DUBAI // Sometimes it is the little things that give you away.
Musabah Al Muhairi’s English is good enough to conduct an international press conference, but on Monday at Meydan Racecourse the Oasis Stables trainer turned up with Jilani Siddiqui, Ali Rashid Al Raihie’s assistant, to act as his translator.
Saturday will be the biggest night of Al Muhairi’s career, and the nerves are clearly beginning to jangle.
Special Fighter is a realistic challenger for the Dubai World Cup, while Maftool has a strong chance in the Godolphin Mile. Muarrab and Fityaan will line up respectively in the Dubai Golden Shaheen and Al Quoz Sprint and Al Muhairi will be represented in the Kahayla Classic by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's AF Mathmoon. All in, his horses are running in races with a combined purse of just over US$14 million (Dh51.4m).
Press conferences before World Cup night have rarely been a requirement for Al Muhairi, because it was only last year that Tamarkuz broke his duck on the richest night in racing with a resounding victory in the Godolphin Mile. How times have changed in 12 months.
Halfway through the press conference, a journalist asked Al Muhairi what he felt about the quality of the opposition to Special Fighter in the world’s only $10 million race.
Al Muhairi was discussing the merits of American challenger and last season’s runner-up California Chrome in Arabic when he suddenly slipped, seemingly without thinking, in to English.
“Look, the first time Special Fighter ran in a Group 1 he won,” the trainer said. “If he has a good position from the start, I’m not worried.
“From the start of the season he has run well and likes the track at Meydan. The horse has run very well, and I am sure he can run better.”
If there was a hint of impatience, it was because Al Muhairi had warmed to his theme and believes fervently that Special Fighter has a real chance of scooping the $6 million prize for finishing top of the pile on Saturday.
Special Fighter beat some big names when he caused a shock in Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge on Super Saturday three weeks ago.
All night the dirt had been riding fast on the inner by the rail and Fernando Jara angled Special Fighter to the front from their draw in Gate 6 and the two never looked back.
Special Fighter had little history of running from the front, however, and his versatility will stand Jara in good stead up against more highly regarded opponents such as Godolphin’s Frosted, Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij and US raiders such as Hopportunity, Mshawish and Keen Ice.
Jara has already won the Dubai World Cup when he coolly triumphed aboard Invasor in 2007.
The Panamanian jockey and Al Muhairi have formed quite a partnership this season, but it was a slow-burner, according to Al Muhairi.
“When the season started he was still a bit shy, but as the season has gone on now he has shown me what he can do in the big races,” he said. “He is a big-race jockey.”
Al Muhairi last had a runner in the World Cup when Snaafy, who had won the Burj Nahaar, finished seventh behind Well Armed in 2009.
And Al Muhairi will need all of Jara’s guile if he is to become the first UAE trainer not retained by Godolphin to win the World Cup.
“All of my fans, family and countrymen will be happy,” he added. “I am a local trainer and everybody thinks the local trainers cannot win big races, but we will show them what we have got.”
World Cup rivals Hoppertunity and Keen Ice both worked at Meydan on Monday.
Hoppertunity, the Group 2 San Antonio Stakes winner trained by Bob Baffert, went 800 metres in 48.4 seconds and reportedly relished the surface, while Keen Ice cantered gently for 3,200 metres.
Keen Ice was a disappointing seventh behind Special Fighter in the Al Maktoum Challenge and, on the advice of jockey Ryan Moore, will wear blinkers for the first time on Saturday after working in them under Tammy Fox on Monday.
“He seems to like them, it was a good move,” Fox, the assistant to trainer Dale Romans, said. “When the pace is slow like it was on Super Saturday they just sprint away from him. It takes him a while to get his momentum going.
“He needs pace to run at and I think we will get more of that in the Dubai World Cup.”
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