Unheralded Gladiatorus humbled a field that included 10 grade or group I winners when he sped to a front-running victory with local jockey Ahmed Ajtebi in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) over the rain-slickened Nad al Sheba grass course March 28.
Ajtebi, a 21-year-old jockey who began his career riding camels, urged Gladiatorus six times with the whip right-handed through the long straight of the about 1 1/8-mile event. Approaching the finish, Ajtebi threw a kiss to the crowd and stood straight up in the stirrups as the 4-year-old son of Silic cruised under the wire 3 1/4 lengths ahead of the runner-up Presvis. Another outsider, Alexandros, finished third.
Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed al Maktoum owns the Kentucky-bred Gladiatorus, who went off at U.S. odds of 14-1 and paid $30.40 to win. The victory was the third of the season for the chestnut colt at Nad al Sheba. He was a front-running 5 3/4-length victor in the Al Fahidi Fort (UAE-II), his his most recent try Feb. 19.
"I am so happy and so proud," Ajtebi said. "I always said I wanted the UAE to be proud of me and I hope the country is now. We were always going to attack from the front because that’s how he won last time. This is a dream come true."
Winning trainer Mubarak bin Shafya said afterward that he was very confident in Gladiatorus after his earlier wins over the course.
"He's a special horse," bin Shafya said said. "I thought he would win easy."
Gladiatorus, breaking from barrier 2 in the field of 16, jumped to the front immediately, tracked by the standout Japanese mare Vodka and European star Paco Boy. Gladiatorus was firmly in control approaching the big bend in the boomerang-shaped course.
The pace slowed on the turn, but the favorite, Archipenko, and American hopes Hyperbaric and Kip Deville failed to emerge from the pack to challenge the leader. As Gladiatorus reached the straight, only Vodka, ridden by Yutaka Take, was anywhere near the pacesetter.
But Vodka faded midway down the straight as Galdiatorus opened an eight-length lead. British-bred Presvis rallied to take the runner-up spot under Ryan Moore by two lengths over Alexandros and Mick Kinane. Australian entrant Niconero finished fourth, with Bankable fifth.
"He flew home," said Moore of the runner-up, "But the winner slipped the field and I could never get near him in time."
Archipenko, who was third while beaten less than a length in last year's Dubai Duty Free, finished sixth this time.
"It wasn’t Archie’s day today," jockey Kevin Shea said. "He didn’t pick up. He just ran a bit flat."
Vodka wound up seventh with Kip Deville fading to 10th and Hyperbaric struggling home 14th.
The winning time was 1:46.92 on good to firm going.
An $8,000 auction purchase as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky in October 2006, Gladiatorus has won nine of 12 lifetime starts with two seconds. He earned $3 million for the victory, bumping his career bankroll to $3,521,048.