Ed Marnane: American dirt superstars Charlatan and Knicks Go can dominate the second running of the Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
Twelve months ago the race, worth a staggering $20m, was won by Maximum Security, leading home a 1-2-4-5 for American-trained horses.
Knicks Go has thrived since switched to Brad Cox early last year, reeling off four wins including the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile when lowering the track record with a devastating front-running performance. Four weeks ago, he won the $2.9m Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, making all, once again, under Joel Rosario.
Nicely drawn in stall No 5, Knicks Go could be hard to catch and will take plenty of stopping. He seeks to join the mighty Arrogate and reel off consecutive wins at the Breeders’ Cup, Pegasus World Cup and Saudi Cup.
Bob Baffert forays to the Middle East have historically been very successful, winning the Dubai World Cup three times. Lightly raced Charlatan, trained by Baffert, arrives in Saudi Arabia in top form, coming off an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita in late December following a near eight-month layoff.
The four-year-old was returning from a spell on the sidelines following surgery after sustaining an injury when winning a division of the Arkansas Derby, a race he subsequently lost after testing positive for a banned substance. He’s very unexposed, having just his fifth race.
Locally owned Mishriff, trained by John Gosden, looks the pick of the international contingent. He has form over the course when a staying on second to Flat Out in the Saudi Derby 12 months ago, a very decent effort on his dirt debut.
The Make Believe colt progressed back in Europe, winning the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) and returns to the Middle East an improved horse. He has each-way claims.
Space Blues, regarded as the banker on the card, spearheads Godolphin’s three-pronged assault on the 1351 Turf Sprint, Race 2. Winner of the Prix Maurice de Gheest (Group 1), he is well clear on ratings and is the class act of the race.
However, he will start a short-priced favourite and doesn’t represent value. He lacks a recent run and I have fears the ground could be too fast.
Glorious Journey, a fast-finishing third behind Dark Power in last year’s renewal, caught the eye on his recent comeback at Meydan, staying on nicely to run third behind Land Of Legends. With the benefit of the run, he can reverse the form with the winner, who renews rivalry and has the services of in-form rider Adrie de Vries for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Dark Power caused a massive surprise 12 months ago, getting up close home under an inspired ride from Frankie Dettori. The Bahrain raider, trained by Allan Smith, demands obvious respect as the Italian rider has remained loyal, having partnered Land Of Legends to victory in the recent Al Fahidi Fort.
In the Saudi Derby, Race 6, Godolphin are represented by Rebel’s Romance and Soft Whisper, both attack the $1.5m event in form and hold strong claims. They’ve progressed since switching to dirt, winning the 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas trial at Meydan respectively.
Preference is the latter, the Saeed bin Suroor-trained filly made a big impression when running out an emphatic winner of the opening UAE Classic, taking on a big step forward on her previous victory in the prep race.
She’s nicely drawn in stall seven and the booking of top US rider Mike Smith is eye-catching, replacing Frankie Dettori who is booked to ride New Treasure for his retained stable.
Rebel Romance had to work hard to get the better of Mouheeb on his dirt debut last month, the pair pulling seven lengths clear of their eight rivals. Charlie Appleby’s unbeaten Dubawi colt is a big, scopey horse. He is open to plenty of improvement on just the fifth run of his career and makes plenty of appeal.
Hatm, unbeaten in four starts since her debut, leads the local challenge. On the official ratings, she needs to improve to keep prize at home, taking on the formidable Godolphin challenge. Twelve months the local horses largely struggled behind the overseas raiders in the Saudi Derby.
Steve Asmussen returns for another tilt at the race with Cowan, winner of one of his seven races, 12 months after Rowdy Yates finished a creditable fourth for the top US trainer. Cowan won’t lack for fitness, last month he ran second in the Smarty Jones (Listed) at Oaklawn Park. Rated 111, he’s proven on dirt and if the ratings can be trusted, he should be right in the mix.
The Neom Turf Cup, over 2100m on turf, kicks off the action. In a trappy contest, the US raider Channel Maker, twice a winner at Grade 1 level last year, gets the vote. Trained by Bill Mott, he was a good third behind top-class Irish racemares Tarnawa and Magical in the Breeders’ Cup Turf when last seen. He’s ideally berthed in stall No 3 for a confirmed front-runner and if allowed an easy time in front, he could be hard to pass.
The Irish pair True Self and Saltonstall merit respect, along with Charlie Hills-trained Tilsit, a progressive colt. He has won half of his four races and is very unexposed, unlike most of his rivals.
The stayer’s showpiece, the Red Sea Turf Handicap, Race 3, sees last year’s winner Call The Wind return to defend his crown. Trained in France by Freddy Head, he has to concede weight to his 12 rivals and is higher in the weights this year.
In an open race, the globe-trotting Prince Of Arran, who has been placed in the last three Melbourne Cups, is respected with Frankie Dettori booked. He would have needed his recent comeback at Kempton and ran well in last year’s renewal, finishing third.
2 CHANNEL MAKER 12 TRUE SELF 10 TILSIT 7 SALTONSTALL
3 GLORIOUS JOURNEY 2 DARK POWER 9 SPACE BLUES 5 LAND OF LEGENDS
2 PRINCE OF ARRAN 1 CALL THE WIND 3 SECRET ADVISOR 8 SPANISH MISSION
11 TALLAABALKHALEDIAH 6 MUBASHERALKHALEDIAH 8 RB FRYNCHH DUDE 5 MASHHURALKHALEDIAH
1 ALBATHALY 5 ALNAJIM ALBAAHER 3 DERWAS 12 BE AZN ALLAH
11 SOFT WHISPER 8 REBEL’S ROMANCE 2 COWAN 9 HATM
6 MATERA SKY 13 SWITZERLAND 8 NEW YORK CENTRAL 7 MAYPOLE
3 CHARLATAN 8 KNICKS GO 11 MISHRIFF 14 TACITUS
Race 8 No 3 Charlatan
Race 2 No 3 Glorious Journey
Race 2 No 3 Glorious Journey and No 2 Dark Power
Leg 1: 1, 3, 5
Leg 2: 2, 8, 11
Leg 3: 6, 8, 13
Leg 4: 3, 8