Takeaways from 2021 UAE Derby

Matt Bernier
·3 min read

Godolphin is a horse racing and breeding operation that was established in the early 1990s, and they have experienced incredible success internationally. With victories in races ranging from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Melbourne Cup, the Epsom Derby, the Hong Kong Vase and multiple Breeders’ Cups and Dubai World Cups, Godolphin has won just about everything there is to win on the grandest stages – with one notable exception: the Kentucky Derby.

Domestically, Godolphin’s hopes and dreams fall upon Essential Quality, the Champion two-year-old from 2020 who has the look of a proper Kentucky Derby contender (he is scheduled to race this Saturday at Keeneland in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes). While Essential Quality appears to be more than capable of being the first to capture the Derby while in Godolphin’s blue colors, another Godolphin horse may have thrown his name into the ring following a smashing win in this past weekend’s UAE Derby at Meydan.

Following an uninspiring fourth-place finish in last month’s Saudi Derby, Rebel’s Romance entered the UAE Derby a bit under the radar for the home team despite doing little wrong throughout his young career. Trained by one of the best trainers in the world in Charlie Appleby, Rebel’s Romance lagged behind the field early in the UAE Derby beneath William Buick, a running style which typically does not translate to success over the dirt at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. Not only was the three-year-old colt well off the pace, but he raced exceptionally wide throughout, avoiding dirt being kicked back in his face; the disadvantage of this is having to cover a great deal of additional ground compared to one’s competition. Despite these obstacles, the son of Dubawi began cruising by foes one by one before striking the front at the top of the home stretch, ultimately drawing off to an emphatic five-length victory.

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As stated in the UAE Derby preview, this race has struggled to produce any runners who have made an impact on the first Saturday in May in Louisville. In many instances the winners of the UAE Derby have gone on to become world-class racehorses, with many of them having success in the United States; as far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned, however, they have left quite a bit to be desired. The connections have made it clear that their goal for Rebel’s Romance is to work backwards from the 2022 Dubai World Cup, with that race being the goal. Trainer Charlie Appleby did not entirely rule out a start in the Kentucky Derby (or any U.S. Triple Crown race), but he was far from committal, either.

If Rebel’s Romance does indeed ship to the United States for the Derby or either of the other Triple Crown events, he will likely encounter pace scenarios which are considerably faster than what he has seen thus far in the Middle East, as well as a dramatically elevated level of competition and ability. Godolphin may well be content taking their chances at Kentucky Derby glory with Essential Quality, but do not rule out the possibility of them sending over their UAE Derby winner, Rebel’s Romance.

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