2022 Saudi Cup: Price horses of interest on terrific betting card

February 25th, 2022

Saturday’s Saudi Cup Day is brimming with full, competitive fields, and the six Thoroughbred stakes will abound in value.

You can make cases for varying degrees of price horses, from likely overlays to those with bomb potential, throughout the card. Here are the contenders who could represent the best combination of price and performance.

Neom Turf Cup (G3) – Race 1 (7:45 a.m. ET)

#2 Authority (2-1) and #9 Pyledriver (3-1) are the fancies for a reason, but both have made their names going farther. In contrast, this about 1 5/16-mile trip is right in the wheelhouse of #12 Ebaiyra (8-1), who kicked off 2021 by running down well-regarded Raabihah twice. The Aga Khan homebred has held her own versus males at about 1 1/2 miles, gamely chasing future Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) runner-up Broome in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) and placing third in the Hong Kong Vase (G1). This shorter distance should showcase Ebaiyra’s turn of foot. Post 13 hasn’t helped my enthusiasm, but she has the tactical speed to mitigate it, and the hood can sharpen her. New trainer Francis-Henri Graffard, who took over from the retired Alain de Royer-Dupre, has sounded very pleased with her this week.

At much bigger odds, #5 Grocer Jack (20-1) and #8 Passion and Glory (30-1) can make their presence felt. German-bred Grocer Jack gets his optimal conditions, and last fall’s Tattersalls Horses in Training Sale topper is eligible to improve in his first start for William Haggas. Saeed bin Suroor’s Passion and Glory had neither in the Dubai Carnival, but he threw in clunkers at Meydan last year too before becoming rampantly progressive in England.

1351 Turf Sprint (G3) – Race 2 (8:25 a.m. ET)

I wasn’t on the #7 Naval Crown (3-1) bandwagon even before he drew post 14, so that development only reinforces my interest in alternatives. Although #1 Casa Creed (8-1) has claims to become the latest American turf sprinter to prosper abroad, Japanese filly #14 Songline (6-1) might be too good as she shortens up slightly. She has the ability to travel on the bridle just off a hot pace before surging, and she’s won at about seven furlongs in 1:20.6 around left-handed Chukyo (albeit a year ago, in the video below). Songline beat older males in the Fuji (G2), even though a metric mile stretches her a bit. And she almost captured last spring’s NHK Mile Cup (G1), only nabbed by top-class colt Schnell Meister, who gives her collateral form with champion Gran Alegria. If Songline’s really a sprinter at heart, she’ll handle this.

The superfecta could resemble a lottery. If #11 Thunder Moon (20-1) is frustrating, at least the turning sprint should bring out the best in him, and he has the Joseph O’Brien factor in his first try outside of Europe. The Andrew Balding-trained #4 Happy Power (20-1) has to deal with post 13, but he too fits the profile of a horse whose preferred scenario is seven furlongs on a turn. The son of Dark Angel was a near-miss third in last summer’s Lennox (G2) at right-handed Glorious Goodwood, where Space Blues (the winner of this race) was fourth.

Red Sea Turf H. (G3) – Race 3 (9:05 a.m. ET)

Considering how 137-pound highweights have failed to make the trifecta in the first two runnings, #1 Sonnyboyliston (3-1) has to defy the emerging trend. And the weights could be key to sifting the other contenders as well. A couple of weight shifts from prior starts can produce form reversals, elevating better-priced options over logical win candidates.

Bin Suroor’s #5 Dubai Future (12-1) was no match for #9 Siskany (9-2) last out at Meydan, but he was conceding five pounds as well as tactical position. While Siskany could be the latest Appleby revelation, he has to confirm the form in possibly less advantageous circumstances in the rematch. Dubai Future now concedes only one pound and reunites with Pat Cosgrave, who steered him to a dominant win two back from a better spot. It could be significant that Dubai Future was fifth in last year’s productive Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) behind Mishriff, Chrono Genesis, Loves Only You, and Walton Street.

Although #11 Glycon (12-1) has to prove himself at the distance, the Jean-Claude Rouget trainee was a candidate for the 2021 Melbourne Cup (G1). The well-bred son of Le Havre was on an upward curve in the second half of the season, until a third in the Prix Royal-Oak (G1) in his first try at a staying trip. Glycon now meets the Royal-Oak runner-up, #3 Skazino (6-1), on more favorable terms, and we haven’t seen the best of him yet. Capable frontrunner #7 Nayef Road (20-1) looks overpriced, especially since he has the benefit of prep under his belt for Mark and Charlie Johnston.

