June 26, 2022

Mandaloun aims to dethrone Mishriff in Saudi Cup

Mandaloun strikes a pose at King Abdulaziz Racetrack (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Douglas De Felice)

Just awarded the 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1) via disqualification, Mandaloun bids for international glory in Saturday’s $20 million Saudi Cup (G1). The Juddmonte homebred must overcome defending champion Mishriff; familiar foe Midnight Bourbon; fellow U.S. shippers Art Collector and Country Grammer; the Japanese duo of Breeders’ Cup shocker Marche Lorraine and dirt champion T O Keynes; and the outstanding European turfistes Sealiway and Real World.

More coverage: Saudi Cup Day turf races

Saudi Cup – Race 8 (12:35 p.m. ET)

Mishriff, based in England with John and Thady Gosden, first proved his aptitude for King Abdulaziz Racetrack when a closing second in the 2020 Saudi Derby. The Prince Faisal homebred went on to become a top sophomore in Europe, capturing the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) and Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2) before an eighth on desperate going in the Champion S. (G1).

Next seen in Riyadh for the 2021 Saudi Cup, Mishriff had the pace to stay in range and the stamina to wear down Charlatan late in the 1,800-meter (about 1 1/8-mile) affair. The male-line descendant of the great Dubai Millennium then reverted to turf, adding the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) and a stunning Juddmonte International (G1) to his resume. Mishriff’s losses last term were creditable, including placings to classic-winning colts St Mark’s Basilica and Adayar, and he signed off with a fourth to Sealiway in the Oct. 16 Champion S. back at Ascot.

Mishriff bonds with Benario de Paiva (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Neville Hopwood)

Thus Mishriff mounts his title defense off the same type of layoff. Co-trainer Thady Gosden revealed that the five-year-old is stronger.

“He’s a year older; he’s done a bit of growing, so he’s a little bigger,” the younger Gosden said. “He’s got a great athletic physique, and he’s definitely strengthened a bit from last year.

Gosden noted that the combination of one turn, a long stretch, and kinder dirt helps when taking on the Americans.

“The one turn makes a big difference, the longer straight is especially an advantage to the European horses.

“The American horses are used to using a lot of speed to get forward and then having a short straight to get home in.

“The surface is also a bit kinder – the kickback is not as bad. It rides a bit softer, a bit fluffier – it’s a brilliant track.”

A repeat victory, worth another $10 million, would push Mishriff past Australian celebrity Winx as the all-time richest racehorse. Last year drawn in post 12, he has landed in the far outside post 14 with regular rider David Egan.

Mandaloun sets the standard of American dirt form. The Brad Cox pupil sports two Grade 1 wins, both by disqualification in the Kentucky Derby and Haskell (G1). But the well-related son of Into Mischief is eligible to be even better as a four-year-old. His fine reappearance in the Jan. 22 Louisiana (G3) at Fair Grounds, where he ran down Midnight Bourbon, should put him spot on. Florent Geroux makes the trek to retain their partnership, and Mandaloun is well drawn in post 6.

Assistant trainer Dustin Dugas issued an upbeat bulletin on Mandaloun:

“He’s a tough horse. Yesterday (Monday) his gallop was phenomenal, getting better and stronger with every stride. Towards the end of the gallop I had to work to pull him up as he was enjoying himself a little too much.

“He had a nice light little breeze this morning (Tuesday), half a mile. I was really happy with him. He was kind of looking around a little bit, as they had a bunch of people on the grass course this morning for the first time. So there was a lot going on.

“But he handled it well. The breeze may have been a tick slower than we originally wanted, but at the same time, being that it’s Tuesday, slower is probably better. Overall, we’re really happy. He hasn’t missed a grain, he’s eating up well.”

Midnight Bourbon strides out (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Mathea Kelley)

Although Midnight Bourbon hasn’t won since upending Mandaloun in the 2021 Lecomte (G3), the Tiznow colt is consistently a tough pace factor who requires some effort to pass. Second in the Preakness (G1), Travers (G1), and Pennsylvania Derby (G1), and third in the Clark (G1) two back, Midnight Bourbon sported blinkers last out. Trainer Steve Asmussen believes there’s more to come from the big bay, who reunites with Joel Rosario in post 3.

The Bill Mott-trained Art Collector also promises to take up a forward position from post 9, as Luis Saez regains the mount. Saez masterminded his three-race winning spree in last season’s Alydar S., Charles Town Classic (G2), and Woodward (G1), the latter significantly around Belmont Park’s one turn. Art Collector hasn’t raced since his sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but the son of Bernardini has run well fresh in the past.

“We had a nice three-eighths breeze this (Wednesday) morning,” said assistant Neil Poznansky, who was aboard for the work. “I just wanted to see how he was getting hold of the surface, how he felt doing it and how his energy was doing it: everything was good.” 

Art Collector is perfect at the trip (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Douglas De Felice)

Bob Baffert, who had a top threat in Charlatan last year, returns with an outsider in Country Grammer. Initially trained by Chad Brown, the son of Tonalist captured the pandemic-delayed Peter Pan (G3) in the summer of 2020. Country Grammer was sold for $110,000 as part of the late Paul Pompa’s dispersal, and new owner WinStar transferred him to the West Coast. He made only two starts for Baffert last season, just missing in the Californian (G2) and fighting back to take the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1). This marks his first start since that May 31 appearance, and with a new co-owner in Amr Zedan, whose ill-fated Medina Spirit was intended for this race. Flavien Prat sticks with Country Grammer on the rail.

