The Record Goes to Laurel River in Dubai World Cup

30/3/2024, Dubai, UAE $12,000,000 Group 1 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline
Tadhg O'Shea celebrates as Laurel River adds his name to the Dubai World Cup honour roll. Photos: Dubai Racing Club/Liesl King

Tadhg O’Shea celebrates as Laurel River adds his name to the Dubai World Cup honour roll. Photos: Dubai Racing Club/Liesl King

When Arrogate overcame a world of trouble to win the 2017 Dubai World Cup, many racing fans said it was the best performance in the history of the race, and in a broader sense, one of the best performances ever seen.

It’s entirely possible that Laurel River managed to upstage that effort Saturday with an absolutely stunning, front-running tour-de-force in the US$12 million G1 Dubai World Cup at Meydan.

Juddmonte Farms, the same operation that campaigned Arrogate, elected to transfer their homebred son of the all-conquering Into Mischief from America to the Dubai-based stable of Bhupat Seemar in the summer of 2023. To say things were off to an inauspicious beginning would be an understatement of monumental proportions, as Laurel River faded tamely to finish seventh in the G3 Al Shindagha Sprint (1200m) in late January, but he bounced back to post an equally emphatic victory in the G3 Burj Nahaar (1600m) on Super Saturday to punch his ticket to World Cup night.

Conventional wisdom dictates that winning the Burj Nahaar leads to a start in the Godolphin Mile over the same course and distance on the big night, but Seemar and the Juddmonte braintrust called an audible and routed the six-year-old to the Dubai World Cup instead: a race 12 times as valuable, but incrementally more challenging on a few levels, not least the 2000-metre distance of the race.

After drawing 12 of 12 at Wednesday’s barrier draw at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, many would have downgraded the chances of Laurel River.

And yet Saturday evening, the homebred decisively surged into a clear lead at the midway stage and went on to score by eight and a half lengths, breaking that particular record held by the legendary Dubai Millennium, who won the 2000 World Cup at Nad al Sheba by six lengths.

Trainer Bhupat Seemar said: “I’m still coming to terms with what’s happened. I think it’ll probably sink in in another day or two. It’s absolutely amazing. Tadhg said this morning ‘we’re drawn 12, I’m not going to be two-minded about it, I’m going to go forward.’

“He’s got so much natural pace. He comes out of the gate and this is why we ran him over six furlongs (in the Al Shindagha).

“Tadhg was able to get some easy fractions and then I saw Defunded coming on his outside but he just kept on going further. I expected to see all the closers flying at him but he kept going.

“I was a small kid when I was watching these colours winning some of the biggest races in the world. What the late Prince Khalid Abdullah has done for racing is amazing, I couldn’t believe I was going to be training the horse for that farm and in those colours. And now to win one of the world’s great races for them is unbelievable.”

The horses who finished in Laurel River’s wake Saturday amplified just how impressive his victory was. Last year’s winner Ushba Tesoro raced far back for the opening 1600 metres, but wound up with his customary late run to finish second, just beating out recent Saudi Cup winner Senor Buscador for the US$2.4 million second prize. Senor Buscador added to his US$10 million payday in Riyadh with a nifty check for US$1.2 million.

Added O’Shea: “I’ve been fortunate enough to have had Dubai World Cup night winners but you don’t get many opportunities and I’m going to be forever grateful to Juddmonte for keeping me on the horse, they could use anyone and they’re a worldwide operation that’s really successful.

“When he had his first run for the stable we thought he’d disappointed, but we never lost faith. He was explosive last time and I said the other morning to Bhupat, I pulled him aside and said I’d never ridden a horse with his ability ever. And he’d just done an easy work on his own.

“With the dirt you can’t be half-hearted, you have to go forward. If he didn’t stay, he didn’t stay. We were aware of that. The main thing that won the race, it’s easy to say when you win, but I was able to keep filling him up and filling him up.”

Ushba Tesoro (2nd), jockey Yuga Kawada said: “He was in good form and he ran his race. It was a good run. We managed to beat Senor Buscador today but the winner was too fast and stayed really well in front. We will be prepared for the Breeders’ Cup and I believe Del Mar will suit him better than Santa Anita.”

Senor Buscador (3rd), trainer Todd Fincher said: “He brings it every time, he ran a really good race. He might have started his run a little early trying to catch Laurel River and maybe that cost us a placing. Hats off to Laurel River, he freaked on everybody there.

“We were hoping there would be a little pace in there, but Laurel River is a nice horse and you’re not going to catch a horse like that if he gets loose. That’s what we’re up against, he’s got to have some pace to run at. It’s very rare in a Grade 1 race that there’s no pace, but we are very proud of him.”

Wilson Tesoro (4th), trainer Hitoshi Kotegawa said: “It is disappointing. We came this far and didn’t really get to show our best. We would like to claim a Group 1 with his jockey, Yusuke Hara in the future.”

Dura Erede (5th), jockey Bauyrzhan Murzabayev said: “My horse ran well. For him, this is all about the experience. He’s been on turf and dirt. Today, he was a little bit keen. I lost a little bit of ground on the back stretch just as the winner got quicker. I’m happy with the run.”

Derma Sotogake (6th), jockey Oisin Murphy said: “The speed was on but it kept going and I’d have loved to have had a place maybe further forward, out of the kickback. But it was a very nice ride to have and I hope Christophe Lemaire [intended rider who was stood down] is OK.”

Defunded (7th), jockey Adel Al Furaydi said: “He is a good horse and it was a pleasing run. We will try again next year.”

Kabirkhan (8th), jockey Pat Dobbs said: “He was beaten a long way out. I knew leaving the back straight he wasn’t the same horse as before.”

Newgate (9th), jockey Frankie Dettori said: “My horse ran flat.”

Crupi (10th), jockey Luis Saez said: “He broke well but, man, they are tough horses. Very tough. He tried, he was alright.”

Clapton (11th), jockey Dylan Davis said: “He has run nearly last. It was a tough race for him.”

Military Law (12th), jockey Oscar Chavez said: “He pulled up a bit sore.”

~Alan Carasso for ERA