Kazakhstan Star Kabirkhan Takes Aim at Dubai World Cup

East has met West when it comes to Kabirkhan, who has risen from obscurity in Kazakhstan to become the talking horse of this year’s Dubai World Cup Carnival.

That he was bred in Kentucky, is trained by the Ohio native and longtime UAE expat champion Doug Watson and has been ridden by British-based Irishman Pat Dobbs reveals only a fragment of the 4-year-old’s life story. After both of his easy victories at Meydan, the light blue and yellow flag of Kazakhstan has been waved by a jubilant band of supporters, indicating how his journey has spanned continents.

Kabirkhan’s impressive success in the Al Maktoum Challenge (G1) Jan. 26 was a first at group 1 level in the Northern Hemisphere for his sire, California Chrome  , a white-faced chestnut with whom he shares more than a passing resemblance.

The Kentucky Derby (G1) winner had been sold to stand at Arrow Stud in Japan by the time Kabirkhan had appeared at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, which goes some way toward explaining how Kazakhstani agent Nadir Khassanov managed to find him at such a reasonable price.

Offered by Mulholland Springs, the Kehner Thoroughbreds-bred son of Little Emily, a four-time winner in California and minor earner of black type, was knocked down for $12,000 toward the end of Book 5.

“I liked him physically by himself, although there were minor flaws,” Khassanov.  “In general, I liked his father, California Chrome; I watched him when he raced.

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“That year my budget was more than $12,000, I would have given up to $20,000 for him, but that year the prices for California Chrome foals fell and I managed to buy Kabirkhan.”

His racing career began with Turganzhan Yuldashev the following June at the fairly rough-and-ready Almaty Hippodrome. On a puddle-strewn dirt track about as far removed from the one at shimmering Meydan as it is possible to imagine, he beat just two rivals.

After turning into an undefeated star he was sold to Kazakhstani owner Tlek Mukanbetkaliyev. He was transferred to training in Russia with Arslangirey Shavuyev, where he continued his domination.

“He won all his races in Kazakhstan, racing three times for three wins, including in the main race for 2-year-olds, the Favorite Prize,” said Khassanov.

“As a 3-year-old in Russia he had five wins out of six starts, winning two Derbys (Pyatigorsk and Kabardino Balkaria) but unfortunately losing the main Derby.

“It’s very exciting for us. This is a historic moment when our horse performs from Kazakhstan, especially since he has come this far. He became a champion 2-year-old in Kazakhstan, then one of the best 3-year-olds in Russia, and is now winning races in Dubai.”

Although Kabirkhan met with defeat for the first time when second to Hero Mo in the Russian Derby last September in a brutal duel in which the pair were slugging it out well before the home bend, he has already exacted revenge. His conqueror, a son of Mo Town  who was a $27,000 graduate of the same Keeneland sale, is also now in Watson’s care but received a four-length hammering in their first starts at Meydan in a 10-furlong handicap.

Kabirkhan’s next, even more impressive, effort in the Al Maktoum Challenge led Watson to suggest “he might be the best mile-and-a-quarter horse I’ve ever trained.” He looks to be mulling over another outing on “Super Saturday” March 2, or perhaps a direct route to the Dubai World Cup (G1) itself on March 30, for which the colt is around an 8-1 chance with British and Irish bookmakers in an open-looking heat.

Photo: Dubai Racing Club

The connections of Kabirkhan in the winner’s circle for the Al Maktoum Challenge

Were he to come out on top, he would be emulating the feat of his sire in 2016.

Mukanbetkaliyev, who says he has Kabirkhan’s younger brother among five horses trained in Russia, was even less suppressed with his emotions.

“My heart couldn’t contain my joy,” he said in an interview carried by the Astana Times. “I was so excited and raised the Kazakh flag along with my friends. It can be said that the whole of Kazakhstan congratulated us, they (breeders) called from far and wide to congratulate.”

This unusual story has had a positive effect on Khassanov’s business, as he reports he bought 27 more horses to take home from Keeneland’s latest set of sales in September, November, and January. While the odds must be against another Kabirkhan being in that collection, he is enjoying the ride.

“I think Kabirkhan gave an impetus to the purchase of good quality horses,” he said.

“We equestrians of Kazakhstan have long dreamed of getting to Dubai, and then a magnificent horse like Kabirkhan turned up and we decided to try it.

“At the moment he’s the most famous horse in Kazakhstan, we all love and support him. We believed he could do it (at Meydan) and, as you saw, he achieved it and proved he was the best horse. We hope he’ll continue to show himself in a good light. I think he has a great future.”

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