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Mystic Guide makes no mistake in Dubai World Cup

American challenger Mystic Guide provided Godolphin with victory in the landmark 25th edition of the Dubai World Cup.

Mystic Guide recorded a third successive victory in the Meydan showpiece in the owners’ blue silks, and their ninth in all following Thunder Snow’s back-to-back triumphs in 2018 and 2019.

Mike Stidham’s four-year-old, ridden by Luis Saez and sent off the 6-4 favourite, arrived from off the pace entering the straight and quickly took charge to prevail by three and three-quarter lengths from Japan’s Chuwa Wizard, becoming a 12th American-trained winner.

Godolphin’s Magny Cours, trained in France by Andre Fabre, stayed on to be third under William Buick, another length and a quarter back.

The winner was Stidham’s first runner outside America – in one of the world’s most prestigious and valuable races.

He said: “I’m very proud, very proud of the horse – and so happy to be here, for Godolphin and Sheikh Mohammed, on the 25th anniversary. To have a performance like that was the icing on the cake.

“I really felt like it was finally my turn to step up to the big time, and I really wanted it to happen – and it has.

“It’s 40 years of emotions right now!”

The race was delayed by several minutes as first Great Scot unseated Frankie Dettori exiting the paddock and ran loose – and then as the field was loading, Military Law broke through the front of the stalls.

Both horses had to be withdrawn, and Stidham admitted to concerns about how Mystic Guide would deal with the commotion around him.

“He was getting pretty angsty on the walk over – and then in the different holding areas, he was getting a little bit tough, giving us a hard time,” he said.

“I was concerned that when he got into the parade ring, it was going to even get a little worse – and it did.

“Then multiple loose horses, loading and unloading, he was starting to kick out. There were comments about him maybe running his race before the race – and I was concerned, I really was.

“But in the end, his class and ability came through.”

Mystic Guide proved he has the temperament as well as the talent, and Stidham added: “It’s a totally different atmosphere here (to America), and horses have to be able to handle it – it’s not easy for an American horse to come over and do it.

“(But) I felt really good when he got the position he got, lying third comfortably down the back. I didn’t know for sure – but then down the lane, it was amazing.”

Stidham can begin pondering future challenges, including the Breeders’ Cup and even returning next year to try to retain his Dubai title.

At the mention of those prospects, he said: “Absolutely – the sky’s the limit now for him, I think.”

Saez was understandably equally impressed.

Asked for the jockey’s reaction on dismounting, he added: “He just said ‘what a horse!’ He’s just a tremendous horse, so much talent.”

Like the trainer, Saaez admitted the pre-race mishaps of others was briefly worrying – but soon realised he need not have been too concerned.

“It was a little difficult in the gate, a lot going on,” he said.

“But he handled it pretty well … professional horse.

“That was the plan, try to break and get a good position, and be right there. Everything went so well.

“I could feel from half-a-mile out how much power he had. It was magnificent. I’m so grateful to be here and be a part of this.”

Hopes were high before the race, and Mystic Guide disappointed no one.

“We were confident today,” said Saaez, who is also the partner of Godolphin’s Kentucky Derby favourite, Essential Quality.

“I knew we had a horse, and he was going to show off. He’s a super horse.

“This is one of the biggest events in the world, so for me to be here it’s an honour. I’ve always dreamt of being here one day.

“There was a little bit of pressure, because the horse was favourite, but I was confident.

“What a wonderful trainer – he did the best with this horse, and had him ready for this race.”

Mystic Guide seeks to do Godolphin proud in landmark World Cup

American Mike Stidham feels honoured to be saddling the Dubai World Cup favourite Mystic Guide in the colours of Godolphin in the landmark 25th edition of the race.

Fellow countryman Bill Mott won the first renewal with Cigar in 1996 – but Mystic Guide’s owners have since been successful on eight occasions, including the two most recent with Thunder Snow.

After the cancellation last year of what would have been the 25th running, due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are three Godolphin runners this time – with Andre Fabre’s Magny Cours and Saeed bin Suroor’s Gifts Of Gold also lining up – but Mystic Guide is their main hope.

“It’s a long trip – and as a trainer you always worry about things that can go wrong – but so far it’s been really good,” said Stidham.

