Two years after he was purchased for a mere Dh140,000, North America has emerged as one of the challengers for the Group 1 Dubai World Cup at the weekend.
The former Godolphin inmate ran six times when trained by Charlie Appleby in England. His best efforts include two runner-up finishes in two maidens - as a three-year-old in his second and third starts at the Wolverhampton and Nottingham race tracks.
Arriving at Zabeel Stables in the summer of 2016, North America racked up four wins on the trot at Meydan Racecourse.
He broke his maiden tag under Adrie de Vries in his first local start, and since then the stable jockey Richard Mullen has been on board, winning two handicaps and the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes.
The US$1 million (Dh3.67m) Godolphin Mile in the World Cup meeting last year proved to be a tall order for the bay son of Dubawi. But there were good reasons for his below-par effort, according to Satish Seemar, his handler at Zabeel Stables.
“Before that World Cup day it rained for 36 hours, and he hadn’t the experience for the sloppy going in the Godolphin Mile, plus being drawn wide didn’t help him at all,” said Seemar, the longest-serving trainer in the UAE.
“When I woke up on the morning of the race, I knew it wasn’t going to be my day, so we had to write it off.”
This season, North America has improved with every run. He was third behind Heavy Metal in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 and a close second behind Godolphin’s Thunder Snow in the middle leg of the three-race series.
He booked his place as one of the challengers after a comprehensive win by more than five lengths over Thunder Snow in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 over the DWC course and distance.
“We haven’t done anything special with North America in the build-up,” Seemar said. “We always work five days out, and his final work-out was on Monday as a wake-up call.
"If everything goes well and the draw is kind, I feel we’re as good as any other horse in the field."
Now at six, North America seems to have peaked at the right time with the right amount of preparation.
“The plan was to take it steady with him this year,” Seemar said. “I wanted to run him earlier than we did, but it didn’t work out because I didn’t think he was 100 per cent ready to go.
“You have to swallow your ego and excitement, and listen to the horseman’s voice in your head. That’s what we did, and slow and steady, he’s peaked at the right time.”
North America is also a gentle giant, according to his handler.
“He’s a thorough gentleman of a horse to deal with, no attitude, no dangerous playing around, just a gentle giant,” he added. “He has one work rider, Abdul Sattar, who’s my oldest staff member at Zabeel.
"In fact, it’s a mystery how old he is. He’s a very small, fragile man, but he has great hands.”
Sattar has completed over three decades in the industry in the UAE having first arrived as a jockey from India.
He does the work-riding on North America while the stable and two-time UAE champion jockey Mullen.
Seemar has four other runners across three races. He has Raven’s Corner and Secret Ambition in the $1m Group 2 Godolphin Mile, Yulong Warrior in the $2m Group 2 UAE Derby, and Reynaldothewizard in the $2m Group 1 Golden Shaheen.
With the big day approaching, Seemar wakes up every morning in the hope of seeing his five runners hale and hearty in the lead-up for Saturday’s grand finale meeting.
“Like all trainers, I’m in tethers when I wake up,” he said when asked of his thoughts every morning. “I want to see springs in their walk because you never know what would happen from now and the race day.
"So, fingers crossed, until the race day.”