Comments from trainers and their assistants following track work on Friday for the $20-million Saudi Cup on Saturday.
The race is run over 1800m.
Bangkok (IRE) – Andrew Balding sent Bangkok to Saudi Arabia fully tuned-up, having won a prep-race at Lingfield two weeks ago.
“He’s had a winter campaign, so he’s gone there plenty fit enough and it all seems to be going well,” Balding said. “First time on the surface is a big question mark but we did always have the race in our minds and when we got the invitation. I think a strongly-run race will suit.
It’s a big ask, certainly, but the rewards are so great. It’s really exciting for everyone to have a runner in a race like this.”
Charlatan (USA) – The Bob Baffert-trained American contender completed his preparations on Friday morning for the 1800m race by standing in the starting gate under his regular morning partner Umberto Gomez. Once backed out, the pair completed a circuit of the dirt track.
“Perfect,” said Baffert’s longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes when asked to assess the son of Speightstown’s foray into the starting gate.
Summing up Charlatan’s time in Saudi Arabia Barnes said: “We’ve been here the longest of anybody. The weather has been very pleasant this year. It’s been very easy.”
The fact that Charlatan his been lightly raced with only four starts under his belt doesn’t seem to be a concern heading into the Saudi Cup. “He had a few setbacks earlier in the year last year but he’s strong and healthy right now,” Barnes said.
He returned to the races in December with an impressive win in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita Park teeing him up for the trip overseas. “We were so excited. We knew he had it in in but for him to show up that day like he did off the layoff was outstanding.”
Never beaten through the finish in four trips to the post, Charlatan is one of the top international contenders for the race. His speed from the gate and nine-post draw should set him up nicely for an expected early battle with fellow US-based runner Knicks Go, who drew post position five in the 14-horse lineup.
“His main attribute is speed and his speed carries on,” Barnes added. “I would say he will be forwardly placed (in the race).
“Knicks Go – I’m glad he drew to the inside of us. We should have a good opportunity to see where he’s going to sit in the race and I would imagine we will be very close together. He’s a very smart horse. We’ll put him in the gate and he will carry Mike (jockey Smith) on from there.”
Chuwa Wizard (JPN) – The very consistent dirt performer in Japan and last year’s Grade 1 Champions Cup winner had an easy canter on the dirt track before he practiced in the starting gate.
“He shipped to Dubai last year but had to fly back to Japan due to the cancelation of the race meetings. I think the travel experiences helped him a lot this time,” trainer Ryuji Okubo said.
“Last year he lost 10kg during the trip to Dubai, but this year he only lost 4kg when he flew into Saudi Arabia. He is enjoying it here, he is feeling really good. He is a very straightforward horse.
“He will start from barrier one, so we can make ground all the way through the race. I understand the American horses are very fast, but I expect Chuwa Wizard can track them and overtake them with his strong closing speed.”
Extra Elusive (GB) – The 6-year-old gelding did some light exercise on the training track on Friday morning.
“The preparation has gone really well,” said trainer Roger Charlton from the UK. “Extra Elusive is a fairly highly-strung horse and had not travelled before, and therefore I was concerned before his departure that he would be not fully relaxed once there.
“But that’s been completely wrong; he’s been very good, eating well and drinking well, resting. Out at exercise he’s been relaxed and moving well, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have gone.
“This morning he just had a light exercise on the training track, jogging and cantering round, came back and everyone seems very happy with him. Fingers crossed at the moment, the horse has done everything that we hoped he might do for us.”
Knicks Go (USA) – Trainer Brad Cox is amid a banner period in his career. Fresh off winning the Eclipse Award as champion American trainer of 2020, he has three serious contenders for the Kentucky Derby (topped by champion Essential Quality), fan favourite and multi-seasonal champion Monomoy Girl about to start her 2021 campaign and Breeders’ Cup-winning Aunt Pearl preparing for a possible Royal Ascot invasion.
Meanwhile, another Breeders’ Cup champ Knicks Go, who galloped a spirited 1600m on Friday morning under assistant trainer Dustin Dugas, is ready for Saturday on the heels of a resounding success in the Pegasus World Cup.
“It’s been a great run and I have a great group of talented assistants who work extremely hard and allow me to have multiple strings and put us in position to acquire horses like Knicks Go, Mandaloun, Monomoy Girl and Essential Quality. It’s what you work for, to have these great horses.” Cox said. “It’s very rewarding when you put a plan together and it works out and it’s been a great run. I owe so much of it to our help and the owners for giving us serious horseflesh.”
Cox was especially proud of assistant Dugas, a 28-year-old Louisiana native and ex-jockey who has proven a vital part of the empire over the past few years.
Dustin is definitely a huge part of the operation, especially our New York string and now our Palm Meadows (Florida) string,” Cox explained. “He is a fantastic horseman, a great rider – there’s nothing he can’t ride – and obviously he’s incredibly organised and does a great job. He’s exactly what you look for in an assistant and he’s extremely gifted.”
