Bob Baffert is preparing a strong hand for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on November 4 and brought a pair of prospects into Saturday’s $300,690 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita. But while many were expecting even-money favorite Cupid to prevail, Mubtaahij wound up stealing the spotlight by rallying to win his first start for the Hall of Fame conditioner.
Unraced since late March, 5-year-old Mubtaahij had been campaigned by Michael De Kock and Kiaran McLaughlin since beginning his career in 2014. Owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum transferred him to Baffert after a fourth in the Dubai World Cup and Mubtaahij recorded 11 works in Southern California prior to the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again, which serves as “Win & You’re In” event for the Classic at Del Mar.
“I think the blinkers kept (Mutaahij) more focused today.” Baffert said. “I didn’t want to change too much though. He’s a classy horse…His last two works really impressed us. I just threw him in here and he has the class. He’s proven. Even last year, those last few races in New York were pretty strong. He needed today. He got a little tired there at the end. He’s good to have in the barn.”
A Group 2 scorer in 2015, Mubtaahij finished second to California Chrome in the 2016 Dubai World Cup and placed in a pair of aforementioned graded stakes in New York, including a head second in the Woodward (G1). The Irish-bred son of Dubawi has now earned $4,529,335 from a 18-5-4-1 record.
“Well it looks like he’ll be in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” said Baffert, who also has Arrogate, Collected, West Coast and Cupid in the Classic mix and is pointing Hoppertunity to next Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont. “They’re all in. They’re all being pointed for it, unless they’re not training well or something.”
Midnight Storm broke on top and established early splits in :23.20, :47.06 and 1:11.56 on a short lead. Cupid stalked the pace a couple of lengths back in fourth down the backstretch, with Mubtaahij one spot behind following in tandem, and the favorite advanced into contention nearing the completion of the far turn before coming up empty in the stretch and weakening to fourth.
Mubtaahij rallied three wide into the stretch and the 3-1 second choice determinedly overhauled Midnight Storm with an eighth of a mile remaining, edging away to win by 1 ½ lengths under the wire. He stopped the teletimer in 1:51.32.
Midnight Storm, who was off at 8-1, gamely held second by a head over 25-1 outsider Win the Space, who came charging into contention from the back of the pack before flattening out a little late.
“The trip was great,” jockey Drayden Van Dyke said. “I was really keeping my eye on Cupid and taking my cue from him. I was placed where I wanted to be and didn’t start asking him until late. But when I asked him, he responded.”
Baffert praised the rider.
“I was getting ready to use Drayden at the beginning of the year but then he broke his arm,” the trainer explained. “I was watching him. He came up through Tom Proctor and he taught him well. He taught him how to be patient, how to be a horseman. He like the horses, he gets along with them. I was waiting for him and now, I have no problem putting him on a good horse. He’s pretty smart, does his homework. I like students of the game and Mike Smith has taught him a lot. He listens, he’s a good kid and he’s been working a lot of my horses. If you work them, we’ll throw you a bone. That’s the way it works here; just have to wait on the bone. He got one with a little filet on it today.”