Six top-class runners who look set to tackle the Saudi Cup

McKinzie winning the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August – one of four G1 wins for the likely star turn at February’s $20 million Saudi Cup. Photo: NYRA.com

The inaugural $20m Saudi Cup at Riyadh on February is global horse racing’s missing link. In providing a bridge between the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream on January 25 and the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on March 28, it provides the sport with a year-round calendar of top-class showpiece meetings with no abbreviation.

Now, we have reached the point where the idea of seasonality for top-class horses is finished. Once established at the G1 level, a horse can be targeted at super-rich prizes round the world as its connections please.

It’s not just middle-distance races we are talking about here either. The Saudi Cup’s undercard offers purses in excess of $1m for races on turf and dirt from six furlongs to nigh-on two miles. Now more than ever, the leading trainers and owners must look beyond domestic frontiers further and wider. The sport is now going global as never before.

Of course, this is also great news for TRC Global Rankings. The co-mingling of equine talent also brings jockeys, owners, trainers and sires into head-to-head competition so that we have even more chances to test the hierarchy established by our mathematics, and even more links with which to firmly establish the true global elite.

To this end, the time is now right to launch a classification of horses to go alongside that of human competitors and sires. It’s clear that the racing public does not trust the concept of ranking horses according to their best performance. Instead, when introduced, TRC Global Horse Rankings will broaden the scope of these classifications to rank horses on the basis of their resumes.

We are excited that the Saudi Cup fixture will provide several pan-global tests of these standings. Before then, there are several top races around the world that will serve to clarify the likely runners and riders, but let’s take a look at six horses whose connections have indicated an interest in making the trip to Riyadh racecourse for one of the big races:

McKINZIE

The Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up McKinzie is likely the star turn of the first Saudi Cup. The winner of six Graded stakes from 13 tries, including four G1s – the Whitney, Malibu, Pennsylvania Derby and Los Alamitos Futurity – he is one of the most credentialled Thoroughbreds on the planet. He sits at world #12 in our unpublished horse rankings.

McKinzie will find the nine furlongs of the Saudi Cup ideal. He has more than once given the impression a strongly-run ten furlongs stretches him (no wins in three starts at the trip) when a horse of similar merit looks him in the eye. Such was the case in the Classic, when he looked as if he had nothing left to give as Vino Rosso stretched by.

Bob Baffert, McKinzie’s trainer, has won the Dubai World Cup three times, including in 2001 with Captain Steve, who carried the same red-and-yellow colours of Mike Pegram. McKinzie is likely to go to post favourite if he lines up as anticipated.

MIDNIGHT BISOU

One of the first away from the blocks to realise the appeal of the Saudi Cup was the U.S. racing partnership of Bloom Racing Stable, Allen Racing and Madaket Stables, which campaigns the top-notch dirt miler MidnightBisou.

The 4-year-old started favourite for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and ran second to Blue Prize, halting a seven-race winning streak encompassing three G1s. The daughter of Midnight Lute will be skipping the Pegasus to enter the main event of the Saudi Cup fresh. Connections stated that the one-turn nine-furlong trip at Riyadh is right up her street.

The presence of the world’s top female dirt runner is great news for the Saudi Cup. In our soon-to-be published rankings, we have her #15 among all horses to have run in the last year. For reference, we have her Breeders’ Cup conqueror, Blue Prize, at #115.

TACITUS

The Saudi Cup field will be infused with not just talent but heft too should Tacitus make the line-up as planned. Garret O’Rourke, general manager of Juddmonte Farms, has confirmed that the 3-year-old will make his 2020 debut in the new race. The hulking stayer will therefore be a key representative for ‘the home team’ of Prince Khalid Abdullah.

Tacitus, trained by U.S. Hall of Famer Bill Mott, last raced when third in the ten-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on September 28. Though he gets behind in his races, a fast-run nine furlongs should hold no fears for him. After all, the son of Tapit had plenty to spare over the distance when winning the G2 Wood Memorial back in the spring.

Using that race to move him forward off a score in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, Tacitus again employed his strong-finishing style to reach the places in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, G2 Jim Dandy and G1 Travers. That is quite a CV – we have him #119 in the world – and he is confidently expected to improve a good deal on that in 2020.

TOM’S D’ETAT

Can a horse rising seven years old really be regarded as The Next Big Thing? If you did not know how old Tom’s D’Etat was, his victory in the G1 Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs last week would have stardom stamped all over it.

The son of Smart Strike has come as no surprise to his connections, at least. Last January, he was sent to the Pegasus World Cup and started under 20/1, after a wildly impressive pair of wins in minor company.

He could make no impact there, but he has really come on since. Placed behind McKinzie then Seeking The Soul in G2 races again at Churchill Downs, he went under by less than two lengths in the G1 Woodward at Saratoga – signalling that improvement was bubbling under.

Tom’s D’Etat delivered in no uncertain manner when winning the G2 Fayette at Keeneland by more than four lengths, then put up a career-best when beating the late-running Owendale last time. That puts him on the verge of being highly competitive in a race like this and there could be more to come – even in his seventh year.

GRONKOWSKI

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are currently missing the player for whom this top-notch runner was named, but the Saudi Cup will be graced with the horse’s presence, if all goes to plan.

Beaten a nose by Thunder Snow in this year’s G1 Dubai World Cup in March, the 4-year-old has remained in the care of Dubaian trainer Salem bin Ghadayer – a man who can improve horses no end when in his care for a prolonged spell.

Gronkowski first sprung to fame when second to Justify in the 2019 Belmont Stakes, forcing Bob Baffert’s runner to pull out the stops in his Triple Crown bid. He hasn’t won a race since, but the Meydan effort showed he is at least as good as ever, and this week he returned in a listed race at Meydan and ran a highly encouraging race to finish third, making a big run smoothly into the teeth of a hot pace to lead, then tiring as lack of condition told.

Reportedly, Saudi owner Khalid bin Mishref has bought into Gronkowski. This could prove a very shrewd move.

MATH WIZARD

Fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, for which he started at 50/1, Math Wizard would have only a puncher’s chance in this company again, but one has to commend his connections, John Fanelli and Collamele Vitelli Stables, for their enterprise. Such is the massive $20m pot that it is still a good bet for a horse with only place prospects to take its chance.

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