Todd Pletcher has labelled his Dubai World Cup favourite Life Is Good as a “supreme athlete” that he hopes will “rise to any challenge” as he assessed the colt’s prospects of giving his trainer a first winner in the Meydan showpiece.
Six years on from his previous visit to the UAE, Pletcher – who was second with Harlan’s Holiday in the 2003 renewal at Nad Al Sheba – exuded quiet confidence that his challenger can showcase his considerable wares with a famous victory in Saturday’s marquee race.
Fresh from an authoritative success in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, where he left Knicks Go in his wake, Pletcher said everything had gone meticulously to plan for the son of Into Mischief since that memorable Florida triumph.
He explained: “He travelled here really well and has settled in great, while he galloped really well on the track. He’s an amazing horse to watch in training, as he does everything so effortlessly. In fact his major works have been as good as I’ve seen from any horse I’ve trained.”
That is indeed a huge compliment from the man whose previous champions include Quality Road and Uncle Mo, and he went on: “From the rail we need to get away cleanly in order to set the pace. In the Pegasus his break wasn’t great, but he got there (to the lead) in the next couple of steps and made up for it. If he breaks the way he normally does, he will be OK.”
Irad Ortiz Jr will again be in the hot seat this weekend, and Pletcher continued: “He showed in the Pegasus how quickly he can go and we were impressed that he got on to the lead that easily.
“A lot of that is up to Irad, who will have to make some in-race decisions, but I shall be surprised if there’s anything in the field as fast as he is. He had a good stretch out, and I think he will take any increase in distance in his stride. We are very optimistic based on his training that he will handle all the conditions.”
Reflecting on that race and the ex-Bob Baffert-trained inmate’s time under his tutelage, Pletcher added: “It was an exciting match up with Knicks Go, and we felt the window between Florida and Dubai worked well. We looked at all options and felt Saudi followed by the World Cup was pretty close. The Pegasus had a good fit, and it was the best two-race programme.
“He came to us with a big resume and high hopes. He’d been a bit keen in his California races when he had a tendency to drift, but he enjoys his job and we focussed on getting him to relax and settle.
“From a talent perspective he’s as good as any I’ve trained. We’ve tried to do all our major work at home and he’s just kept ticking over through the week.
“I think the racing takes on an Olympic feel out here. There’s no question there is added pressure when you are the favourite, but this is a very strong field and particularly the US horses. I’d respect Hot Rod Charlie who has had more time to acclimatise, and will be tough to beat.”
Doug O’Neill’s Hot Rod Charlie, Baffert’s Saudi Cup runner-up Country Grammer – who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori – and Steven Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon complete a formidable American quartet.
Saeed bin Suroor relies on Real World to provide him with a record 10th World Cup triumph. The five-year-old won each of his four starts in Europe last year and made a smart start to his Dubai campaign in the Zabeel Mile in January, but was well-beaten in the Saudi Cup last month.
Bin Suroor told the Godolphin website: “We need to forget what happened to Real World in the Saudi Cup because he missed the break. I could see from the start that his race was over. He came out of the race really well and his latest piece of work put him spot on for this.
“He is back in very good form and we were lucky to draw stall six, which should make it easy for Christophe Soumillon to be handy in the race. If he can settle in second or third, it will be perfect for Real World.”
The Godolphin colours are also carried by Andre Fabre’s French challenger Magny Cours, who was a fine third to Mystic Guide in this race last year. He also ran in Saudi, finishing a head in front of Real World in Riyadh.
Fabre said: “Magny Cours travelled out very well, settling nicely in a familiar environment. He came back home to France after his race in Saudi and is in great form. As last year, he will be ridden by William Buick, and we are expecting a good performance.”
William Haggas saddles German recruit Grocer Jack, who finished fifth on his debut for the Newmarket handler in the Neom Turf Cup on the Saudi Cup undercard.
“Grocer Jack has hit a very strong race this year with some professional horses, so he is rightfully an outsider,” said Haggas.
“He ran well in Saudi Arabia and the one thing I didn’t think he’d do was break slowly, which he did.
“That will be difficult with all the specialist dirt runners from America and Japan. You never know of course, but it’s a really tough ask for him. The one thing about these races is that you can never win them if you don’t run in them, so we’ll see.”