Dugas has been aboard the likes of many of the headlining equines, with his talent of calming horses down in their exercise put to the test with the notoriously keen Knicks Go.
“He loves to train and is so difficult to handle sometimes,” Dugas said. “But he has a lot of talent, obviously, and is sitting on a big race. He’s very, very fast and is extremely tough.”
Max Player (USA) – The Steve Asmussen trainee kept his work confined to the quarantine area again on Friday after schooling in the gate on Thursday.
Military Law (GB) – Owner Nasir Askar and trainer Musabbeh Al Mheiri were on hand to watch Military Law negotiate a blowout breeze down the lane under Antonio Fresu on Friday morning. Fresu quickly jumped off Military Law and did the same for stc 1351 Turf Sprint contender Royal Dornoch, whom Al Mheiri trains for Abdulwahhab Misbah Rajab Altireeki.
Fresu said: “We worked almost three furlongs, both of them, and they both started slow and both went in about 37 seconds for the (600m).
“Military Law felt great. When I pulled up, he kind of stood up and looked around and pricked his ears and wasn’t blowing at all. He’s ready and he’s a little bit fitter than last time (before winning in Dubai), but feels just as prepared.
“Nothing has changed much with him because in the morning’s he’s laid back, but with him, he will pull when he goes too slow. In a good canter or breeze, he goes about 70% and takes care of himself. He was looking around a lot today in the beginning, but the good thing is he cooled out quickly and when we pulled up, he started pulling and didn’t want to finish and go home.”
He added: “Royal Dornoch was very good today—much better than yesterday. He was calm and didn’t get as sweaty; more focused on the (blowout). I think he knows he’s about to race, because he was much better today and very strong in the lane.”
Mishriff (IRE) – Prince A A Faisal’s retained jockey David Egan has been aboard Mishriff for the last three mornings at track work.
He said: “Similar to last year, Mishriff has been thriving since he arrived here in Riyadh. He seems to really enjoy the style of training and the surface here in Saudi Arabia. He looks amazing, feels fresh and has been moving fluently up to the race.”
Ted Voute, racing manager to Mishriff’s owner/breeder Prince A A Faisal, added: “Mishriff looks stronger again since I saw him in Newmarket at the end of last year and he has travelled extremely well. He has thrived over the winter. He looks well and ready for the race.
“David rode him yesterday and said he changed legs easily going into the turns and was a natural from that point of view. We’re looking forward to the race. The dirt track has embedded since last year and is probably a little faster than last year, although the jockeys were saying it rode a bit deeper yesterday than the day before, so it will be interesting to see how it is prepared for Saudi Cup day.”
Simsir (IRE) – Will attempt to give trainer and co-owner Fawzi Nass a second memorable Saudi Cup evening when he stars on Saturday in the main event. Last year, the identical connections of Nass, Victorious (owner) and jockey Adrie de Vries teamed up to upset the Neom Turf Cup with Port Lions.
“He feels good right now,” Nass said. “Obviously after winning the Bahrain International, which was a hard race, he had a bit of freshening up into the Crown Prince Cup three weeks ago. Although he missed the break that day, he ran on well to finish fourth. I think it was the ideal scenario for a prep run for here.”
De Vries added: “The horse is training well on the dirt and his gallops on the surface in Bahrain have been very good. Fawzi is pretty confident that he takes to it.
“I think they will they will go hard in the race and he doesn’t have to be up close or have the lead. He just needs to get in his own stride. He’s drawn a little wide, but that might be good as far as kickback goes.”
Sleepy Eyes Todd (USA) – The very aptly named Sleepy Eyes Todd, instantly recognisable by the yellow bandages that he sports in the morning and the far away look after which he has been named, came onto the dirt track at the usual time on Friday morning. His rider José Sandoval, who is trainer Miguel Angel Silva’s assistant, was on board and he said: “I just jogged him one lap. He is well, ready for the big day.”
Tacitus (USA) – After his typical morning routine of watching the proceedings and having a gallop, the Bill Mott-trained son of Tapit stood in the starting gate Friday morning under assistant trainer Neil Poznansky, who has piloted the 5-year-old grey horse throughout his stay. Poznansky gave a thumbs up after the pair was backed out of the gate.
Fifth in the inaugural edition of the Saudi Cup, Mott is hopeful that having a year more growth and maturity under his belt will help ensure a better placing than in 2020.
“He’s a year older and he’s stronger,” Mott said from the United States on Thursday evening. “We think he’s more ready for the challenge. We know it’s a good field, a competitive field but we think he belongs and we’re optimistic about his chances.” – Thesaudicup.com.sa
TAB will be betting on the entire meeting and it will be shown live on Tellytrack.
All races will be commingled for Win, Place, Exacta, Swinger, Trifecta, Quartet, Double (Races 2-3; 6-7; 7-8), Pick 3 (Races 1-3; 6-8).
SA POOLS: Place Accumulator (RACES 2-8), Jackpot (RACES 5-8).