Potential value plays and longshots for 2023 Saudi Cup Day

February 24th, 2023

While the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) gets the lion’s share of attention, the five Thoroughbred stakes on the undercard likewise offer top-class competition with a global flair — and accordingly attractive betting opportunities.

I’ll highlight horses of interest, at times labelling a potential best value at the price or a preferred longshot. You might consider using them “each-way” or as part of your wagering strategy in the exotics.

The opener (7:45 a.m. ET) is a local handicap, followed by the Obaiya Arabian Classic (8:25 a.m. ET), so we’ll pick up the thread with the Thoroughbred stakes action.

Race 3, Neom Turf Cup (G3) — 9:05 a.m. ET

As noted in the Saudi Cup Day prospectus, I’ve been looking forward to #6 Missed the Cut (4-1), but judging by his morning line, he’ll be a popular choice. The George Boughey trainee shaped like the proverbial Group horse in a Royal Ascot handicap last summer, and with his frenetic finish at Lingfield, he mugged Algiers, now a hot commodity for the Dubai World Cup (G1). If his price contracts any further, Missed the Cut could end up as an underlay.

Amid the excitement over the bright fresh face, might #7 Mostahdaf (6-1 potential value) get overlooked here? If so, he could be the value play. The Shadwell homebred has a history of running well fresh for John and Thady Gosden, including his 2022 comeback score in the Gordon Richards (G3) at Sandown. Forget his tailed-off last in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) on very soft going; these conditions suit him better. He might want further as the season progresses, but as a launching pad, the about 1 5/16-mile trip should be fine.

While Saeed bin Suroor’s #3 Dubai Future (10-1 longshot) has something to find on European form with both Mostahdaf and #9 Sir Busker (6-1), he’s capable of jumping up as he did in Bahrain.

Race 4, 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) — 9:45 a.m. ET

This turf sprint strikes me as completely up for grabs, so why not swing for the fences with #5 Lusail (20-1 longshot)? Although apparently not as fancied as his Richard Hannon stablemate #9 Happy Romance (6-1), who missed narrowly in third here last year, Lusail has the appeal of a onetime classic participant. The Mehmas colt was not disgraced when sixth in the 2000 Guineas (G1), despite a troubled trip, and he came within a head of upsetting the St. James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot. Lusail is arguably a sprinter at heart, though, and on his best form, he stacks up well here. When third in the about seven-furlong Prix Jean Prat (G1), he was marginally in front of eventual Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) champion Modern Games. The quick ground will be ideal, and he picks up James Doyle, who has had a fine Dubai Carnival.

Although I’d put in a word for #11 Songline (2-1) when she won a year ago from the classy #2 Casa Creed (4-1), the defending champion returns at a much skimpier price off a layoff. The Japanese hope to back this time might be #1 Bathrat Leon (10-1 potential value), for the astute Yoshito Yahagi. Campaigned at a mile or beyond throughout his career, he tried about seven furlongs last time in the Hanshin Cup (G2) and finished a close fourth. Bathrat Leon is proven on the road, having stunned the 2022 Godolphin Mile (G2), and he led a long way before finishing fourth to Baaeed and Modern Games in the one-mile Sussex (G1).

Race 5, Red Sea Turf H. (G3) — 10:25 a.m. ET

If top-weight #1 Subjectivist (3-1) can’t furnish a fairy-tale result in his comeback from a serious tendon injury, what about the chances of the other son of Teofilo, #6 Get Shirty (30-1 longshot)? A progressive handicapper since joining David O’Meara, he scored a hat trick last summer before finishing a deceptively-good fifth as the co-highweight (along with #3 Enemy [20-1]) in the valuable Ebor H. Get Shirty was giving Ebor winner #2 Trawlerman (8-1) nine pounds that day, and now Trawlerman has to concede him four pounds on Saturday. From a deep German family, Get Shirty has been building up to this with a pair of warm-ups at Meydan.

