Dubai World Cup features – Roy H’s Evolution from Under-Performer to Champion

Thunder Snow

Once a distracted colt who did not focus on his racing, Roy H enters the Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News as a devastatingly consistent winner of all but one of his last seven starts who wears the crown as American champion sprinter. What made the difference? In the parlance of horsemen, it was trainer Peter Miller’s decision to make the “ultimate equipment change.”

After Miller opted to geld the now 6-year-old in 2016, Roy H transformed into a tremendous force of nature. He now is a horse so concentrated on his job that jockey Kent Desormeaux says he has to spend more time trying to slow him down, waiting for the right time to unleash his speed, than urging him ahead in races.

“He was never a difficult horse so much to deal with. The decision to geld him was more because he wasn’t focused on his job. He wasn’t putting out,” Miller recalled after watching Roy H breezing at Meydan this week.

“We knew he had Grade 1 ability,” Miller continued. “He would show it in the mornings sometimes, but he wouldn’t show it in the afternoons. He was very inconsistent. That was very frustrating because we knew he had it in him, but he wouldn’t put out.

“So, we thought gelding him would help—and it did wonders. And we did give him some time off too; he had a couple of little niggling issues, nothing major. He came back a different horse.”

Bred by Ramona Bass in Kentucky from a mating of international sire More Than Ready with multiple graded stakes winner Elusive Diva, by Elusive Quality, Roy H always showed potential. He was sold as a yearling for US $115,000 and then resold as a 2-year-old to current co-owner Rockingham Ranch for $310,000 at the Keeneland April sale of juveniles in training.

He made his racing debut at three, but in his first 11 races, he was only able to win a maiden event at Santa Anita Park in 2015. After Roy H finished fourth in an allowance race on July 30, 2016, he was gelded – and the rest is history.

In seven starts since then, beginning with an allowance/optional claiming race upon his return to action on April 8, 2017, Roy H has won six, including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes. He enters the Dubai Golden Shaheen off the easiest kind of win the Palos Verdes Stakes (Group 2) at Santa Anita.

Miller said Roy H’s progression to superstar was not immediate after the gelding procedure but rather a constant advancement in his racetrack performances.

“He’d always trained like a good horse, so it wasn’t so much that I saw improvement in his training, it was more the racing. When he started to show the consistency in the afternoons that he showed in the mornings, that’s when I said, ‘Now we’re on to something,’” Miller said.

Roy H became so proficient that Miller said he was expecting the muscular bay to prevail in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar, as he did over nine rivals including 2017 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Mind Your Biscuits.

Similarly, Miller also feels that Roy H – if racing luck goes his way and he is able to give his best – will win the 2018 Dubai Golden Shaheen.

“The Breeders’ Cup was, the best sprinters in the world, just like the Dubai Golden Shaheen has the best sprinters. I feel confident that if he runs his race, he’ll win on Saturday. But you know, that’s a big ‘if,’” Miller cautioned.

“It’s a different track, a different world, a different environment. I just hope he runs his race. If he runs his race, I think everything will turn out just fine.”

Miller describes Roy H as “a sweetheart – a docile, lovely animal who is a pleasure to be around” in the barn and a horse who thrives on attention. He will always be special to the trainer as Roy H was Miller’s first trainee to earn championship honors.

Looking back on the decision to geld Roy H, Miller said the horse’s subsequent evolution to the top of the racing realm “means the world to me”.

“To win the Breeders’ Cup and to have a big chance to win the Golden Shaheen, it’s just a thrill. These are the races that, 30 years ago when I took my trainer’s license out, I wanted to compete in and try to win. To do so is just wonderful.”

Baffert Hoping to Coast to the Top Again

He has been the understudy in the stable and this is West Coast’s chance to step into the spotlight in a starring role in Saturday’s Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline.

“He’s always been in the shadow of Arrogate,” trainer Bob Baffert said while referring to his now retired trainee, who won last year’s edition of the race after storming to prominence in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Using an American football analogy, Baffert compared Arrogate and the now 4-year-old West Coast to former San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. With Young as his back-up, Montana won multiple Super Bowls as the game’s Most Valuable Player and then Young accomplished the same when he became the first-stringer. Both Montana and Young are enshrined in professional football’s Hall of Fame.

“Now it’s time for West Coast to be the starting quarterback. This race is his coming out party,” Baffert said.
Baffert, who also trained American Pharoah to the first American Triple Crown championship in 37 years and completed the Grand Slam with a Breeders’ Cup Classic win with the colt that same year, is confident that Gary and Mary West’s West Coast has what it takes to step up.

“He’s big and he’s really strong, and he’s got a high cruising speed. He’s a brute. He can carry 126 pounds. He has a good mind but he can be tough to handle. He’ll push you around a little bit. He’s very competitive. He’s a really good, top class horse. He’s on the rise, and he keeps getting better and better. I like the way he’s coming into this race,” he said.

Baffert is high on West Coast even though the colt finished second and third to Gun Runner, respectively in his last two outings in the 2018 Pegasus and the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Before tangling with Gun Runner, West Coast racked up a five-race win streak that included two Grade 1 scores.

“West Coast has gotten beat in his last couple of outs. But I still think he’s the best older horse in the United States right now. He’s run against some really good horses. The way he ran in the Pegasus was pretty impressive and Gun Runner’s not in here,” he said.

The trainer is so confident in his charge’s ability that he encouraged West Coast’s owners to be in attendance for the event even though Gary West does not care to travel and was wary of making the long journey to Dubai. The couple, who have been married for 47 years and called West Coast’s win in the 2017 Travers Stakes (Group 1) the greatest feeling they’ve yet experienced in their many decades of owning top-flight Thoroughbreds, arrived on Thursday.

