On a night when five track records were broken, a French horse not named Goldikova won a third straight championship-level turf race and a European-based first-time-on-dirt runner pulverized a quality field to earn a starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, it was a Kentucky Derby entry who refused to run last year that ran away with the night’s biggest prize.
Godolphin Racing’s Thunder Snow famously refused to run at the opening bell of last year’s Kentucky Derby and was pulled up. But the Darley-bred 4-year-old son of Helmet confirmed Dorothy’s observation that “There’s no place like home” by getting an early lead and extending his advantage over American favorite West Coast to coast to a track record victory in the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Dubai World Cup. Thunder Snow has never finished worse than second on Meydan dirt.
Previous Dubai-based UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij, now conditioned in the U.S. with West Coast in Bob Baffert’s stable, was nudged out by his stablemate and finished third.
All eyes were on other competitors: West Coast of course as the newest star in trainer Baffert’s twinkling universe; Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic, making his first start on dirt; and reigning American Champion mare Forever Unbridled, striding to become the first female winner of the $10 million race under the guidance of Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.
The horse that changed the complexion of the race actually finished last in the unusually small 10-horse field. North America won the Maktoum Challenge Round 3 and was expected to be the early speed and set a fast pace ripe for a strong closing challenge by long-striding West Coast. He was the feel-good story of this Dubai World Cup Carnival season and long-time local trainer Satish Seemar’s first World Cup threat after being purchased for only $38,000 at the April 2016 Godolphin sale.
But the 6-year-old son of Dubawi badly missed the start, was trapped at the back of the pack and never able to establish that fast pace. Christophe Soumillon on Thunder Snow seized the unexpected advantage. He gained the early lead and set a slower pace, then burst ahead when urged at the top of the stretch. West Coast had nothing left to mount the expected challenge and the Kentucky Derby runner who wouldn’t did the rest by 5 3/4 lengths in track record time of 2:01.38.
“It was a jockey’s race,” said winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor of his eighth Dubai World Cup win, “and Christophe is the best of the best. When we spoke before the race, I advised him to try to establish an early lead, and he did.”
The Belgian-born jockey grew up dreaming of his victory. “I watched Cigar win the first Dubai World Cup when I was in training school,” recalled Soumillon. “I…