With four weeks and counting to May 1, he certainly is.
Arabs at Churchill Downs
Desert Storm In Reverse
Having come to dominate the sport in England and much of the Continent, the four Maktoum brothers of the oil-rich Arab emirate of Dubai are taking aim at the plum of U.S. racing: the Kentucky Derby. Indeed, on the yellow-brick road to this year's classic at the Downs, nothing has stirred more interest and speculation than the prospect of a contingent of Dubai-trained horses skipping into Louisville. The presence of even one colt would be unprecedented, and as many as four—Worldly Manner, Aljabr, Prado's Landing and Comeonmom—could make the trip. No horse has ever been saddled for the Derby after spending the winter training in the deserts of the Middle East.
Prado's Landing has been flown to Keeneland to test the U.S. waters in the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday, but the Dubai colt who will be watched most closely is Worldly Manner, one of the leading 2-year-olds in the U.S. last year, when he won three of four juvenile races culminating in a five-length triumph in the Del Mar Futurity. The horse was bred and owned by John and Betty Mabee and trained by Bob Baffert until Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, looking for a strong player to lead his U.S. invasion, bought Worldly Manner for $5 million and shipped him to his state-of-the-art training center in Dubai. The colt will go to the Derby having had only workouts and a couple of trial races at Dubai's Nad al-Sheba racecourse against fields of Maktoum-owned horses. On March 21, in the first of the trials, the fluid Worldly Manner easily defeated a field of nine stablemates at nine furlongs. (Aljabr finished second.)
Among those who saw this performance was trainer Richard Mandella of the U.S. On the question of whether a horse prepared by workouts and trials can compete against horses battle-hardened in U.S. prep races, Mandella says, "Anybody who believes the Dubai horses won't be ready had better think again. Worldly Manner looked terrific. It was a race, a real horse race."
Americans beware. The Arabs are making an assault on the Triple Crown.
Jockey on the Skids
Valenzuela Hits Bottom—Again
Ten years ago this month, Patrick Valenzuela was riding as fast and high as any jockey in the world. He had been a phenom at 17, when he won his first Santa Anita Derby, on Codex, in 1980, and over the years he had built a reputation as one of America's finest riders—"As good a jock as I've ever ridden with," Gary Stevens says. Moreover, he had succeeded despite troubles, including drug abuse and a rash of unexplained absences, that began to track him in the mid-'80s.
By the spring of '89, however, Valenzuela, still boyish at 26, looked as surpassing as ever in the saddle. After steering Sunday Silence to victory in the Santa Anita Derby, he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness on the little black colt, beating Easy Goer both times, and he would have won the Triple Crown had the Goer, under Pat Day, not run the race of his life to win the Belmont Stakes. Never had Valenzuela's career looked more promising. He was a natural athlete who rode with grace and smarts, and he was the best "gate rider" in the sport: Under him horses seemed to leave the barrier with their tails afire, and they were often a length ahead by the time the others had cleared the doors. All the trainers clamored for his services.
It's no wonder, then, that there was a great sense of sadness among horsemen and horse-players when, on Feb. 25, the 36-year-old Valenzuela, who quit racing two years ago, was arrested and charged with robbing a cab driver of $150 at gunpoint in the Los Angeles suburb of Rosemead. Valenzuela has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his lawyer, Donald Calabria, insists that friends can place him elsewhere at the time of the robbery. "He was misidentified," Calabria says.