With grade 1 winners Collected and West Coast well on their way training toward the Jan. 27 Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), another Bob Baffert-trained duo of top-level winners is eying the next elite event for handicap horses.
Following Mubtaahij's first work of 2018, Baffert said the 6-year-old son of Dubawi owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, along with stablemate Hoppertunity, are both pointing for the March 31 Dubai World Cup (G1) at Meydan. It's a race Baffert has won three times, including last year with Arrogate .
"That's the goal for Mubtaahij and Hoppertunity, for sure," Baffert said after he watched Mubtaahij log an easy half-mile work in :50 3/5 Jan. 11 at Santa Anita Park. "He went nice. I freshened him up a little bit, but he looked pretty good today."
Both horses have run well in the $10 million race in previous years, and Mubtaahij, when he was trained by Mike de Kock, won four races at Meydan, including an eight-length score in the 2015 U.A.E. Derby Sponsored By Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2). Mubtaahij also finished second to California Chrome in the 2016 Dubai World Cup and was fourth in the 2017 edition. Hoppertunity has made two trips for the Dubai World Cup, finishing third in 2016 and sixth in 2017.
Mubtaahij won his first start for Baffert Sept. 30 in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, but followed that effort with an eighth-place run in the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) and a third-place finish in the Nov. 25 Native Diver (G3) at Del Mar.
"He looked good today, and he's put some weight back on," Baffert said. "He needed a freshening. That wasn't him (in the Native Diver). He came back and ran a huge race of the layoff in the Awesome Again, then ran in the Breeders' Cup and it was probably too much for him."
Hoppertunity ran fourth in the Dec. 26 San Antonio Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita last out for Karl Watson, Michael Pegram, and Paul Weitman. The 7-year-old son of Any Given Saturday returned to the Santa Anita work tab Jan. 6 with a four-furlong move in :48 3/5.
Baffert said he was unsure if either Mubtaahij or Hoppertunity will get a prep race in before the Dubai World Cup.