Breeders’ Cup Classic clues from Dubai World Cup night

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

October 18th, 2018

Thunder Snow (c) Dubai Racing Club

As many as six Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) contenders competed on the March 31 Dubai World Cup (G1) card. Three won their respective races in track-record time at Meydan, while the others’ efforts in defeat range from tactical second-guessing to total toss.

No fewer than four squared off in the Dubai World Cup itself, logically enough as the globe’s other marquee race on dirt at about 1 1/4 miles. Godolphin’s Thunder Snow seized the insurmountable tactical edge of controlling speed on the rail, spurted away from West Coast, and lowered the track record to 2:01.38. Pavel ran evenly in fourth, but Gunnevera had no chance in eighth.

So how does this translate to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in November? The short answer is that it doesn’t work out literally as an ironclad piece of form. That’s true from an historical perspective, since no reigning Dubai World Cup winner has gone on to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year, but also given the dynamics of how World Cup 2018 played out.

Thunder Snow’s ace rider, Christophe Soumillon, was quick to react to the fact that projected pacesetter North America was nowhere to be seen after flubbing the start. Drawn alongside West Coast but on the far outside post 10, Thunder Snow outhustled him to the front, and once he crossed over, the race was virtually over on a speed-biased Meydan strip.

West Coast fans can rightly play the counterfactual and wonder what might have happened if Javier Castellano had been more aggressive. If he sends West Coast, it’s plausible to think he might have ridden the Meydan conveyor belt as effectively as Thunder Snow. We’ll never know, of course, and the fact that West Coast was all out to edge Mubtaahij for second suggests that maybe he just was never going to beat Thunder Snow that night. Still, the point remains that West Coast’s biggest weapon was left in its sheath. The Bob Baffert charge is eligible to turn the tables with the change in venue, and a different deck of tactical cards in play.

Yet at the same time, it wouldn’t be fair to view Thunder Snow as a need-the-lead type on dirt, as his bang-up second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) attests. The Saeed bin Suroor pupil is more dependent upon on-pace tactics on turf. But over the past two Dubai World Cup Carnivals, Thunder Snow has been successful as a stalker on dirt, most notably when taking last year’s UAE Derby (G2) and this year’s Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2). So his World Cup wire job was more a case of “Soumi” capitalizing on the opportunity presented. I’ll have more thoughts on Thunder Snow’s record in the upcoming international scouting report, but suffice to say that he’s returning to Churchill a more mature character than the bucking bronco of the 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1).

Turning to the also-rans, Pavel’s wide-trip fourth is inconclusive in a near merry-go-round race. On the other hand, his dogged way of staying on, turning back Forever Unbridled in a show of resolve, reinforces my pet hypothesis: that Pavel ups his game on the road. If his Southern California form puts him some way behind Accelerate, he’s notched his two best BRIS Speed figures on his trips East – a 108 when third to Diversify in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (as a three-year-old) and a 106 in his emphatic Stephen Foster (G1) on this track in June. Pavel’s resume might look a fair bit better had he been based on the opposite coast.

Gunnevera, as a deep closer, would have had an excuse just based on how Meydan was playing. Antonio Sano’s admirable campaigner didn’t even get a fair shot at overcoming the bias, however, after sustaining a bloody foot injury early on. It’s a testimony to his persevering attitude that he still tried to the end, passing the tailing-off Talismanic and finishing in contact with the main body of the field. When assessing his Breeders’ Cup chances, draw a line through his World Cup result – or instead, give him a plus for moral fiber.

Speaking of Meydan dirt bias, the only horse to laugh it off was Mind Your Biscuits, who uncorked an unbelievable closing rush to repeat in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). Chad Summers’ star wasn’t just rallying from midpack – no, from stone cold last early, not even in the picture as late as midstretch. Compare the third-place effort by Roy H, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion, who was in better position yet still couldn’t catch the leader.

Mind Your Biscuits broke the about six-furlong track record to run down high-class runner-up X Y Jet in 1:10.12, ripping his final 100 meters in an other-worldly :5.91 according to Trakus.

Note that blistering finishing time despite Joel Rosario having to steer him around the top two! If “Biscuits” flies in a straight line, how much time does he shave off? Could he shade 1:10?

Although the Golden Shaheen doesn’t have a direct bearing on the Breeders’ Cup Classic over an extra half-mile, it does reveal Mind Your Biscuits as an exceptional athlete. And since he’s already proven himself going 1 1/8 miles at Churchill, I can readily understand if connections want to roll the dice in the 1 1/4-mile Classic rather than taking a more conservative one-turn Breeders’ Cup option.

For the same reason that Mind Your Biscuits deserves to be marked up for so brazenly defying the Meydan track pattern, Mendelssohn’s UAE Derby rout must be viewed within proper context. To be sure, the $3 million Scat Daddy colt did half-sister Beholder proud in his dirt debut. And the way he demolished them, in a track-record 1:55.18 for about 1 3/16 miles, signified he’d actually improved on the surface switch. That’s saying something for an Aidan O’Brien trainee who’d already won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).

Mendelssohn has yet to duplicate that effort – partly for reasons to be explored in the Breeders’ Cup Classic international scouting report – but I’d argue it’s primarily because he hasn’t found the same set of circumstances.

At Meydan Mendelssohn was the class of the field, on a track that played to his strengths, and that allowed him to get into a comfortable rhythm. Once he was in the zone, mentally and physically, his natural ability shone through in a way it hasn’t in less perfect racing conditions.

The UAE Derby is informative in that it reveals what Mendelssohn is capable of at his absolute best. The rub is whether he needs that kind of ideal scenario to win the Classic, or if he’s come on enough to topple a deep cast of elders without it.

A similar argument could apply to Thunder Snow, but we will save that for the scouting report.