“He seems to be thriving here, the weather is great and the accommodation is amazing.

“I’ve taken advice from Steve Asmussen, from Scott Blasi who stables near me at the Fairgrounds, (and) they were both very helpful.

“This is my fifth year training for Godolphin, and the quality they send is amazing. I’m honoured to get the opportunity.

“The first time we worked him he was a ‘wow’ horse. I think the draw is fine, I’m happy to be there. I’d love to see him break well and be forward, in a stalking position because that is what suits him.

“It’s an honour to be here, and especially training a horse for Sheikh Mohammed on the 25th anniversary. Being owned by Godolphin, this race was always in the back of my mind.”

Andre Fabre is seeking an elusive first win in the Meydan showpiece, with the lightly-raced Magny Cours.

“Yes, he has had his issues,” said Fabre.

Magny Cours (far side) was a winner at Sandown last year
Magny Cours (far side) was a winner at Sandown last year (Francesca Altoft/PA)

“But now he is in perfect condition and form. He had an excellent journey over to Dubai – he drank up, he ate up, and everything is going well. He is six now and is just more stabilised in his body.

“I really believe this horse has a lot of ability, and I am confident that he can be close.”

Ryan Moore has picked up the mount on Title Ready for Dallas Stewart

“His stamina for this 10-furlong trip doesn’t look assured – but we do know he comes here in form, having won well last time in the Grade Three Louisana Stakes over nine furlongs,” Moore told Betfair.

“I think it is fair to say that he needs to improve a fair bit on what we saw of him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (seventh), but nothing scares you that much in here, does it? You can’t argue too much with his draw in four, as well.”

Jesus' Team brings strong form to the race
Jesus’ Team brings strong form to the race (Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club)

Jesus’ Team was second to Knicks Go in the Pegasus World Cup, which is arguably the strongest form on offer.

Trainer Jose Francisco D’Angelo said: “I like the post position (nine), because ‘Jesus’ can find a good spot to make an aggressive move in the first part.

“I asked Bob Baffert and my friend Chad Summers about preparation. They are familiar with the environment here. I took their advice and made my plan. All horses are different, and need different things to get ready. ‘Jesus’ is coming into this race perfectly.”

Musabbeh Al Mheiri’s Military Law enjoyed a fruitful Dubai Carnival, before finishing sixth behind Mishriff in the Saudi Cup.

Military Law is a Meydan regular
Military Law is a Meydan regular (Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club)

“We have a good horse in Military Law. He is honest and works hard and has always shown us that in training,” said Al Mheiri.

“A good draw (five) has improved his chances, and we could not have asked for a better spot. We will look for a good break and for Antonio Fresu to get him into a good spot just off the pace so that he can give himself a good chance at the finish.”

The former Clive Cox-trained Salute The Soldier has been a revelation for Fawzi Naas – but stall 11 could be tough to overcome, according to jockey Adrie de Vries.

He said: “The draw could have been kinder, but the horse is in great form, and his final piece of serious work was very pleasing. When he works well he normally runs well – so let’s hope that is the case again!”

Dettori ready for Dubai World Cup on Great Scot

Frankie Dettori is looking forward to his ride on Saudi Cup third Great Scot in the Dubai World Cup.

Formerly trained by Tom Dascombe, for whom he was a Group Three winner, the five-year-old produced a career-best behind Mishriff and Charlatan last time out.

Dettori has already won the World Cup three times, in his Godolphin days on Dubai Milennium (2000), Moon Ballad (2003) and Electrocutionist (2006).

“He ran a great race in the Saudi Cup last month – it’s a good ride to get,” he said.

“The surface and trip will suit him, and he’s done nothing wrong in his prep for this race.”

Great Scot is owned by HRH Prince Faisal Bin Khaled, who believes he is capable of running a big race again on Saturday.

He said: “I’m particularly excited about this horse – he has really taken to the track and conditions in Riyadh, and his form here has been so consistent.

“I’m delighted he got to show how good he is against the internationals and the USA dirt horses.

“We are honoured to receive the invite to the Dubai World Cup and to represent Saudi Arabia on the world stage – and, you never know, perhaps bring home a first win for the country.

“Hopefully there will be many more opportunities for Saudi owners, trainers and jockeys to showcase their talents on the global stage in years to come.”

