So You Think, bred in New Zealand, is the 5-2 favorite heading into the world’s richest horse race on Saturday. But Kentucky-bred Game on Dude is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who expects to attend the races less than a week after suffering a heart attack.
“Need to win World Cup just to break even on medical bills,” Baffert posted on his Twitter feed after being released from a Dubai hospital on Thursday.
Baffert hopes to be at Meydan Racecourse for World Cup, which features nine races with purses totaling $27.25 million. Game on Dude, and jockey Chantal Sutherland, will definitely be there, lining up on the far outside in a 14-horse field with a chance to give Baffert his third World Cup win. The trainer won with Silver Charm in 1998 and Captain Steve in 2001.
Game On Dude’s co-owner Bernie Schiappa is optimistic. He said Thursday it doesn’t matter if his horse starts from the outside in the 1 1/4-mile race because “you can place him wherever you want to place him.”
Plus, Schiappa added, “He’s training fantastic. He’s ready. He’s locked and ready to go.”
Game On Dude, the leading older horse in the U.S., opened the year with a victory in the San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 5, his first start since finishing second to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5.
So You Think, trained by Aidan O’Brien, will be making his first start since finishing sixth in the BC Classic. The 6-year-old horse won four of eight starts last year, including the Irish Champion Stakes. The son of High Chaparral has won the Cox Plate in Australia two times.
The race could also make a little history.
Sutherland, a sometimes reality star and model, will become the first female rider in the World Cup while Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta attempts to become the first filly to win the race.
Japan will be represented by three horses in a bid to repeat the success of 2011 winner Victoire Pisa – whose emotional victory came only weeks after the country was hit by a devastating tsunami. Smart Falcon might be the best of the trio with a nine-race winning streak. The others are last year’s World Cup runner-up Transcend, and long shot Eishin Flash.
The 7-year-old Smart Falcon dropped about 20 pounds since his arrival in Dubai, but that doesn’t bother jockey Yutaka Take. Neither does the fact it’s Smart Falcon’s first trip outside Japan and the first time he’ll be running on a synthetic Tapeta surface.
“It is my first experience to work over the surface, and it is sticky and needs more power,” Take said. “I think Smart Falcon suits the track very well. He has lots of experience running at many racecourses in Japan, and it is a very good thing for him to get familiar with the new surroundings.”
O’Brien is expected to arrive Friday, but his assistants said So You Think is adjusting well.
“The horses all traveled well, and arrived here in good order, no problems whatsoever,” said Patrick Keating of O’Brien’s Ballydoyle Stables, which sent six horses to Dubai. “They have all had uninterrupted preparations in Ireland. The weather back home over the winter has been OK.
“We have a bigger team here this year than in the past, and I’d say they all come here with chances.”
Another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, is hoping Royal Delta can match the success of his first trip to Dubai when his two-time Horse of the Year Cigar won the first Dubai World Cup in 1996. The 4-year-old filly is coming off a strong year, including a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.
Mott almost lost the horse when she was sold after the Breeders’ Cup but new owner Benjamin Leon Jr. retained him.
“I thought if I ever was to get this filly back and am lucky enough, fortunate enough to be trainer after she goes through sales ring, what would I do with her? This race immediately came to mind as far as the distance and surface she has been on,” Mott said. “Obviously, we are running against some very talented horses and we have got to find out if we can meet the challenge as far as the rest competition goes and as far as bringing the best out in her.”
There are four horses from Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed’s Godolphin stables in the marquee race, which it hasn’t won since 2006 after recording five victories in the first decade. Prince Bishop and Master of Hounds are both long shots at 20-1. It is expected to do well in the lesser races on the card.
“The Dubai World Cup is the hardest and most difficult to win,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor said. “In Dubai or the UAE or the Middle East, they want Godolphin to win. Now, they understand horses are coming from Japan, from America everywhere in the world. It’s hard to win.”
Schiappa, meanwhile, is feeling confident about Game on Dude’s chances.
“He’s a fighter. He’s a game horse,” Schiappa said. “You can place him wherever you need to place him. I think we have a great post position, preferably 11 but 14 is fine with me. We have Chantal riding him and the horse loves her so the rest is up to the man upstairs.”
Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcasey1