Mubtaahij gallops at Arlington Park

Mike de Kock
One looks at the Kentucky Derby in awe, it doesn’t matter what country you come from. To be part of that is really special for us. And to go there with a horse who is not a 100-1 shot, it would be fantastic if he ran well.
— Mike de Kock / Trainer

Mubtaahij (Dubawi), the Irish-bred colt who recently annexed the G2 UAE Derby for South African trainer Mike de Kock, notched his first piece of American prep work ahead of the May 2 GI Kentucky Derby with a three-furlong move at Arlington Park Tuesday morning. The globetrotting 3-year-old officially breezed three furlongs in :36.20 over the local all-weather surface, and has been doing well since his stateside arrival, according to De Kock.

"He kicked off from the mile and breezed the last four furlongs," said De Kock. "It was just a very easy work. He traveled just less than a week ago and he's taken it all very well. At this stage, we're pretty chuffed with the way he's come out of things."

The trainer revealed that Mubtaahij will likely work once more at Arlington over the weekend prior to shipping to Churchill Downs in Louisville Monday morning. De Kock added that it was not in his original plans for Mubtaahij to remain in Chicago after his arrival to America.

"The trip was close to 24 hours door to door," De Kock explained. "When he got to Chicago, my assistant Trevor thought that he just looked a little tucked up. So right then, I took the decision to not travel him down to he yard we were going to near Louisville, which was going to be two to three days later. So I thought, let's just stay in Chicago. We're very comfortable at the track there, we've had horses there before and we've raced really successfully at Arlington. We sort of switched plans mid-stride, and I think we've done the right thing, because within two or three days the horse was just bursting out of his skin. He never stopped eating and never stopped drinking, and whatever weight he lost visibly during the flight to America, he put on very quickly."

Despite concerns about dietary changes and a potentially taxing travel schedule, De Kock said he has plenty of faith in the attitude and competitive spirit of his colt ahead of the May 2 engagement. He is also well aware that his charge may be facing one of the toughest Kentucky Derby fields in recent memory.

"When he goes and wins really well in the UAE Derby, I suppose you get a little bit of confidence," continued the conditioner. "And you think, what the hell, let's have a crack at it. But to be honest, I've probably picked the worst year when it comes to the opposition."

Given the emphasis on speed in American racing, De Kock also noted that the race could play out in a similar fashion to his triumph in Dubai. The conditioner readily acknowledged that his trainee may have sat a perfect trip behind a multiple-horse speed duel in that event, but placed a heavy emphasis on Mubtaahij's proven ability at an extended distance.

"He's a horse that can relax fairly well off quite a hot speed or hot pace, and he will be doing his best toward the end," observed De Kock. "Certainly, I'm not there to match the American horses for speed, because I don't think we have that ability. But I do know we have the ability to get the 10 furlongs, and I do know we have the ability to come on strong the last three or four furlongs."

Aside from the stresses of travel and the dynamics of the race, the 51-year-old conditioner concluded that having a Derby starter will represent the fulfillment of a long-time dream.

"One looks at the Kentucky Derby in awe, it doesn't matter what country you come from," said the trainer. "To be part of that is really special for us. And to go there with a horse who is not a 100-1 shot, it would be fantastic if he ran well."

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News/Washington Post (p)