Oisin Murphy raring to go for World Cup night

Oisin Murphy wants to “hit the ground running” as he returns to big-race action at Meydan on Saturday.

The dual British champion jockey recently resumed riding after serving a three-month suspension, partnering winners at Chelmsford and Wolverhampton last week before jetting out to Dubai for the World Cup card.

Murphy admits Meydan had been in his sights while he was sidelined.

He said: “(I’m) really pleased to be here, it’s been the target for a couple of months now. I’ve picked up a couple of rides and let’s see how they go.

“That’s what’s kept me going (riding in the big races). I’m fit and ready to kick off my season. I’d been busy before I came out here, I had a few winners so it would be nice to hit the ground running on Saturday.”

Murphy has five rides, kicking off with Urban Icon in the Godolphin Mile, with the three-times British winner now representing Saudi Arabian handler Saud Saad Alkahtani.

Murphy said: “He’s a horse I know from England when he was trained by Richard Hannon. He ran a super race in Saudi on turf and he’s switching to dirt and stepping up in distance.

“The horse is fit and he’s the highest rated in the race so if he does acclimatise to the change in conditions, hopefully he will go very well.”

Murphy then rides Royal Marine in the Dubai Gold Cup for Saeed bin Suroor, with the one-time Classic hope taking a huge hike in trip to two miles.

He said: “He’s going a long way up in distance, but he works very good and if he relaxes he can be bang there – that’s the key.

“His inside draw (one) is very good, so let’s see what Saeed thinks, although he normally gives me very good rides and it’s great to be teaming up with him again.”

Murphy also rides Lugamo in the UAE Derby and Felix in the Dubai Turf, but he is particularly relishing taking the reins aboard Japanese challenger Loves Only You in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic.

He said: “She’s a Japanese Oaks winner, she comes into this on the back of a Grade Two victory, she’s very fit as well and this has been her plan for a long time.

“It’s nice to get the leg-up from Mr Yahagi and her owners. I’ve been lucky on Japanese horses in the past, so hopefully this one follows that routine.

“Loves Only You has been the one I’ve been concentrating on for weeks and weeks, of course I’ll do my best on all of them, but she’s a star.”

Loves Only You clashes with John Gosden’s Saudi Cup winner Mishriff in the Sheema Classic, with the British runner having been drawn widest of all in stall 10 for the mile-and-a-half contest.

Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul, conversely, has been drawn hard on the inside in stall one.

Oisin Murphy raring to go on return to action

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy is looking forward to returning to action at Lingfield on Friday following the conclusion of his three-month suspension.

Murphy was banned after a drugs test at Chantilly in July showed metabolites of cocaine. He strenuously denied taking the drug and requested a B sample.

Upon receiving the results, France Galop held a hearing where the rider’s defence of environmental contamination from a sexual encounter and scientific hair test evidence was accepted.

He returns with three rides, Rain Gauge and Sky Commander for James Tate and He Can Dance for Sylvester Kirk.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been riding out for the last month and Oaksey House have been super. I’ve a personal trainer named Gavin and he pushes my pretty hard,” said Murphy.

“I’ve watched a lot of racing, the Saudi Cup meeting was a huge success.

“All the big races in Japan have given me plenty of excitement at the weekends, particularly at Christmas and the New Year. Contrail and Daring Tact are outstanding horses.

“I want to be busy and get in riding out in different stables before Dubai World Cup night. Hopefully April will be kind both with opportunities and weather-wise.

Alcohol Free (left) is one of the horses Oisin Murphy is looking forward to riding in 2021
Alcohol Free (left) is one of the horses Oisin Murphy is looking forward to riding in 2021 (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I’ve been fortunate to ride for top trainers and owners over the last few years and I want to retain those relationships.”

Asked which horses he was most looking forward to renewing acquaintances with he said: “Alcohol Free is already a Group One winner. She’s done well physically over the winter and I’m a big fan of hers. There’s also a filly Qatar (Racing) have with Hugo Palmer, Ocean Road, who I like, she’s had just the two starts.

“On World Cup night I’ll be riding Loves Only You from Japan in the Sheema Classic. She won the Japanese Oaks and is coming into the race off the back of a Group Two win.”

Coral make Murphy their 7-4 favourite to retain his title.

