The opening of entries for the inaugural Saudi Cup day at Riyadh on February 29 has produced a tremendous response from international horsemen and horsewomen. The world’s most valuable race – offering a $20 million purse – and its supporting events (worth another $9.2 million) on a glittering card at King Abdulaziz Racetrack are festooned with high-class horses, including no less than 32 G1 winners, who should combine to make this fixture an exciting addition to the international racing calendar.
Tom Ryan, Director of Strategy and International Racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, said, “The response to the Saudi Cup from the international racing community has been fantastic. We couldn’t be happier with the entries that we’ve received and we are now fully focused on putting on a spectacular first Saudi Cup race day to live up to the calibre of these entries.”
Indeed, there are so many entries for each event (964 in total) that it is possible here until to dip into the pool of the names already forwarded for the Thoroughbred events
The main event – confined to Northern Hemisphere-bred horses aged four years and above and Southern Hemisphere-breds three and up – has no fewer than 143 contenders for the $10m first prize. Runners trained locally can earn a place in the starting line up by winning a special qualifying event on February 7.
Horses from 15 countries are among the entries. A total of 41 of these are trained in Dubai, 27 in Saudi Arabia, 20 in Great Britain, 19 in the USA, eight in Japan, seven in Ireland, six in Korea, four in France and 11 others in seven other assorted countries.
As the race is on dirt, we should look to the U.S. for the main contenders proven at this level and in the conditions. Sure enough, Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up McKinzie – a four-time winner at G1 level – deserves to be near the top of the list. The 5-year-old could renew Santa Anita rivalry with Math Wizard (fifth) and Seeking The Soul (sixth). But the hottest property is Maximum Security, highly progressive since first past the post in the Kentucky Derby and on a four timer after wins that include the G1 Haskell and G1 Cigar Mile.
Other potential U.S. raiders to note include dual Classic-placed Tacitus and his G2 Jim Dandy conqueror Tax, G1 Belmont hero Sir Winston and the prolific Midnight Bisou, herself the winner of seven Graded stakes in 2019.
Among horses listed as trained in Britain, Ghaiyyath would be an intriguing runner if Charlie Appleby and Godolphin gave him the green light. The son of Dubawi has a high cruising speed and a long stride and could be just the type to transition to turf. Other high-class turf runners include BarneyRoy, Benbatl, Royal Marine and Regal Reality. Among the seven Irish-trained entries is the globetrotting filly Magic Wand, a daughter of Galileo.
Another seasoned turf distaffer, Deirdre, is one of the most notable entries from Japan. Trainer Mitsuru Hashida sent the daughter of Harbinger on her travels with great success last year, most notably when she won the G1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. Also in the list is top dirt performer Chrysoberyl, winner of the G1 Champions Cup, formerly the Japan Cup Dirt, in December.
Dubai-trained horses have more opportunity to race on dirt and both G1 winner North America and the Meydan track record holder over a mile, Muntazah, (both by Dubawi) would be intriguing runners.
RED SEA TURF HANDICAP
(1m7f turf. Total purse $2.5m - $1.5m to winner)
Perhaps the most interesting race on the card from a European perspective is the richly endowed Red Sea Turf Handicap, a Melbourne Cup-type affair worth $1.5m to the winner. The weights have already been framed.
A well-known quartet head the weights. Kew Gardens, trained by Aidan O’Brien, Cross Counter, Charlie Appleby’s 2018 Melbourne Cup winner, Dee Ex Bee and top French stayer Call The Wind would add significant lustre to this new event.
Further down the weights, any number of smart horses jump off the page. Young Rascal, trained by William Haggas in Britain, looks on a decent mark, and similar comments apply to Spanish Mission, who is with David Simcock in Newmarket.
But it is horses from all over the world, ranged against these runners on handicap terms, who could provide intriguing evidence of the relative strengths of international stayers. There are 126 entries from 12 different countries, making this puzzle extremely challenging to sort out.
NEOM TURF CUP
(1m2½f turf. Total purse $1m - $600 to winner)
Another chief supporting event on the Saudi Cup card is a turf event over an extended mile and a quarter. This event was bound to be popular and has drawn 171 entries from round the world.
Aidan O’Brien has nominated four: Anthony Van Dyck, Circus Maximus, Magic Wand and Mount Everest. The first-named colt was winner of the Epsom Derby last year, and later ran a great race to finish third in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita, where had had no luck in running. Circus Maximus is highly talented himself and won two G1 races last season, the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Prix du Moulin at ParisLongchamp. For her part, Magic Wand would make more sense here on turf than in the main event, given that she, like the other three, are by Galileo.
Three Charlie Appleby-trained horses include G2 winner Loxley and G1 winner Barney Roy.
The 16 Japanese horses entered are a contingent with smart form, featuring Deirdre, who also has the option of the Saudi Cup, and a progressive type in the dual G3 winner Triomphe.
Matterhornand Dee Ex Bee are two highly talented horses formerly trained in Britain by Mark Johnston but now with Dubai trainer Salem bin Ghadayer.
OBAIYA ARABIAN CLASSIC (Purebred Arabians, 1m2f, dirt. Total purse $1.9m - $1.14m to winner)
JOCKEY CLUB LOCAL HANDICAP (1m1f, dirt. Total purse $500k - $300k to winner)
RIYADH DIRT SPRINT (6f, dirt. Total purse $1.5m - $900k to winner)
Entries include Americans Imperial Hint, Shancelot and Firenze Fire.
SAUDI DERBY (originally to have been called the4 Diriyah Dirt Mile) (1m, dirt. Total purse $800k)
As well as the Middle East, there are entries from the U.S. (trainers Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Peter Miller and Linda Rice are among those represented), Britain, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Argentina and Sweden.
1351 TURF SPRINT (6¾f, turf. Total purse $1m - $600k to winner)
Trainers represented include Todd Pletcher, Wesley Ward, Aidan O’Brien, Joseph O’Brien, Charlie Appleby, Saeed Bin Suroor and Francis Henri Graffard.
Entries will now be whittled down to final fields, based on ratings allocated by former BHA senior handicapper, Phil Smith. Final declarations and the post-position draw will be known on February 25.