By Michael Adolphson
ELMONT, N.Y. – In 23 lifetime starts and four seasons of racing, the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Thunder Snow has managed to compile a most impressive resume.
He has won a Group 1 every season, placed in seven others, won at the top level on both turf and dirt and competed in five countries, while winning Group 1s in four of those and defeating a total of 15 G1 winners in those affairs.
Thunder Snow made history when becoming the first UAE Derby victor to win the Dubai World Cup and then went one better to become the first horse since its 1996 inception to win the world’s richest race twice, propelling him to third on the global all-time money list.
Yet it seems that no matter how many dollars he earns-more than $16 million thus far-the Godolphin homebred son of Helmet has yet to earn the genuine respect of the American racing public. While he is popular, which no doubt commenced when he bucked wildly and was pulled up shortly after the start of the 2017 Kentucky Derby, he has yet to win in two subsequent stateside tries. Said efforts were a pipped second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and a third by 1¾ lengths in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic – both at 1¼ miles last fall.
He will get another chance at the elite American level on Saturday when he cuts back to a mile in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, a race in which he was, despite his impressive past performances, established as the 5-1 fourth choice on the morning line.
“He arrived in good order [on Sunday],” bin Suroor reported. “Everything is going well and the horse is doing fine. He’s ready to race. This is a good place to start for him. There are really no other races for him to get him started in America and he will have an American campaign. He can win. He has won at seven furlongs and a mile before in Group 1s in France and on the dirt at Meydan.”
Those wins included the seven-furlong Group 1 Criterium International during his 2-year-old season and the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat and Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas over a mile the following season, the latter a one-turn dirt mile in which he soundly defeated 2018 Met Mile winner Bee Jersey.
Since clearing quarantine on Tuesday, he has impressed onlookers, galloping strongly and hinting that he may have come on nicely since his last-out Meydan triumph.
“He had his last work on Friday before going to America, which was his main piece of work,” bin Suroor said. “That went very, very well and he is ready to go. Kieren [Fallon] was on him and he was quite happy with him, too. He is his main work rider.”
Having a retired six-time champion jockey as one’s main work rider appears to have paid dividends, as Thunder Snow has switched leads smoothly in both of his starts this year-something he had not done as consistently in the past and will definitely need when facing America’s top older horses. Christophe Soumillon, who must cut down to the co-highweight of 124 pounds [the lowest Thunder Snow has carried in 17 starts], will team up with his favorite partner for the 18th time on Saturday.
The Met Mile morning-line favorite is Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie (5-2), who finished well behind Thunder Snow when 12th in last fall’s Classic but has come on noticeably when cutting to distances around one mile, including an eye-opening win in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Alysheba last out.
The scenario is markedly similar to 2002, when the Baffert-trained 4-year-old Congaree exited a sharp victory in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap and started as the 6-5 favorite over 2-1 Street Cry, making his first start since his Dubai World Cup victory for bin Suroor, in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
Albeit at a two-turn, nine-furlong trip, Street Cry would go on to win by a dominant 6½ lengths under Jerry Bailey. Perhaps this is one of many reasons bin Suroor appears unshaken by the tough field and circumstances his versatile champion must tackle.
“He needs to run and he will have an American campaign,” bin Suroor continued. “He will run Saturday and then at Saratoga before the Jockey Club Gold Cup, again, and finally the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
“He has always been a very tough horse mentally and physically,” he concluded. “Nothing bothers him and right now I know he’s feeling very good. Everything has gone to plan. We just need to start.”