Oisin Murphy considered quitting riding during cocaine ban

Oisin Murphy admitted he thought about quitting racing altogether while serving a drugs ban.

The champion jockey was banned for three months in November after a racecourse test, taken at Chantilly in July, found traces of cocaine in his system.

Having always strenuously denied he had taken any drugs, Murphy requested a B sample – and upon receiving the results, France Galop held a hearing where the rider’s defence of environmental contamination from a sexual encounter and scientific hair test evidence was accepted.

Murphy’s three-month suspension took into account his defence, and is due to expire on March 11.

That will mark the end of a period where the 25-year-old Irishman said he felt his mental health deteriorate to the extent that he began to question whether he would return to the sport at all.

Speaking on the My Sporting Mind podcast, he described the experience of awaiting the judgement and the subsequent effect on his performance.

He said: “The first time I realised I was facing a suspension was August, and I didn’t know when I was going to be suspended and for how long, so that was quite stressful.

“I didn’t ride very well. On average I ride between 15 and 22 per cent rides to winners, in August that took a major dip and as a result my confidence and my whole outlook on life did as well.

“I remember not sleeping for days on end – I might get an hour here and wake up there, your mood changes and you don’t want to speak to anybody.”

At that stage Murphy was still leading the British Flat jockeys’ championship, a title he was attempting to defend having first won it in 2019.

Oisin Murphy is crowned Champion Jockey by athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson during QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot Racecourse
Oisin Murphy is crowned Champion Jockey by athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson during QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot Racecourse (Simon Cooper/PA)

After a decline in form as the case took its toll, Murphy found rivals William Buick and Tom Marquand were both beginning to gain ground at the top end of the table.

“I had led the whole way from the flag fall in this jockeys’ championship, which means so much to me,” he said.

“It’s like winning the Premiership in football or like being Lewis Hamilton in Formula One. I’m not suggesting horse racing is any way like that, but for me, that’s how important it is.

“I knew I had great people behind me, from Qatar Racing, who employ me, to all the people who put me on these majestic animals on a day-to-day basis, but not everyone was fighting my corner, it was still very much up in the air.”

Ultimately Murphy did triumph, riding eight more winners than Buick and gaining a much-needed boost to his confidence in the process.

Oisin Murphy after winning his first Classic race, the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket Racecourse, aboard Kameko
Oisin Murphy after winning his first Classic race, the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket Racecourse, aboard Kameko (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“I thought the season was going to be defined in one of two ways – if I didn’t win the jockeys’ championship, it was going to be a season where I had allowed what was going on around me to defeat me.

“If I could get it over the line, I’d prove that when most people would have crumbled, when most people would have thrown in the towel, I picked myself up off the floor.”

Despite the victory, Murphy still harboured doubts over whether he would return to racing at all once the ban had expired.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ride again or when I wanted to race-ride again,” he said.

“I felt the world had turned against me over something I didn’t mean to happen.

“I spent a couple of weeks thinking about what I should do, when I say I wouldn’t get back on a horse, I’d still watch showjumping and ride as a hobby, but (I wondered) whether I wanted to race-ride again.

Murphy during a meeting at Salisbury in September
Murphy during a meeting at Salisbury in September (PA)

“I wasn’t entirely comfortable – the higher you climb, the further you fall.”

Murphy, who was champion apprentice in 2014 and is the retained rider for Sheikh Fahad’s Qatar Racing operation, was supported in his decision to return by his idol Frankie Dettori, who himself served a six-month ban following a positive test for cocaine in 2012.

“When he came back, the racing public, and I can say this because I was there, they’d written him off,” Murphy recalled.

“I remember walking into Lingfield Park one day, he was sat with his legs crossed, he was overweight, he didn’t look like a jockey, he was miserable, he wasn’t speaking to anybody, he was very low.

“Then a couple of months later he turned his career around. He got the job with Al Shaqab and started riding for John Gosden, and suddenly, from his whole mental and physical well-being being demoralised and non-existent, he managed to climb back up.

Oisin Murphy with Roaring Lion and Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, whose Qatar Racing operation retains the jockey
Oisin Murphy with Roaring Lion and Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, whose Qatar Racing operation retains the jockey (PA)

“The last three years he’s been the number one jockey in the world and he’s the face of world racing, so I really admire him and really draw on him for inspiration sometimes.”