“They know the hardships of this game and understand there are so many ups and downs. They know the disappointments can really get you down, but they are so excited about this horse and this race,” Baffert said.
The same can be said for the great conditioner.

“Arrogate and American Pharoah are the closest I’ll ever get to Secretariat. This is West Coast’s chance to put himself right up there with those names,” Baffert said.

Experience Could Help Awardee

There is only one Japanese horse in Saturday’s main event, the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline. This year it is 8-year-old Awardee, who ran a respectable fifth in last year’s renewal. He will be following in the hoof prints of many Japanese horses before him, and many of whom have a connection to the veteran son of Jungle Pocket in one way or the other.

Every person in this horse’s life has some connection to the Dubai World Cup from the owner, trainer, jockey and breeding farm. Koji Maeda, who breeds most of his racehorses at his Hokkaido based North Hills Farm, also campaigned Regular Member in the 2001 renewal. Coming in 9th that day, he was ridden by then jockey Mikio Matsunaga, the trainer of Awardee.

They also bred and raced Transcend, who ran a thrilling second to fellow Japanese runner Victoire Pisa in the 2011 Dubai World Cup and a disappointing 13th in 2012. With Awardee and his younger half-brother Lani in last year’s renewal, North Hills and the Maeda family will have now participated in five different Dubai World Cups with four different horses.

Other than Regular Member in 2001, Mikio Matsunaga also had the opportunity to ride in the 1998 Dubai World Cup aboard Kyoto City, who finished sixth. Before retiring from being a jockey in 2006, Matsunaga partnered Awardee and Lani’s dam, Heavenly Romance, to victory in the 2005 Tenno Sho Aki (Group 1) in Japan.

He began his training career in 2007, and it was not long before he was back in Dubai again, this time as a trainer. In 2010, he brought over Group 1 winner Red Desire and ended up having another tilt at the World Cup, taking only 11th that time.

Seven years later he was back again with both Awardee(5th) and Lani(8th). Having ridden in two Dubai World Cups and trained three different runners, no other Japanese trainer is better equipped to win a future running.

On Friday morning, after watching his charge loop the track one last time before the big night, Matsunaga said: “He is in much better condition than last year. He shipped a lot better and is eating and relaxed. The draw isn’t the best, but it will be OK.”

Yutaka Take is one of the most famous jockeys inside and outside of Japan. Aboard Awardee for the 22nd time, he knows the horse well, but he also knows the Dubai World Cup.

Take has ridden six times over the years; To the Victory in 2001 (second), Silent Deal in 2004 (12th), Kane Hekili in 2005 (fourth), Vermilion in 2008 (12th), Smart Falcon in 2012 (10th) and Awardee 12 months ago. Those years of experience will come in handy on Saturday.

Awardee will be breaking from the far inside, but that hasn’t discouraged his connections. “He will run a strong race from any post position,” said the owner’s son Koki Maeda at the barrier draw.

“In reality, we wanted an outside gate but funnily enough number one is our lucky number.” said the other’s brother Shinji Maeda, “Kizuna and One And Only both won the Japanese Derby from the first bracket, so the inside is lucky for us. The field is small so from any position he would need luck.”

With years of experienced people guiding him along and his drastically improved physical condition over last year, Awardee has as good a shot as any to become Japan’s next Dubai World Cup winner.

Cloth of Stars Could Light Up Longines Dubai Sheema Classic

British-trained filly Enable might have dominated the 2017 edition of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly but runner-up Cloth of Stars made such a great impression that day that he is now expected to emerge a major contender in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan racecourse on Saturday.

French trainer André Fabre has an amazing record in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which he has won a record breaking seven times, and so no-one was really surprised by the 5-year-old’s convincing performance behind the champion filly. Least of all his trainer, who said: “Already as a two-year-old he was very good and then he won the Prix Greffuhle (one of France’s most important Derby trials) by several lengths. He then ran in the Epsom Derby, but it was the year where we had a virus and so he got exhausted running in the English Derby.”

The Derby might not have come at a good time for the son of Sea The Stars and Strawberry Fledge, but once he got over his virus, he proved unstoppable. As a 4-year-old, he got off to a brilliant start with three consecutive victories in the Prix Exbury (Group 3) in March, followed by the Prix d’Harcourt (Group 2) in April and culminating with a first Group 1 success in the Prix Ganay in May.

After breaking two track records and winning his first Group 1 race, a start in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot was briefly under consideration, but in the end, his trainer, who had always thought of him as a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe horse, preferred to give him some time off during the summer.

And as always, he was proved right, as Cloth of Stars came back to perform brilliantly in a race that would be awarded the Longines World’s Best Horserace in 2017, based on the finisher’s ratings. Leaving horses such as Eclipse winner Ulysses, the 2016 Ascot Gold Cup victor Order of St George and the French Derby winner Brametot in his wake, he was immediately pencilled in for a trip to Dubai.

“The Longines Dubai Sheema Classic has become one of the important races for this type of horse,” Fabre said. “It is a Group 1 and is run over 2400m. It is a good competition and attracts good horses, it is perfect for this horse.”

In preparation for the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, Cloth of Stars made his seasonal reappearance in the Prix Darshaan, a conditions race, on the Polytrack at the Chantilly racecourse. On that day he was beaten a length and three-quarters by his stable companion Talismanic who is running in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline and his handler explained:

“This race in Chantilly is very convenient and for me as a trainer, it is easier than giving him a start in Dubai, as they remain under my supervision. On that sort of surface, Talismanic is obviously more speedy. He got the first run, Cloth of Stars likes to come from behind. They both needed the race.”

Cloth of Stars is the highest rated horse in Saturday’s race and more than capable of giving Andre Fabre a second winner in it, 14 years after he scored with Polish Summer.