” said his work rider Daisuke Tsumagari.
A happy Rey de Oro could make a happy Fujisawa by the weekend.
Mendelssohn In Tune for Meydan Mission
Could this be the year that the UAE Derby sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group fuels Kentucky Derby glory?
Others have tried in the past and come up empty and the best showing in the Run for the Roses by a UAE Derby runner remains that of Master Of Hounds, who was beaten a pixel by Khawlah in the 2011 edition prior to a creditable fifth at Churchill Downs in May.
Trainer of Master Of Hounds was Aidan O’Brien, who has won the Derby twice with Daddy Long Legs in 2012 and a year later with Lines Of Battle (subsequently renamed Helene Super Star in Hong Kong).
Ireland’s record-breaking handler means business once again this year with Mendelssohn, the focus of a three-pronged attack on the US $2 million contest.
Mendelssohn was big news before he even made the track, with the half-brother to multiple American champion mare Beholder topping the Keeneland September Yearling Sale at $3 million to MV Magnier. His juvenile campaign began steadily but rounded off with two superb efforts, finishing second in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes before collecting the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar early in November.
Three weeks ago he returned to the fray on the all-weather at Dundalk in Ireland when he defeated stablemates Threeandfourpence and Seahenge, both of whom are pitched into battle again on Saturday.
“Mendelssohn continues to improve and we hope he can run a big race. He did very well over the winter and mentally he is very relaxed. He is American-bred so we hope the dirt will suit him,” O’Brien said.
“He is quite a strong traveller so we will learn more about him at Meydan in terms of the Kentucky Derby. You couldn’t be sure how well he will stay as he goes beyond a mile for the first time but we are hopeful he will get the trip.”
It is worth pointing out that O’Brien’s previous runners in the UAE Derby have gone into the race without a prep run, but the Patton Stakes at Dundalk presented itself this year as a suitable option given its new position on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
“The thinking is that having a run into our horses before the UAE Derby won’t be a disadvantage. We are very happy with how our horses are going into the race,” O’Brien added.
Nine runners go to post or the Derby but the race tempo should be pretty honest considering that rivals Gold Town, Rayya, Yulong Warrior and Threeandfourpence all led in their recent tests.
Mendelssohn is drawn in gate four and jockey Ryan Moore is likely to try and camp just behind the lead as he when successful at Del Mar and Dundalk. The Scat Daddy colt touched down in Dubai early on Tuesday morning and is expected to make his first appearance on the dirt track on Thursday.