Now under the guidance of trainer Bob Baffert, the Dubawi colt broke through for his first top-level score in the $300,000 Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes with a closing drive Saturday. He finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of pacesetter Midnight Storm and finished the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:51.32.
It was Mubtaahij's first victory since the Group 2 UAE Derby Sponsored By Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group in March of 2015 and snapped a 10-race winless streak. Mubtaahij earned an automatic berth to the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series, and would add to Baffert’s already impressive arsenal for that race if he shows up.
"I think the blinkers kept (him) more focused today," Baffert said of the equipment change. "I didn't want to change too much, though. He's a classy horse. ... This horse – his last two works really impressed us. I just threw him in here and he has the class. He's proven."
Midnight Storm went to the lead from post 3 and set a pace of :23.20 and :47.06 through a half-mile, as Mubtaahij raced in sixth, eight lengths back. Mubtaahij advanced to fourth under jockey Drayden Van Dyke through six furlongs in 1:11.56, but favored Baffert stablemate Cupid also loomed in third.
"The trip was great," Van Dyke said. "I was really keeping my eye on Cupid and taking my cue from him. I was placed where I wanted to be and didn't start asking him until late, but when I asked him, he responded.
But the favorite could not sustain his bid, while Midnight Storm dug in and the closers rallied late. Along with Mubtaahij came the longest shot on the board at 25.60-1, Win the Space, with a bid. As many as 12 lengths behind early, Win the Space appeared prime for an upset with a wide drive, but flattened out late and finished third, a head behind Midnight Storm.
Although it was Mubtaahij's first Grade/Group 1 victory, it also didn't come out of nowhere. In two stateside trips he finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and fourth in the Belmont Stakes in 2015, and in 2016 finished a close third in the Suburban Handicap and was a head back in second in the Woodward Stakes. He also finished second to California Chrome in the 2016 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline and fourth in the same event in 2017.
"Even last year, those last few races in New York were pretty strong," Baffert said. "He needed today. He got a little tired there at the end. He's good to have in the barn."