Mshawish establishes himself as a serious Dubai World Cup contender in Donn; Songbird returns a brilliant winner

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TwinSpires Staff

February 11th, 2016


MSHAWISH (Medaglis d’Oro) was a Grade 1 stakes winner on the turf last year at Gulfstream Park. His win came in the third start of the meet in early February and we didn’t see him again in America until Saratoga when he finished fifth, part of a blanket finish in the Fourstardave Handicap (G2).

In the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Mshawish drew post 10 and wound up racing wide on a quirky turf course before finishing fourth. Al Shaqab Racing of Qatar decided to try him on the dirt four weeks later in the Cigar Mile (G1) and he almost repeated the turf-to-dirt move that the race’s namesake patented.

In the deep stretch of the one-turn Cigar Mile on Aqueduct’s main track, Mshawish was right there and looked like he might even win it. He was outkicked to the wire but the performance was a revelation.

Mshawish has a strong dirt pedigree being by Medaglia d’Oro (El Prado) out of a dam by Thunder Gulch (Gulch). His second dam is by Storm Cat (Storm Bird) so there is plenty of dirt and distance in his pedigree. He raced best on firm ground, which dirt courses usually are, and didn’t have the typical turf runner’s ability to quicken but was more of a grinder. All add up to a good dirt horse.

What separates turf horses from dirt horses are two things: First, can they handle the footing? Your typical turf horse has a wider foot that grabs the turf but may not be efficient on dirt. The second one is the ability to handle the kickback. Dirt races throw an amazing amount of dirt back into the faces of those behind and not every horse runs through it.

Mshawish showed in the Cigar Mile that he can handle just about anything thrown his way on dirt so when he went to Florida this winter, the 6-year-old was pointed for last Saturday’s Donn Handicap (G1), Gulfstream Park’s signature dirt race for older horses. He prepped for the Donn with a handy score in the one-mile Hal’s Hope (G3) where he stalked a fast pace and prevailed in the lane by a neck. One thing you will notice about his past performance lines, be it on turf or dirt, is that he rarely gets passed by another horse.

So coming into the Donn, you would think that he might be the betting favorite but for some reason, KEEN ICE (Curlin), the only horse to beat Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) last year, was the 23-to-10 favorite while ITSAKNOCKOUT (Lemon Drop Kid), coming off an allowance win was the second betting choice. Mshawish was dismissed as the as the 9-to-2 third choice.

At the start, with the short run into the first turn, Irad Ortiz Jr. sent FINANCIAL MODELING (Street Sense) to the lead from his wide post. Nick Juarez hustled VALID (Medaglia d’Oro) to stalk the leader and Johnny Velazquez dropped over on Joel Rosario, aboard barnmate MADEFROMLUCKY (Lookin at Lucky), to move inside on the clubhouse turn forcing Rosario to steady.

The top three maintained their positions for the first six furlongs which were run in a modest 1:11.88. The pace picked up around the far turn and Velazquez had Msahwish cruising up after the leaders approaching the top of the stretch. He collared Valid with a furlong to go and kept pouring it on to the wire, winning by two widening lengths over a very game Valid.

Mshawish’s final time for the nine furlongs was an excellent 1:47.89 and he earned a 101 BRIS Speed rating, down from the career-best 108 he earned in the Hal’s Hope but most of the decline can be attributed to a slow pace.

After the race, trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that Mshawish would be going to Dubai, most likely for the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1). His grinding running style on the dirt will be perfect for the new dirt track at Meydan which makes it difficult to rally from far back. He has enough gate speed to gain position and can cruise along. The 10-furlong distance should be perfect for him and like the first winner of the Dubai World Cup showed, turf horses can handle dirt under the right circumstances.

Another horse heading to Dubai is HOPPERTUNITY (Any Given Saturday), winner of the San Antonio Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita going nine furlongs on the dirt last Saturday for Bob Baffert. Usually in the money but not always in the winner’s circle, Hoppertunity raced wide for most of the race and gamely split horses nearing the wire to win by a nose.

Hoppertunity earned a 104 BRIS Speed rating which equals his career-best effort. He will be up against it in Dubai if he drops too far back but if the pace is soft, which it almost always is, he has a chance to stalk closer than normal.

Sent off at 1-to-20 odds, SONGBIRD (Unbridled’s Song) made a mockery of her competition in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) earlier on Saturday, returning to action with 6 ½-length victory at Santa Anita. It could have been worse.

Sent to the front by Mike Smith, Songbird just dominated every step of the way. At one point, she had a 10-length lead in the stretch but Smith let up on her and she cruised home.

One thing that takes away from Songbird’s greatness is this obsession to race her in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Regardless of the reason, owner Rick Porter has consistently said he will not enter her. Focusing on what race she enters on the first weekend of May distracts from what she is currently doing on the track which is truly breathtaking. For now, just enjoy what she is doing because it is starting to look historic.