By Nicholas Godfrey
Dubai: Frankie Dettori has come in for the plum spare ride on Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston in Saturday week’s Dubai World Cup after regular partner Tyler Gaffalione decided not to leave America owing to the coronavirus crisis.
With a 14-day quarantine period imposed in the US for anyone travelling to Dubai, reigning US champion Irad Ortiz has also elected not to travel, leaving Godolphin jockey William Buick to pick up the World Cup ride on Bob Baffert’s Pegasus World Cup victor Mucho Gusto, who is second favourite behind Godolphin’s Benbatl with British bookmakers.
Saudi Cup-winning rider Luis Saez also stays in the US; the UAE’s most successful rider Tahdg O’Shea takes over on War Story in the Dubai World Cup.
Meydan’s $35 million card on March 28 featuring five thoroughbred G1s will take place behind closed doors owing to coronavirus precautions.
With riding plans up in the air for several overseas horses owing to the coronavirus pandemic, Dettori can look forward to an attractive book of rides at the world’s richest raceday, where he is also booked to ride the John Gosden pair Star Catcher (Sheema Classic) and Lord North (Dubai Turf).
The world’s most famous rider will also partner Hong Kong’s Elusive State in the Godolphin Mile, while in the Al Quoz Sprint he is set to renew his association with Dark Power, aboard whom he landed a $1m sprint on the Saudi Cup undercard last month for his old mate, Bahraini-based trainer Allan Smith.
Dettori’s agent Ray Cochrane also has his jockey on standby for leading Japanese-trained contenders Full Flat (UAE Derby) and Matera Sky (Golden Shaheen) if travel problems prevent Yutaka Take from visiting Dubai.
“We don’t know yet but I’d hope to get on them if Yutaka doesn’t make it,” said the former Derby-winning rider. “But if the Japanese jockeys do get there okay, there are likely to be other options. You don’t know where they’re going to be racing soon so you’ve got to make hay while you can, I’m afraid.”
Wrecking Crew (UAE Derby) and Captain Scotty (Golden Shaheen), both trained by Californian-based Peter Miller, are understood to be Dettori’s other possibles.
With last year’s runner-up Gronkowski having disappointed in the Saudi Cup under Dettori, he moves to the 2019 Belmont winner Sir Winston in the World Cup, a race the rider has won three times, though not since Electrocutionist in 2006 and never since the $12m event moved to Meydan from Nad Al Sheba.
Sir Winston is a 12-1 chance for the World Cup with British bookmakers and trainer Mark Casse issued a positive bulletin on progress since the four-year-old’s victory over a mile at Aqueduct on January 31.
“He’s training extremely well,” Casse said. “His last race’s (speed) figure was even bigger than his Belmont win. I was hoping for a decent race and then to try to run him one more time going farther, but he ran so well, I decided that that was all.
“After he got hurt after the Belmont, he came back really well,” added the trainer, speaking to the Dubai Racing Club. “Since his run, he’s been working great. We didn’t really change the way we prepare him for this race. You dance with the one who brought you. We think he deserves a chance in the Dubai World Cup.”
Meanwhile, trainers worldwide are scrambling for jockeys for their World Cup night representative. Hong Kong’s coronavirus quarantine protocols mean the region’s star rider Joao ‘Magic Man’ Moreira is staying at home, a decision now echoed by three US-based jockeys in Irad Ortiz, Saez and Gaffalione.
The 14-day quarantine period required after their return is reportedly the primary reason they won’t be making the trip, leaving several among the 21 US-trained horses set to run at Meydan without a jockey.
On the other hand, Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez is still planning to head for Dubai, where he partners Tacitus – a length behind Sir Winston in the Belmont – in the World Cup. ‘Johnny V’ replaces Saez on Shotski in the UAE Derby; Killybegs Captain (Golden Shaheen) and possibly United (Sheema Classic) also feature on his dance card.
Velazquez’s agent Ron Anderson explained the decision to ride in Dubai. “He could end up on five horses who might go postward at odds of 3-1 or 4-1 or less for purses worth something like $23 million, so the tradeoff to miss 14 days when he gets back is worth it,” Anderson said, speaking to the Daily Racing Form. Velazquez will be unable to ride for 14 days after his return to New York owing to quarantine protocols.
In other World Cup night news, Meydan stalwart North America has been ruled out of the Godolphin Mile after a poor effort in the Saudi Cup. According to the Dubai Racing Club, the G1-winning son of Dubawi was showing signs of soreness.