History Awaits Golden Boy Vazirabad

DUBAI, UAE—A 6-year-old gelding with 11 Group wins to his name and 13 in total has very little left to prove, but when Vazirabad (Fr) (Manduro {Ger}) lines up for Saturday’s G2 Dubai Gold Cup he has history to make. No horse in the 22-year span of the Dubai World Cup meeting has ever won in three consecutive years but the Aga Khan’s homebred is currently a very short-priced favourite to do just that.

This year, however, it could be harder than ever, with a high-class field assembled to take him on at Meydan, including the Ascot Gold Cup winner Big Orange (GB) (Duke Of Marmalade {Ire}). The Godolphin flagbearer Rare Rhythm (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), who got the better of Vazirabad on his first run for 130 days back on March 1 in the G3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy, is another of the six of the first seven home in that race, run over two furlongs shorter than the two-mile Gold Cup, who will meet again on Saturday.

“What happens in the race, the tactics of the race, will be very important for him,” says trainer Alain de Royer Dupre as the sun rises over the main track at Meydan and Vazirabad completes an easy canter behind his lead horse Canndera (Fr) with just over two days to go until his date with destiny.

“I think we have three big opponents: Big Orange, Torcedor—he looks very good—and Charlie Appleby’s horse [Rare Rhythm]. He beat him very easily but the distance is longer this time and there wasn’t enough pace for Vazirabad that day. But it’s always difficult to win the same race three times.”

In Vazirabad’s early days, it was perhaps difficult for the trainer to imagine that he would win even one race, let alone a prestigious contest on the other side of the world. Unraced at two, Vazirabad was reluctant to participate initially. A gelding operation helped slowly to change his mind, though when he eventually consented to race he finished an unpromising sixth of nine on debut in the May of his 3-year-old season.

“The second time he raced he was second but after that he won seven races—bang, bang, bang,” de Royer-Dupre recalls.

That septet of wins included his Dubai Gold Cup debut when making his first start after winning the G1 Prix Royal-Oak the previous October. The following season, he preceded his Gold Cup appearance with a second-place finish to a Godolphin runner, Beautiful Romance (GB). Omen-seekers will take comfort in the fact that he subsequently overhauled the filly in the Gold Cup, with Sheikhzayedroad (GB) and Big Orange back in the minor places.

On the track in the mornings, Vazirabad, though gelded and now a grown-up, still doesn’t look the most straightforward of rides, often carrying his head askew and cocking his jaw. His trainer heaps praise on the horse’s regular rider Eric Alloix, who helps keep at bay his wayward tendencies of old.

De Royer-Dupre says, “He’s not difficult to train. In fact, he’s very amusing. When he’s with his normal rider he does the minimum and is relaxed. If you put another rider on him he’s completely different. It’s incredible. He knows the job and he’s very intelligent. If you change his routine he is not happy. He likes to have a say in what’s happening.”

There’s a twinkle in the trainer’s eye as he speaks and, despite a list of major race victories around the world, de Royer-Dupre clearly has a fondness for the equine rascal.

He adds, “It’s so different to train a horse for a long time because we know everything about him. It’s very easy to understand what he likes and what he is capable of doing. We are like a couple.”

Indeed, having a horse in training through to the age of six for his principal owner the Aga Khan is unusual. Dolniya (Fr) (Azamour {Ire}) stayed in training at four to give de Royer-Dupre the first of three consecutive wins at Dubai’s biggest meeting when winning the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic in 2015. Since then, the trainer, the Aga Khan Studs’ French manager Georges Rimaud and racing manager Nemone Routh have been regular visitors to the UAE in March.

“In quiet times it keeps the flag up there and it gives us the opportunity to travel a bit,” says Rimaud. “From the breeding perspective this is not necessarily what we look for but for racing it’s really nice to have a horse like Vazirabad who carries on. Generally in racing we are so quick to take them out of training at three.”

For Visorama (Ire), the Jean-Luc Lagardere-bred dam of Vazirabad who has inherited his grey coat from his paternal sire Linamix (Fr), there have been lean times since producing her most talented son. However, on the way through she has a 2-year-old colt by the pensioned Sinndar (Ire) and a yearling colt by Charm Spirit (Ire). Her loyalty to the home team at Haras de Bonneval continues with her covering sire for 2017, the G1 Prix Ganay winner Dariyan (Fr), another graduate of de Royer-Dupre’s training establishment.

While his young half-brothers wait in the wings, Vazirabad should continue to provide some high-class outings for his entourage.

“I think it could be good timing to go to Ascot for the Gold Cup this year but only if the weather is not too hot,” says his trainer. “It’s such a demanding track and I don’t want to injure the horse because he’s very generous and I don’t want to ask too much. And now that the Goodwood Cup is a Group 1 that could be a good one for him as you have to be malleable to race at Goodwood and you have a long straight for the finish.”

De Royer-Dupre will not be asking his old friend, consistent though he is, to take a shot at winning the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million, which was launched on Monday.

He says, “It’s impossible because we have to go for the preparation race in England and then come back. If you like your horse it’s too much to ask. I would prefer to have a preparation race in France and then to go for the big one [Ascot Gold Cup] in England after that. It’s not easy to move all the time, especially travelling when it’s hot. It takes up a lot of a horse’s energy.”

With the mercury predicted to nudge the 35-degree mark in Dubai on Saturday, Vazirabad will need every ounce of Gallic sangfroid he can muster. In Christophe Soumillon, his partner for every stakes victory, including three Group 1 wins in France, he has found the perfect ally with whom to keep calm and carry on into the history books.