Race 4 is a local handicap and Race 5 is for Arabians, so we’ll skip ahead.

Saudi Derby (G3) – Race 6 (10:25 a.m. ET)

It would be no surprise if the American dirt form of #9 Pinehurst (5-2) holds sway. At the same time, this isn’t the easiest track for a colt who could find the metric mile at the upper end of his register. If Appleby is right that #8 Noble Truth (9-2) handles dirt, the Group 1 runner-up would be tough to oppose.

Yet as a creature of patterns, I can’t resist the chances of Japan winning this race for the third time. With his proficiency around one turn, and plenty of racetrack experience, #10 Sekifu (10-1) has appeal. The son of Henny Hughes squeezed through a tight spot to capture the Hyogo Junior Grand Prix over Combustion, who’s since won the Hyacinth S. on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. Sekifu was only fourth in his Japan Road try, the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, where Combustion was second. I believe that Sekifu regressed, possibly due to the stretch-out to two turns. Granted, a one-turn mile could still be a question for the half-brother to Grade 1-winning sprinter Big Arthur, but he’s worth the risk at the price.

Unbeaten compatriot #5 Consigliere (8-1) has no stamina question. The Drefong colt did look a bit lazy in winning the Cattleya S. on the Japan Road, though, and he’ll need to stay sharp to the end here. Appleby’s #11 Sovereign Prince (15-1) brings recency, a three-race winning streak, and a dirt-friendly pedigree. Perhaps most important, the honest gelding persuaded Godolphin to supplement him here.

Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) – Race 7 (11:45 a.m. ET)

In the absence of Ginobili, defending champion #2 Copano Kicking (5-2) and American expat #10 Switzerland (3-1) are prominent. Neither inspires an abundance of confidence. Another Japanese hopeful, #3 Dancing Prince (9-2), could shorten as he’s in peak form off a victory in the Capella (G3).

Switzerland’s stablemate from the Bhupat Seemar yard, #6 Gladiator King (8-1), has real upset potential if he’s fit enough. Seemar reported that he’s been training very well since getting over a quarter-crack after his comeback loss in the slop. Third in this race in 2020, Gladiator King boasts back class in both the U.S. and the Dubai Carnival. In such an open-looking renewal, it might be worth going out further on the limb for #11 Rudy Trigger (12-1). After spread-eagling his elders in Argentine Group 2, the Maria Munoz trainee was anchored by a 137-pound impost in his Dubai debut. Rudy Trigger sped to the lead but couldn’t sustain it past midstretch at Meydan and checked in fourth. Still a sophomore by Southern Hemisphere standards, he gets in with a much more doable 122-pound impost here. It wouldn’t be a shock if he keeps going.

Saudi Cup (G1) – Race 8 (12:35 p.m. ET)

The world’s richest race could become a showdown between defending champion #9 Mishriff (9-2) and #7 Mandaloun (5-2). But the field is deep enough for others to interrupt the narrative. Godolphin’s streaking #10 Real World (20-1) is a massive price for a horse of his talent, especially because we might not know his ceiling yet. Just as Mishriff benefited from his prior dirt loss here, and returned triumphant as an older, wiser campaigner, so can Real World benefit from his 2021 Dubai Carnival reverses on dirt. Bin Suroor is categorical that he’s a far stronger horse now. In principle, the one-turn, 1 1/8-mile configuration suits him, if he handles the dirt. His pedigree gives him a realistic shot, as a son of Dark Angel out of a mare by the versatile Dubawi. Real World could strike a blow for the original Godolphin tandem, as Frankie Dettori has the ride, and bin Suroor was delighted with post 4.

Japanese champion #13 T O Keynes (10-1) telegraphed his international credentials when slamming Chuwa Wizard, last year’s Dubai World Cup (G1) third, in the Champions Cup (G1). His less-accomplished compatriot #14 Marche Lorraine (20-1) was well behind him last summer, before stunning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). The only scruple is that T O Keynes broke poorly two back, resulting in his only loss of 2021, and needed remedial gate work before rebounding last time. Jockey Kohei Matsuyama also said he hopes to break well Saturday.

Uruguayan superstar #1 Aero Trem (30-1) could outperform his odds, partly because of his extraordinary reliability, but also because of the surface. His assistant trainer commented that the King Abdulaziz Racetrack dirt is similar to his home track of Maronas, and a better fit for him than the dirt at Meydan where he’s been training. Also, note that Saudi Prince Sultan bin Mishal bin Abdulaziz just recruited him to run under his banner.

Good luck on Saudi Cup Day!