Until Saturday, no trainer other than Saeed bin Suroor or Mike de Kock had ever won the U.A.E. Derby, but that stranglehold ended when the Aidan O'Brien-trained Daddy Long Legs captured the Group 2, $1 million prize at Meydan. Last seen finishing a non-threatening 12th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Scat Daddy colt became the latest alumnus of that red-hot race to lift a major event, thereby catapulting himself into the Kentucky Derby picture.
"We're delighted," a beaming O'Brien said after being greeted by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, vice president of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, in the winner's enclosure.
Jockey Colm O'Donoghue was likewise jubilant, raising his arms above his head as he entered the winner's enclosure.
"He competed against the best today and he showed how good he is," O'Donoghue stated. "Hopefully, he can keep improving from this. I think he can."
Daddy Long Legs was widely viewed as the second of O'Brien's runners, with Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Wrote garnering favoritism. Their pre-race behavior only seemed to reinforce that notion, as Wrote was well composed, and Daddy Long Legs was dripping with sweat.
As expected, the Australian-bred Helmet bounded out to the lead from post 14, easily got clear and angled over to set the pace. Daddy Long Legs was parked in a perfect tracking spot by O'Donoghue, loping along in second and just biding his time. Wrote, who was third in the initial stage, eventually settled a couple of places farther back on the outside.
Daddy Long Legs pounced rounding into the stretch, and mastered a weakening Helmet in short order. Wrote was also advancing into contention, and as the favorite loomed boldly on the outside, he briefly looked a danger to his stablemate. French invader Yang Tse Kiang was likewise closing strongly wider out.
But Daddy Long Legs stayed on powerfully inside the final furlong. Inching away, the handsome chestnut crossed the wire 1 1/4 lengths clear in a final time of 1:58 1/5 for about 1 3/16 miles on Tapeta.
"Had a dream run in second. He quickened really well," O'Donoghue explained. "It's a great training effort by Aidan to win this in his first run of the season against horses who were already primed and at their best."
O'Brien said his plan in bringing Daddy Long Legs and Wrote to Dubai for the UAE Derby was to measure their potential for the Kentucky Derby. Both colts ran well enough for further consideration.
"He was a good colt last year and obviously this was his first run of this season. He jumped and he traveled well," O'Brien said of Daddy Long Legs. "Obviously both ran lovely races tonight -- Wrote just got a little tired in the final 50 yards. We'll speak to the lads, but I would think (Daddy Long Legs) would be a strong possibility (for the Kentucky Derby)."
Yang Tse Kiang bested Wrote by three-quarters of a length for runner-up honors.
"They went a good pace," said Thierry Jarnet, who was aboard Yang Tse Kiang. "My horse followed easily, traveling all right and coming into the straight, I slowly took him to the outside and he did everything he could. It's like a victory for us and I'm very happy for the trainer."
Mickdaam found traffic trouble at the top of the stretch, but made late progress for fourth.
"He wasn't ready when the starter let them go," jockey Christophe Soumillon said of Mickdaam. "The horse next to him came over and crashed into him. He lost any chance."
Next came Red Duke, Balada Sale, Lucky Chappy, Burano, Kinglet, Falls of Lora, Maritimer, Helmet, Entifaadha and a tailed-off Genten.
"I expected him to pick up but the horse wasn't himself today. It was not the surface," said Alan Garcia, who piloted American hopeful Lucky Chappy.
"He didn't have that punch that he had at Golden Gate," trainer Graham Motion agreed. "He came steady but didn't have that kick that he had back home. I thought if he ran back to the race at Golden Gate, he'd have a chance to hit the board. I'm disappointed."
The $1.2 million payday increased Daddy Long Legs' mark to 5-3-0-0, $1,328,909. He won on debut at Gowran Park last August, and after a fourth in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, he led all the way to post a convincing success in the Group 2 Royal Lodge at Newmarket. The only poor effort of his career came in the Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
Bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds in Kentucky, Daddy Long Legs is out of the multiple stakes-winning Meadowlake mare Dreamy Maiden, making him a half-brother to multiple stakes scorer Tres Dream.