Kentucky Derby runner a ‘clean’ crusader
Mubtaahij is the first drug-free Derby runner in 10 years
Mubtaahij has the most intriguing background of the 20 three-yearolds set to run in next Saturday’s Group I Kentucky Derby but is also something of a crusader for “clean” runners.
Prepared by South Africa’s premier trainer Mike de Kock and to be ridden by crack Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon, Irish-bred Mubtaahij runs for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, first cousin to the ruler of Dubai and a frequent visitor to Australia where he has significant racing and breeding interests.
Indeed, the yellow and royal blue silks worn recently by Pride Of Dubai in winning the Group I Blue Diamond-ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes double are the same set of colours Soumillon will wear aboard Mubtaahij at Churchill Downs.
The de Kock-Sheikh Mohammed partnership’s success includes the Australian-bred pair Musir, a Group I winner in South Africa and a multiple Group winner in Dubai and Turkey, and Igugu, South African Horse of the Year for 2011 when she won the fillies’ triple crown.
Mubtaahij takes his place in the Kentucky Derby over 2000m on dirt in winning form. On Dubai World Cup night in late March he powered away from nine others in the $2.6m Group II United Arab Emirates Derby (1900m, dirt) to win by eight lengths.
And what will make his presence so special — particularly to members of the emerging anti-medication group WHOA (Water Hay Oats Alliance) — is that Mubtaahij will run clean of any raceday treatment but, specifically, the anti-bleeding agent furosemide (commercially known as Lasix and/or Salix). It is legally permitted across the US but banned in every other jurisdiction on the planet.
Mubtaahij will be the first Kentucky Derby runner to be furosemide-free in 10 years and will be bidding to be the first winner since Grindstone, in 1996, to run without the anti-bleeding agent.
In 1968, Dancer’s Image was first in the Kentucky Derby but he was later disqualified after testing positive to phenylbutazone — a painkiller prohibited at the time but since placed on a list of 26 drugs permissible for use in the week of a race.
This practice, which has American racing on the nose with international racing bodies, was recently highlighted by Michael Dickinson, a high-profile trainer in both Britain and the USA, who noted in a letter to the popular industry website Thoroughbred Daily News: “It is disappointing that the (medication) debate always revolves around Lasix when it is the vast amount of painkillers given the week of the race that are far more dangerous. The stacking of anti-inflammatories for five days leading up to the race is only one paralysed jockey away from a gigantic lawsuit.”
Dickinson is a signatory to WHOA which has been formed with the support of key industry people to back legislation to ban raceday medication of any form.
A bay colt by Darley Stud’s premier stallion Dubawi, Mubtaahij has raced twice in England and five times in Dubai. Trainer de Kock told the American racing media in a Derby conference that Lasix simply wasn’t a consideration for the colt.
De Kock, Sheikh Mohammed and Soumillon, each involved in the Kentucky Derby for the first time, have unfinished business in America.
The trio enjoyed winning celebrations briefly with The Apache in the Group I Arlington Million in Chicago last August only for the stewards to demote the visitor to second place after interference in the final stages.
Seven Kentucky Derby winners of the past two decades have shuttled to Australia for stud duty: Thunder Gulch (1995), Real Quiet (1998), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), Street Sense (2007) Big Brown (2008), Super Saver (2010) and Animal Kingdom (2011).
Four times Kentucky Derbywinning trainer Bob Baffert holds the key to Saturday’s extravaganza with the top two fancies — Dortmund, who dominated the Group I Santa Anita Derby for his fourth unbeaten start and American Pharaoh, very impressive in the Group I Arkansas Derby at his most recent start.
Baffert is not prepared to split the colts, describing American Pharaoh as a fast, unextended colt who “cruises effortlessly” while Dortmund “has been in a fight” and is, therefore, the more tested.
Dortmund, a third crop son of Vinery Stud resident Big Brown, is raced by Indian-born Kaleen Shah, founder of a thriving IT company in the US.
American Pharaoh could be one of three possible runners for his breeder Ahmed Zayat, who is overdue for a change of luck at Churchill Downs after three Derby second placings with Pioneer Of The Nile (sire of American Pharoah) in 2009, Nehro (2011) and Bodemeister (2012).
Zayat also raced the Giant’s Causeway colt Eskendereya, the standout of his generation until a training injury forced his retirement days out from the 2010 Derby.
Giant’s Causeway, a one-time shuttle stallion into Australia, has a live candidate this year in Carpe Diem, one of possibly four runners for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Carpe Diem, a Group I winner at two years, has won both his starts in 2015 with ease — the latest a three-length triumph in the Group I Blue Grass Stakes, which was run on dirt after a period when it was run on a synthetic surface and lost all its value as the strong Derby pointer it had once been.
Godolphin Racing, the international stables of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, will be represented by the Frosted, son of leading US sire Tapit.
UAE-owned Mubtaahij, ridden by Christophe Soumillon, wins the UAE Derby at Meydan racecourse in Dubai last month