By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bill Mott will be looking for another first when his filly Royal Delta runs in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer won the first Dubai World Cup in 1996 with two-time Horse of the Year Cigar.
Now, Royal Delta has a chance to become the first filly to win the world's richest horse race. Mott says the distance and track surface at Meydan Racecourse fits Royal Delta and welcomes the challenge of testing his 4-year-old against So You Think, Game On Dude and Smart Falcon.
"Coming back, it's a big challenge," Mott said. "It's the biggest prize in racing right now. Naturally if you like competition, that is where you want to be."
Mott said returning to Dubai came down to "having a horse in the barn good enough to come," noting Royal Delta had a strong last year, including a win in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs last November.
"She sort of earned her way into it," he said of the Eclipse Award-winning filly. "It is not something that we imagined, that she is good enough. She's done what we asked to do at home. The challenge is how she matches up with an international field. That is what this is all about."
Asked about the prospects of a filly winning, Mott joked that "the first time we came no horse had won," so all he saw was another obstacle to overcome in his illustrious career.
"Coming over here, we know they will bring the best of the best, and we're going to have some very good horses in the race," he said. "The only thing we can hope for is that our own does very well."
Royal Delta, who will be ridden by Jose Lezcano, faces 13 males in the World Cup, including Game on Dude and early favorite So You Think.
Also in the international field is Master of Hounds, Eishin Flash, Zazou, Smart Falcon, Planteur, Monterosso, Silver Pond, Transcend, Capponi, Prince Bishop and Mendip.
The nine-race World Cup card features 123 horses and is worth $27.25 million.
After Wednesday's draw, in which Royal Delta drew the No. 7 post, Mott said his filly's chances.
"It's the middle of the field," he said. "She'll get a good look at the field from there and No. 7 has been our lucky number. We'd love for her to win. I can't predict the outcome but she is doing really well — well enough to win a race like this."
Cigar proved a worthy entrant in the first World Cup when he won by a half length over Soul of the Matter in a memorable race worth $4 million at the time. That was Cigar's 14th straight win, and he'd add two more to his streak.
Mott, who favors a New York Yankees baseball cap and is known for his understated manner, said Cigar's victory was one of his biggest achievements — it came against an international field and helped put the Dubai World Cup on the map for American racing fans.
"It was a huge win personally," Mott said. "For America, anyone who was interested in horse racing was watching it on TV. At that time, you had to go to a betting facility or race track where they were simulcasting the race. People probably gathered in those spots where they were able to see it and it drew quite a crowd."
Mott admitted the first-ever trip to the Middle East wasn't without risks. Urged on by owner Allen E. Paulson, Mott traveled the 6,800 miles although Cigar had never raced over a deep sandy surface, or encountered such a long home stretch.
His preparations were also disrupted, Mott said, after the horse developed an abscess on one of his hoofs which forced him to condense the training. And then there was Dubai which, at the time, was still a dusty trading center, nothing like today's glitzy metropolis with miles of skyscrapers and the $2 billion racing facility that now hosts the Dubai World Cup.
"The first time we came over with Cigar, there were so many unknowns," Mott said. "We had no idea coming to this part of the world. We didn't know what we would run into."
Mott's willingness to bring Cigar here in 1996 opened the door for other top American horses to make the trip to the United Arab Emirates, although that has dropped off some since Meydan opened. The track features an all-weather surface known as Tapeta that is not liked by those whose horses normally run on dirt tracks.