Dettori is one of a number of racing figures whose support for Murphy never wavered, with the Qatar Racing team and Andrew Balding, with whom Murphy spent his apprenticeship, also credited for their loyalty.

“He keeps telling me not to go off the rails,” he said of Dettori.

“People were worried and he was one of them, my employers and lots of people, even now I get text messages from people just checking that I haven’t done anything stupid and I haven’t been drinking excessively or anything.”

Oisin Murphy (centre) beside trainer and former employer Andrew Balding (right)
Oisin Murphy (centre) beside trainer and former employer Andrew Balding (right) (John Walton/PA)

Murphy will return to the saddle on March 12, a comeback that will be initially low-key as the British Flat season does not begin to gather pace until April.

However, Dubai’s World Cup meeting is held on March 27, a fixture Murphy has scheduled as his first major engagement since the suspension.

“For people who are really interested in (Flat) racing, March isn’t a very exciting month apart from Dubai World Cup night, but I’ve picked up some super rides from the Japanese there,” he explained.

“That’s a really welcome surprise, I wasn’t expecting anything there.”

Not only has Murphy resolved to return, he is also intent on reaching the same heights he has scaled previously and overwriting any negative connotations that may follow him.

“I’m in top spirits, but I need to achieve again, I can’t just roll back into the jockeys’ room and go around riding five horses a day and maybe winning on one,” he said.

“If I make it my intention to come back, then I really have to do well.

“Now it’s the chance to come back and try to prove myself to people again and say ‘Don’t write me off, please. Give me another chance’.”

Knicks Go part of high-class nominations for World Cup night

Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go heads a star-studded list of nominations for the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on March 27.

Brad Cox’s five-year-old got the year off to a flying start with an all-the-way win at Gulfstream Park last month, to follow up his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile triumph.

Knicks Go is among 176 nominations for $12million Group One that includes Bob Baffert’s lightly-raced Malibu Stakes scorer Charlatan.

Knicks Go after his triumph in the Pegasus World Cup
Knicks Go after his triumph in the Pegasus World Cup (Mathea Kelley)

Other major contenders for the 10-furlong showpiece are Shug McGaughey’s multiple Group winner Code Of Honor, Godolphin’s unbeaten Maxfield from Brendan Walsh’s American stable and the Bill Mott-trained Tacitus.

John Gosden’s Dubai Warrior – who is expected to run in the Al Maktoum Challenge Rd 2 next week – has been given an entry.

Addeybb is the standout in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, although he is more likely to head to Australia instead, according to his trainer William Haggas.

The Japanese representation is led by Chrono Genesis, who most recently won the Arima Kinen at Nakayama in December.

Chrono Genesis (far side)  is in the Dubai Sheema Classic
Chrono Genesis (far side) is in the Dubai Sheema Classic (JRA)

Among other big names are 2019 Hong Vase victor Glory Vase, the Mott-trained Channel Maker, David Smaga’s Nao Da Mais and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mogul.

The Gosden-trained Prince of Wales’s Stakes scorer Lord North is one of the nominations for the Dubai Turf.

The Group One could also be the target for the likes of Bahrain International Trophy winner Simsir, trained by Fawzi Nass, Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes victor Colonel Liam and Fort Lauderdale Stakes winner Largent, both under the care of Todd Pletcher, and David O’Meara’s admirable globetrotter Lord Glitters.

American-trained horses account for 13 of the 24 winners of the Dubai Golden Shaheen. They have a typically-strong offering, including Peter Miller’s C Z Rocket, Steve Asmussen’s Yaupon and Doug O’Neill’s Wildman Jack.

The six-furlong Al Quoz Sprint has attracted nominations from across the globe, headed by by star Australian sprinter Bivouac, trained by James Cummings for Godolphin.

Among other winners at the top table are Neil Drysdale’s Oleksandra and Roger Teal’s July Cup winner Oxted.

There is a strong British presence in the Dubai Gold Cup, headed by Charlie Fellowes’ Melbourne Cup-placed Prince Of Arran, Mark Johnston’s Prix Royal-Oak scorer Subjectivist and Andrew Balding’s Doncaster Cup winner Spanish Mission.