This past Saturday, February 3, Gulfstream Park held the Donn Handicap, the first major event for older horses this year. In an effort worthy of the hype and praise he has received, Invasor, an Argentine-bred five year old, overcame severe traffic that nearly brought his stretch run to a grinding halt, before he regrouped and left the competition in his wake.
Hesanoldsalt and A.P. Arrow, who finished in place and show respectively, appeared to be running backwards as Invasor found another gear and strode easily past the wire. In fact he should have kept on running straight to Dubai for the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), on March 31, 2007.
For fans of the Sport of Kings, the Dubai World Cup is now set to become the story of the year -- a dream race of epic proportions. Invasor has won five straight Grade I races since coming to the states, suffering his last loss in last year's Dubai Derby.
Waiting in the UAE to battle Invasor is Discreet Cat, winner of the 2006 Dubai Derby, going away in an easy looking six lengths. He is also the only thoroughbred to ever defeat Invasor. Since last year's race, Discreet Cat has also remained undefeated, dominating three American races against admittedly lackluster competition.
Adding further intrigue is the fact that Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, owner of Invasor, is the brother of Discreet Cat's owner, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. One cannot imagine a higher stakes sibling rivalry ($6 million), The storylines coming from this race in the following weeks will be dramatic to say the least.
Make no mistake, American racing fans will likely root for Invasor. He has raced in this country longer as a Classic horse and has faced and defeated formidable competition. In short, he has made his name here. Discreet Cat ran as a miler, meeting weaker horses, even running an allowance race.
There is, however, a downside to all of this, and it is caused by the simple presence of the Dubai Championships. Invasor, along with another Classic horse Premium Tap, will now rest to prepare and train for the Dubai World Cup. They will be joined overseas by thoroughbreds Thor's Echo, Lava Man and others, robbing American fans the chance to see these horses in person until mid-May at the earliest. In fact, Mid-May at the most optimistic.
The long trip to Dubai is notorious for being difficult to overcome. Horses coming out of these races all too frequently cannot regain their former excellence. The trip over and back takes its toll on many a race horse, as evidenced last year by Wilko, Brass Hat and Magna Graduate, and by Roses in May the previous year.
History bears out the fact that thoroughbreds headed to Dubai do not return to the States in good condition and do not race again until mid-summer, if at all. The loss of Invasor and Premium Tap also creates a gaping void of quality Classic horses remaining stateside, particularly on the east coast, to run from now to July.
Add this to Strong Contender's recent injury and the Maryland Jockey Club's cancellation of the Pimlico Special, and Classic racing for eastern fans looks even bleaker this year.
This year's Donn Handicap was a good race, and you better have enjoyed it because it may be the last good Classic race on the east coast until Saratoga's Whitney Handicap on July 28, 2007, almost half a year away.