By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - California Chrome is again favorite for the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, although the stallion will have to outpace a field packed with fellow American thoroughbreds to better last year’s second place.
The 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion’s most likely challengers will be Godolphin-owned Frosted, Travers Cup winner Keen Ice and Special Fighter, a victor in three races at Dubai’s Meydan track in the past four months.
“I have a lot of respect for Frosted, but I’m not worried about one horse - I have to be worried about all of them,” said California Chrome's co-owner Perry Martin.
In 2015, the now five-year-old ran from out wide in the 10-furlong (2-km) race, a longer route that allowed the unfancied Prince Bishop to prevail by three lengths. This year’s draw was also unkind on the 13-8 favorite, who will run from the 11th stall of 12. Victor Espinoza will again be in the saddle.
“I’m confident Victor will be able to move him in and get him a nice spot and we’ll take our shot down the lane,” said Martin.
California Chrome, who will be sent to stud next year, has been in Dubai for more than two months, whereas last year he arrived 10 days before the race.
“He wasn’t 100 percent when he ran,” added Martin. “This year he’s acclimatized. He’s had a race over the track. He’s at home here now and if he’s comfortable he’ll run better.”
Such has been the hype around California Chrome, who has won his only two races this year, the rest of the field might feel overlooked.
“When we first arrived we thought the race had been renamed the 'California Chrome Invitational', because that was all I saw,” said Jerry Crawford, co-owner of Keen Ice through Iowa-based syndicate Donegal Racing.
The Dubai World Cup, despite its global status, has largely proved to be a local affair, with horses owned by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed or other family members winning 10 out of the 20 last events.
But a switch to a dirt track last year to help attract U.S. horses seems to have paid off, with eight of the 12-horse field American.
Crawford’s four-year-old colt Keen Ice, drawn in the first stall, prefers to ride in the pack, and will hope to shrug off a seventh-placed finish in a 10-furlong warm-up race at Meydan in early March.
“Our horse is pace sensitive. He needs a good pace but I don’t see how he won’t get that on Saturday,” said Crawford.
“We’re going to be a long-shot but a very, very live long-shot and if you’re a punter it doesn’t get any better, right?”
Frosted is another serious contender. Owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin but trained by Kentucky’s Kiaran McLaughlin, the four-year-old colt was another to triumph in his warm-up race and in the saddle will be last year’s winning jockey, William Buick.
“There’s a lot of speed in the race, which should give us options,” said Buick. “He’s a pretty versatile horse and I don’t think there’s any point in making a complete plan. I’ll keep an open mind and keep it simple.”
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)