The lone Breeders’ Cup winner in the field was also the unlikeliest at Del Mar last November – Japan’s Marche Lorraine, who sprang a 49.90-1 surprise in the Distaff (G1). The Yoshito Yahagi mare was useful on her home dirt, although few expected her to have the finesse to topple the elite Americans in a championship event. The Saudi Cup is her last hurrah before retirement, and there’s a slight question about how she shipped.

“She has lost a bit of weight after the long travel from Japan to Saudi Arabia,” Yahagi said Tuesday, “and I understand that she is still conditioning now and needs some more time to recover.”

Marche Lorraine is recovering her verve (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Douglas De Felice)

Yahagi offered an update following Marche Lorraine’s Wednesday morning breeze.

“Even though I thought it was a bit heavier track, she moved nicely on the surface,” her trainer said. 

“The only concern was that she did not change her leads, so the rider used a whip, but as for the heart rate, her time of the gallop should be satisfactory. She has lost a bit weight after the long travel, but she is now eating up well. I do believe she will be a fit horse on Saturday.”

Marche Lorraine will break from post 13, but Yahagi bluntly said he didn’t care about the draw for the Orfevre mare.

T O Keynes brings a much higher level of Japanese dirt form as the divisional champion. The winner of four of five outings in 2021, the son of Sinister Minister dominated the Teio Sho (with Marche Lorraine up the track) and the Dec. 5 Champions Cup (G1).

“The travel from Japan to Saudi Arabia was very smooth and he was relaxed during the long traveling,” exercise rider Daisuke Aramaki said.

“As it was the first time he arrived here, he was a bit nervous of the new surroundings but he is now getting focused on what he does in training. He was very fresh this morning, which was quite similar to how he is before he runs in races at home and he was really feeling good. I had to be strong to hold him but that’s a good sign.”

T O Keynes has his game face on (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Neville Hopwood)

T O Keynes keeps regular pilot Kohei Matsuyama, while Christophe Soumillon picks up the mount on Marche Lorraine.

The ever-dangerous Godolphin operation relies on Saeed bin Suroor’s Real World and Andre Fabre’s Magny Cours.

The progressive Real World has racked up five straight on turf, including the Prix Daniel Wildenstein (G2) on Arc weekend and the Jan. 28 Zabeel Mile (G2) in his Dubai return. The son of Dark Angel has experience on the Meydan dirt, albeit in losses during last year’s Carnival, but that could redound to the benefit of a five-year-old reaching his peak. Frankie Dettori will know where to place him.

Magny Cours was third in last year’s Dubai World Cup (G1). Most recently third in the Nov. 19 Bahrain International Trophy (G3), the Group 3-winning son of Medaglia d’Oro could appreciate the slight cutback in trip. Mickael Barzalona knows him well.

Sealiway’s European turf form must be respected, although the surface is an unknown. France’s champion two-year-old of 2020 was runner-up to St Mark’s Basilica in the 2021 French Derby, and a commendable fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) off a layoff. Freshened since his Champion victory over Mishriff, Sealiway has since switched to the yard of Francis-Henri Graffard. He also gets a new rider in Ryan Moore.

French champ Sealiway tests the dirt (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Mahmoud Khaled)

“He’s very classy and he has a lot of personality,” Graffard said of Sealiway. “The first morning he came to me he was like ‘I am the boss.’

“He’s a tough horse and he can adapt very easily – adapt to the pace of the race and the ground. He’s a nice horse to be around and it seems like he does everything very easily. My worry is, will he be ready as he does everything so easily?”

Also unraced since October is Uruguayan champion Aero Trem, last seen landing the Gran Premio Latinoamericano (G1) in track-record time at Maronas. The ultra-consistent Brazilian-bred has missed the trifecta just once in his storied career, more than three years ago, and survived life-threatening colic surgery to regain champion form. The Antonio Cintra trainee has been limbering up in Dubai, where jockey Vagner Leal has had a few Carnival rides.

“He will take to the track well, I think,” assistant trainer Julio Olascoaga said. This track suits him much better than the Dubai course, as the Saudi Arabia track is similar to the one in Uruguay.”

Dubai’s current leading trainer, Bhupat Seemar, sends out Godolphin Mile (G2) hero Secret Ambition. Often a pace presence, if he manages to break well, the nine-year-old entire was runner-up in his comeback in the Jan. 14 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2).

The remaining four entrants are Saudis. The Mitab Almulawah duo of Making Miracles and Emblem Road are in the main group of 14, with Great Scot (last year’s Saudi Cup third) and Alkhateeb the also-eligibles.

Making Miracles, winner of the past two editions of the about 1 1/2-mile Crown Prince Cup, starred in the prestigious Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup on Jan. 27. The Quality Road colt Emblem Road just toppled defending champion Great Scot in the King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Cup over a metric mile.

“This year is different for Making Miracles,” Hisham Wahed said of the British import. “Even over 2,400 meters he has run very well, and I think this year he will run very well because we are seeing in him something different. With the 1,800 meters he will do much better and he is showing us much more in his work than last year. Our aim is to keep the Cup in the Kingdom.

“Emblem Road is a four-year-old and he is impressing us. He is a champion at the mile but I think he can run 1,800 meters or 2,000 meters, it doesn’t matter. He’s by Quality Road and he has a good pedigree.

“There are a lot of dangerous horses in the race – Mishriff, Mandaloun, T O Keynes – but, inshallah, we have a good horse and we will see what will happen.”