The first ever Saudi Cup Day already has a quality in common with other major international events – fields deep enough to find classy contenders at a price. Whether you’re taking stabs against certain favorites or just seeking to add value to the exotics, here are a few worthy of considering at the odds.
1ST Race – Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup
#9 Deirdre, the 4-5 morning-line favorite for a reason, ought to win as the class of the field. But there’s a good chance that an overlay will follow her home, and #8 Trais Fluors (20-1) has a sneaky look.
Bought at last year’s Arqana Arc Sale with Saudi, and possibly Dubai, in view, the son of Dansili made his first start for new connections in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). That was too ambitious, but in hindsight, it has the look of a trial run for trainer Ken Condon who had only just gotten him. Given Trais Fluors’ past Group 1 form, and the fact he’s still relatively unexposed at around this trip, he might be sitting on one of his better efforts. Ballydoyle blueblood Mount Everest still has plenty of upside himself, the caveat being that he’ll offer a much shorter price.
2ND Race – 1351 Cup
Veterans Sir Dancealot and Glorious Journey are logical (as is Suedois who ideally wants a few more yards), but in such a well-matched turf sprint, the suspicion is that a longer shot can jump up in the right circumstances. Although you can make a case for several of that profile, I characteristically continue to give chances to horses I’ve expected to show more – #7 Legends of War (15-1) and #8 Momkin (8-1).
Momkin, a homebred for Saudi Prince Faisal, would be even more attractive if he drifts above his morning line. A “nearly” horse last year as a sophomore, he was just a neck off Suedois in the Supreme (G3) at Glorious Goodwood. The Bated Breath colt has since switched yards to William Haggas, and I have hope that the 4-year-old Momkin can put it all together.
Legends of War scored his biggest win in the Franklin-Simpson (G3) at Kentucky Downs over 6 1/2 furlongs, suggesting that this about 6 3/4-furlong distance suits him much better than the turf dashes in California. A smart debut winner when trained by John Gosden, the Scat Daddy colt hopes to pick up on trainer Doug O’Neill’s momentum from the Dubai Carnival.
3RD Race – Longines Turf H.
#1 Cross Counter finds this about 1 7/8-mile trip right in his wheelhouse, but the 9-5 favorite is worse off at the weights with #3 Call the Wind (7-1) than when they met in last year’s Dubai Gold Cup (G2). Call the Wind gave the Godolphin runner 6 pounds that day and finished about 4 1/4 lengths back in third. Trainer Freddie Head believes that the son of Frankel is doing better for the rematch, and he also gets 3 pounds from 136-pound co-highweight Cross Counter. It would not be a surprise if Call the Wind turns the tables with the favorable shift in the weights.
I’ve long been a fan of fellow French shipper #4 Called to the Bar (8-1), who beat Call the Wind handily in last spring’s Prix Vicomtesse Vigier (G2). The Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot proved much too far, and the Hong Kong Vase (G1) a bit too short in that company, but he’s admirably consistent when sticking to around this distance.
6TH Race – Saudi Derby
When #1 Bella Fever overcame a long layoff to win her Dubai debut, the vibe from trainer Mike de Kock was unmistakable: he’s excited about the unbeaten Uruguayan import. I was too until seeing her installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite here. There’s another of interest at five times the price in #8 Mishriff (15-1).
A half-brother to Momkin, the Gosden-trained Mishriff graduated third time out in a 10-length rout at Nottingham. The key is that came on heavy ground, and there’s a school of thought that horses who enjoy soft turf take to the Saudi dirt (as mentioned in the Racing Post story regarding the sale of Great Scot for the Saudi Cup). If so, Mishriff could be a bigger player in this race than the odds imply. He’s regarded well enough to have an Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) entry.
7TH Race – Saudia Sprint
Hoping for the lovable #4 Imperial Hint to assert his class as the 4-5 favorite. And in recognition of that class, it’s worth recalling that #7 Matera Sky (12-1) finished ahead of Imperial Hint when placing second to the ill-fated X Y Jet in last year’s Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). Matera Sky hasn’t run up to that level since, most recently flopping in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), but the Japanese contender can turn in a top effort on his day.
8TH Race – Saudi Cup
From my strict form perspective, #8 McKinzie rates as the leading American chance on paper, and the one-turn 9 furlongs should be ideal. Yet I’m not always convinced of his determination if eyeballed. Unbeaten Japanese dirt champion #3 Chrysoberyl (10-1) proved his mettle last out. The winner of his first five starts by a combined margin of 26 lengths, Chrysoberyl had his first real tussle in the Champions Cup (G1), but muscled through to defeat past champion Gold Dream in record time. Although this is obviously a new order of magnitude, Chrysoberyl is not to be underestimated.
#12 Tacitus (15-1) figures to attract more support than the morning line indicates, but he still might be a decent price. Fresh, with a sharp blow-out on this track, not far off the best of his generation, and arguably one good trip away from a major score, he picks up Jose Lezcano who has Saudi experience. And would there be a more fitting owner to win the first Saudi Cup than Prince Khalid Abdullah?
#11 North America (30-1), my failed 2019 Dubai World Cup (G1) pick, has a high cruising speed that can be effective in these conditions. The rub is that he’s hostage to the break and how the other pace players, notably Maximum Security, sort themselves out. But the Dubawi gelding is well drawn in post 4, and if he’s in his comfort zone early, he can outperform his odds. Forgive his narrow loss Jan. 9 at Meydan – he punctured his frog, and his foot was literally bleeding. Trainer Satish Seemar reports that North America is in grand form now.