The $20 million Saudi Cup is supported by a terrific undercard at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, with American, European, and Japanese interests represented. Here’s a preview of the attractions, in race order, and the post positions as posted on thesaudicup.com.
1ST Race – Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup (8 a.m. ET)
The first turf race ever staged in Saudi Arabia, this about 1 5/16-mile affair worth $1 million features Japan’s Deirdre. Although a fillies’ classic winner at home in 2017, Deirdre became an international star during her European sojourn last year, notably upsetting the Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood and placing third to Magical in the Champion (G1). After a fourth on the step up in trip for the Hong Kong Vase (G1), she returned to Newmarket for the winter. Deirdre is the class of this field, back around her optimal trip.
Aidan O’Brien sends Mount Everest, who was a decent sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) two back. Last in the Hong Kong Vase, the blueblood son of Galileo and Six Perfections is another who should appreciate the cutback. Conversely, Trais Fluors, 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in his first start for Ken Condon, could do himself justice on the stretch-out. French Group 1 winner Intellogent was in better form prior to his sixth in last summer’s Arlington Million (G1), while former German highweight Royal Youmzain tends to settle for the minors.
Of those based on the peninsula, For the Top was second to Benbatl at the Dubai Carnival two back for Salem bin Ghadayer. Flying the Saudi flag are Imagen de Roma, an Argentine Group 1 winner on turf in 2018, and Persian Moon, whose Group 3-placed British form suggests he’s up against it. Bahrain’s Port Lions likewise doesn’t stack up based on his past resume as an Irish handicapper.
2ND Race – The ste 1351 Cup (8:35 a.m.)
The name gives away the distance (in meters) of this $1 million turf sprint that shapes up as one of the most competitive events on the day. Peter Miller, ever dangerous with his sprinters, relies upon Brazilian import Ghoul. Doug O’Neill’s Dubai Carnival runners have been paying their way at Meydan, raising hopes for his Legends of War, whose lone stakes win came in the about 6 1/2-furlong Franklin-Simpson (G3) at Kentucky Downs.
Great Britain holds a strong hand with Sir Dancealot, a 7-furlong specialist apt to appreciate its proximity to that trip; Grade 1 mile veteran Suedois, who just defied top weight in a Meydan handicap; Royal Intervention, last seen defeating older males in the Aug. 25 Goldene Peitsche (G2) at about 6 furlongs; and ex-French Graignes, fifth in the Prix de la Foret (G1) and making his debut for George Baker.
The Charlie Appleby-trained Glorious Journey has solid British form but represents the UAE, where he warmed up with a score in the Al Fahidi Fort (G2) with Mubtasim third. Momkin, who runs for Saudi but was knocking on the proverbial door in England last term, is an intriguing new recruit for William Haggas.
The lone Irish shipper, Speak in Colours from the Joseph O’Brien yard, has claims based on his Foret third, and France’s King Malpic could factor if replicating his career-best in last July’s Prix de Ris-Orangis (G3). Rounding out the cast are Saudi-based imports Larchmont Lad (whose 2019 British form was a touch below the others) and Holy Day (who has yet to recover her Argentine form here) and Bahrain’s Dark Power.
3RD Race – Longines Turf H. (9:10 a.m.)
The $2.5 million purse for this about 1 7/8-mile test has attracted several top stayers, led by Dee Ex Bee who played second fiddle to Stradivarius in last year’s Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, Goodwood Cup (G1), and Lonsdale Cup (G2). Temporarily residing with Salem bin Ghadayer for the winter, Dee Ex Bee is counted as a UAE flagbearer, as is Godolphin’s Cross Counter, most recently eighth as the defending champion in the Melbourne Cup (G1).
Prince of Arran, placed in the last two Melbourne Cups, spearheads the British squad that comprises Mekong (second to Dee Ex Bee in a Group 3 last term) as well as high-rated handicapper King’s Advice. Both of Joseph O’Brien’s are also-rans from the Melbourne Cup, classy veteran Twilight Payment and the progressive Downdraft. The French promise to put up a bold show. Called to the Bar found the Ascot Gold Cup too searching a test, but has excelled at around this trip, especially when beating Call the Wind (the 2018 Prix du Cadran [G1] hero) in the 2019 Prix Vicomtesse Vigier (G2).
Willie Mullins’ ex-hurdler True Self, Ireland’s highweight staying mare since switching to the Flat, just made the cut after a few defections. Saudis Hibou and Contango had gained entry before then, but fellow denizens Dramatic Device, a progressive British handicapper before his export, and Mafaaheem have been added to the cast.
4TH & 5TH Races
With the 4TH being the Obaiya Arabian Classic (9:45 a.m.) for Purebred Arabians and the 5TH a handicap restricted to local horses (10:30 a.m.), we’ll skip ahead to the remainder of the card of international Thoroughbred significance.
6TH Race – Samba Saudi Derby (11:10 a.m.)
Two American shippers are part of an eclectic cast pursuing $800,000 over this metric mile. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) runner-up Billy Batts will try his luck on the dirt, while Triple Crown nominee Rowdy Yates comes off a daylight score in the Riley Allison Derby at Sunland. Japan’s Full Flat already has international travel on his resume, having finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
The most interesting runners from the UAE are fillies – Mike de Kock’s unbeaten Uruguayan import Bella Fever, who defied an 11-month layoff to collar Godolphin’s Final Song in the Meydan Classic Trial, and Down on Da Bayou, who demolished last Thursday’s UAE Oaks (G3). The lone Emirati colt, Lake Causeway, is still a maiden after a distant fourth in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3).
Gosden’s duo operate under different flags. Triple Crown-nominated Mishriff, owned by Saudi Prince A.A. Faisal, ran away with a Nottingham maiden. But the well-bred War Front colt Cherokee Trail, who won his first two on turf before disappointing in the Autumn (G3), is labeled a Brit. The rest of the field are all Saudis – Rajee Allah, perfect from two starts; four-time winner Malafekh; the 2-for-3 Tamaari; Aan Alawan; and Mor’edah.
7TH Race – Saudia Sprint (11:50 a.m.)
Multiple Grade 1 star Imperial Hint is the one to beat in this $1.5 million, about 6-furlong dirt dash, sure to move forward off his third in the Mr. Prospector (G3) over a panel further. Recent Palos Verdes (G2) scorer Captain Scotty is the other American left after Engage ended up missing the race. Captain Scotty is drawn in post 5, while Imperial Hint is parked wider out in post 10 of 13.
American expats are on the scene in the form of UAE-based Gladiator King and Drafted as well as new Saudi recruit New York Central. Gladiator King has won both of his starts since joining Satish Seemar, the Dubawi (G3) and Al Shindagha Sprint (G3), with deep closer Drafted doing his best work too late.
Japanese contender Matera Sky flopped when last in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), but his best effort of 2019 was a second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on Dubai World Cup night, beating Imperial Hint. Manguzi, third in last year’s UAE Derby (G2) and Al Bastakiya, is set for a dramatic cutback in trip. Former Saudi Horse of the Year Indelible Ink; fellow European imports Mesquite, Maypole, Beau Warrior, and Muhtaram; and Argentine-bred Sobre Action all face a tall task to defend their home track.
Full preview of the Saudi Cup (the 8TH at 12:40 p.m.) is available here. You can watch and wager at TwinSpires.com, and free Brisnet past performances for the Saturday card will be accessible Thursday.
Screenshots of post draws from thesaudicup.com