Published in March 31 issue of The Blood-Horse
Captain Steve's owner, Mike Pegram, stood 10 yards away as trainer Bob Baffert issued instructions to Jerry Bailey in the Nad al Sheba walking ring prior to the sixth Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on the evening of March 24. "I let them go to it," he said. "Those guys will be in the Hall of Fame one day (Bailey already is) and I'll be standing outside on the sidewalk. They know what they're doing." Asked the significance of running in his first $6-million race, the world's richest, Pegram reflected for a minute: "I never thought I'd be running for $6 million in my entire career. That's a lot of $10,000 claimers." Bailey later revealed that Baffert's carefully considered instructions were to "go out there and don't screw up," but why get didactic with a rider who had already eased home on Cigar and Singspiel in the first two runnings of the World Cup and was about to raise his batting average to .500? Baffert, too, was treading a familiar path, having shipped Bob and Beverly Lewis' Silver Charm to the United Arab Emirates in 1998 for a thrilling short-head victory over Swain. Silver Charm came back the next year to finish sixth, but the trainer's Dubai World Cup batting average was about to be raised to .666. A field of 12, representing six different countries, was set to face the starter for the 1 1/4-mile race on the triangle-shaped dirt course. French-based Kingsalsa was withdrawn from the contest earlier in the week. With no betting in Dubai, British bookmakers generally made Captain Steve, coming off a win in the Donn Handicap (gr. I), and Godolphin's Best of the Bests, 12-length winner of the second round of the Maktoum Challenge over the track, co-favorites at around 7-4 to collect the $3.6 million first prize. In betting in the U.S., Captain Steve was the 8-5 favorite. The other U.S. runner, Aptitude, owned by Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bobby Frankel, was third favorite, although he was coming off a rare bad run in Churchill Downs' Clark Handicap (gr. II) last November. Frankel was confident that subsequent throat surgery would put the son of A.P. Indy back on track. The rest of the field, perhaps the weakest ever for a World Cup, featured two other Godolphin runners, Ekraar (racing in Sheikh Hamdan's colors) and Broche, plus Emirates-trained State Shinto. Singapore's first ever World Cup entrant, Aristotle, was on hand along with Hightori from France, a pair from Japan in To the Victory and Regular Member, and Early Warning and Sei Mi from Saudi Arabia. To the Victory, the only mare in the field carried 121 pounds, five fewer than her male rivals. The daughter of Sunday Silence exited the stalls aggressively, and after a quarter-mile led by a length from Broche and Regular Member with Captain Steve fourth behind a fast pace. Best of the Bests raced sixth. The order was maintained with five furlongs to run and at the top of the stretch, with just over three furlongs to travel, To the Victory opened a little ground and claimed a three- or four-length advantage as Bailey sent Captain Steve around horses to launch his bid and move into second. Best of the Bests ranged up closer on the outside. At the quarter pole, Captain Steve went after To the Victory in a workmanlike rather than spectacular fashion and poked his head in front entering the final furlong. Bailey reached back to give his mount one left-handed reminder, then gave the Fly So Free colt several taps with the left hand, but victory was already assured. To the Victory claimed second, three lengths in arrears, with Hightori, seventh into the stretch, closing to finish in third, a half-length away. Then came State Shinto, Sei Mi, the outsider of the field under Chris McCarron, Aptitude, Ekraar, Best of the Bests, Regular Member, Broche, Aristotle, and Early Warning. Bailey appeared never to have a moment's worry, but he said later all had not been smooth sailing. "He was strong in the beginning but came off the bridle a little bit into the far turn, and he had me concerned," he said. "Then I saw Yutaka Take (on To the Victory) kind of blast off turning for home and I tried to close the gap. He (Captain Steve) got to the mare much quicker than I thought he would, but I was kind of confused as to how much horse I had because he had kind of slacked off during the middle part of the race, but he was good enough to win it all." Gary Stevens, on dismounting Aptitude, said: "He was a long way back and it's tough to make up any ground tonight. He was traveling well but it was like I was running on a treadmill, not going anywhere." David Flores, on Broche said he had "tried to chase the filly, but this horse is just not that quick. He was in a good spot but it was just a little too much for him." Frankie Dettori was mildly booed by some sections of the crowd when he returned on Best of the Bests. His whirlwind victory on Dubai Millennium last year notwithstanding, the rest of the rider's record in the World Cup shows three last-place finishes and two eighths. "He ran too free and didn't finish," Dettori said. "I knew I was beaten on the turn." Baffert, who worked Captain Steve six furlongs in 1:10.44 under the lights earlier in the week because "he has been known to jump shadows," said he felt the World Cup might be the "coming out party" for the $70,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale purchase. "He put himself in a different league than he's been in tonight," said the trainer after Captain Steve's first win at 10 furlongs. "He's proved that he's a world-class horse and he got the mile and a quarter tonight. He's a good-looking horse and I've loved him since he was a yearling. He was a great 2-year-old. At three he wasn't doing that well so we backed off him and he came around. "This horse likes to run close to the pace so I wondered what Jerry was doing out there," Baffert continued. "But I was watching on the monitor and I couldn't really tell if he was having to nudge him along or what. Then when I saw him making a move turning for home I knew he had showed up. He wasn't going the wrong way, like Silver Charm did the second time I brought him here. "Everything went smooth for the horse coming here. One thing about Dubai, the horse comes first. Captain Steve will never live the luxury he's experienced the last two weeks. I wish they'd put some of the track sand in those oil tankers when they come to America and put it on the American tracks. It's pretty kind to their feet." Pegram paid $70,000 to supplement Captain Steve to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in 1999 and with that credit only had to fork out $210,000 of the $280,000 it cost to put him in the Classic (gr. I) last year. No further payments are due and the plan is to try to improve on Captain Steve's third-place finish behind Tiznow last November at Churchill Downs when the Breeders' Cup comes to Belmont Park the last Saturday in October. "If he's doing well, he'll be there," Baffert said of his winner of nine of 21 starts and $6,527,156. ChartContinued. . . .