May 27, 2024

Laurel River aces distance test in Dubai World Cup romp

Laurel River wins the Dubai World Cup at Meydan racecourse (Photo by Horsephotos)

Hitherto campaigned as a sprinter/miler, Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Laurel River vindicated trainer Bhupat Seemar’s bold decision to try about 1 1/4 miles in Saturday’s $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1). The theory was that the well-bred son of Into Mischief would be the controlling speed around Meydan’s circuit, and so it proved as the 9-1 chance drew off by 8 1/2 lengths from defending champion Ushba Tesoro and Senor Buscador.

“I’m still coming to terms with what’s happened,” Seemar said. “I think it’ll probably sink in in another day or two. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Although Laurel River was an unknown quantity at the distance, his class was not in doubt. The bay had started out with Bob Baffert in Southern California, where he burst onto the scene with a romp in the 2022 Pat O’Brien (G2). Laurel River was all set to use that “Win and You’re In” ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), only to be scratched. He subsequently dropped off the radar until resurfacing in Dubai with Seemar, himself a former Baffert pupil who’s become a successful trainer in his own right since taking over from his uncle Satish at Zabeel Stables.

Laurel River made an inauspicious local debut in the Jan. 26 Al Shindagha Sprint (G3), fading to seventh. Yet that was his first start off a 17-month layoff, and he understandably needed the run. Rebounding with a vengeance next time in the March 2 Burj Nahaar (G3), he rolled to a 6 3/4-length decision in the usual stepping stone to the Godolphin Mile (G2).

Seemar cleverly sized up the projected pace scenario for the World Cup, however, and realized that Laurel River might just get away from them. That’s exactly what he did, becoming the first locally-based World Cup winner outside of Godolphin’s orbit.

Laurel River’s pedigree lent substance to the experiment. He is bred on the same Into Mischief/Empire Maker cross as 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mandaloun. Laurel River’s dam, the Empire Maker mare Calm Water, is a full sister to multiple Grade 1 queen Emollient and a half to Hofburg, third in Justify’s Belmont (G1).

The biggest potential wrinkle was Laurel River’s drawing the far outside post 12, but that turned out to be no obstacle. Under a perfectly-judged ride by perennial UAE champion jockey Tadgh O’Shea, Laurel River used his early foot to cross over and establish control. Fellow ex-Baffert runner Defunded, now racing for Saudi connections, attempted to prompt down the backstretch.

Laurel River was always in his comfort zone, though, and he readily pulled away from Defunded approaching the far turn. By that point, the rest were never really in with a realistic shot of catching him. Enjoying the stretch run in isolation, Laurel River navigated in 2:02.31 and returned $20.70.

“With the dirt you can’t be half-hearted, you have to go forward,” O’Shea said. “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.

“Tadhg was able to get some easy fractions,” Seemar said, “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.”

Ushba Tesoro and Senor Buscador closed furiously for the minor awards in a race that didn’t set up for them. A neck up on Senor Buscador at the wire, Ushba Tesoro exacted revenge for his narrow loss in the Saudi Cup (G1) last out.

The second and third are likely to get a rematch in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), with their respective connections pointing for Del Mar in November. [Marcus Hersh of Daily Racing Form reported Sunday that Laurel River is expected to stay home for the rest of the year, not venture stateside.]

Ushba Tesoro’s owner, Ryotokuji Kenji Holdings Co., also collected fourth place with Wilson Tesoro. Another Japanese hope, Dura Erede, rounded out the top five. Next came Derma Sotogake, last year’s UAE Derby (G2) winner who picked up Oisin Murphy as a last-minute replacement for the injured Christophe Lemaire; Defunded; Kabirkhan, the slight 5-2 favorite; Baffert’s contender, Newgate; Crupi; Clapton; and the tailed-off Military Law.

Laurel River advanced his scorecard to 10-6-1-0, and the winner’s check boosted his bankroll north of $7.4 million. The six-year-old was crowning a banner day for his trainer and jockey, who earlier dominated the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) with Tuz.

O’Shea reveled in the World Cup opportunity that Juddmonte gave him.

“I’m going to be forever grateful to Juddmonte for keeping me on the horse,” O’Shea said. “They could use anyone, and they’re a worldwide operation that’s really successful. 

“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.”

Seemar also basked in what it meant to win a race of this magnitude for one of the sport’s grandest names.

“I was a small kid when I was watching these colors winning some of the biggest races in the world,” Seemar said of the iconic Juddmonte silks. “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 colors. And now to win one of the world’s great races for them is unbelievable.”