Speaking of Germany, I’ve also got to mention the 2021 German Derby (G1) hero #8 Sisfahan (10-1), who’s taking a step into the unknown at this about 1 7/8-mile distance. But if he translates his old form — when placing to future Arc winners Torquator Tasso and Alpinista — he’d be right there. Connections have long intended to try Sisfahan in this spot, only an injury ruled him out of the 2022 running. Indeed, last season was basically a rebuilding phase.

Race 6, Saudi Derby (G3) — 11:05 a.m. ET

My whole reading of the Saudi Derby (G3) hinges on Bob Baffert’s #12 Havnameltdown (3-1) not quite seeing out the metric mile. I’m relying on a stouter finisher in #8 Continuar (9-2 potential value), whom Yahagi has reportedly pegged as the best of the Japanese sophomores on dirt. He’s a tad unlucky to have been beaten by #9 Derma Sotogake (3-1) two starts back at Hanshin, so I view Derma Sotogake’s subsequent victory in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun as a further compliment to Continuar. It’s also a plus that Continuar shortened up to win the Cattleya S., around a similar one-turn mile as the Saudi Derby. Hideyuki Mori won the first two editions of the Saudi Derby, and #11 From Dusk (10-1) is likely the better of his pair.

To think outside the American/Japanese box, there are a couple of Uruguayan-raced contenders arriving via Dubai. #2 Loreley (10-1 longshot) brought a big reputation before flopping in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, where #1 Es-Unico (20-1) ran a solid second. But Loreley scoped dirty afterward, and chances are he can put forth a more characteristic effort here, at multiples of his starting price as the joint-favorite at Meydan.

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

My suspicion is that Japan’s defending champion #1 Dancing Prince (2-1) will find this a lot tougher with top U.S. sprinters on the scene. #2 Elite Power (3-1) is the one to beat as the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion, but compatriot #4 Gunite (6-1 potential value) is an admirably gritty fighter. Wildcard #6 Meraas (30-1) was a smart Dubai sprinter before joining Chad Summers in New York, although he’ll face sterner pace pressure here.

Team Japan’s best chance could be #8 Remake (10-1 longshot), who dominated the Capella (G3) from far off the pace. The Capella has been a key race for Saudi. Not only did it launch Dancing Prince a year ago, but the 2021 Riyadh Dirt Sprint winner, Copano Kicking, had also captured the Capella twice earlier in his career. With his ferocious closing kick, Remake would benefit from a pace collapse. He’s also a sentimental choice as he tries to give retiring jockey Yuichi Fukunaga a parting gift.

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

After suffering tough beats in the past two Saudi Cups, Baffert should be in a stronger position this time. #10 Taiba (5-2) has a deeper foundation than his brilliant 2021 near-misser, Charlatan, and #2 Country Grammer (6-1) is fitter than attempting this race off the bench a year ago. They have a right to monopolize the finish. Yet we’ve seen the unexpected happen here. Theoretically, Taiba could get embroiled in an early pace war on the inside. That would help the stamina-laden Country Grammer. But this one-turn affair is still a bit short of his ideal distance, and Saturday’s renewal might prove deeper than last year’s.

My preferred longshot is one of Japan’s hopefuls going turf-to-dirt — #5 Geoglyph (20-1 longshot). Trained by Tetsuya Kimura, who sent out Authority to win last year’s Neom Turf Cup, Geoglyph gets Christophe Lemaire, who rode four winners on 2022 Saudi Cup Day. But his connections aren’t the main reason for endorsing him. First, Geoglyph was among a terrific crop of three-year-olds last season, and he captured the first jewel of the Japanese Triple Crown, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1), over stablemate and eventual Horse of the Year Equinox.

Geoglyph lost his three ensuing starts, but his troubled sixth in the Dec. 11 Hong Kong Cup (G1) gives him pretty useful international form versus elders. Second, Geoglyph’s pedigree offers a lot of hope for the surface switch. In fact, he’s bred on the same cross as Saudi Derby contender Continuar — by U.S. champion sprinter Drefong out of a King Kamehameha mare. Third, Geoglyph’s robust physique makes me think dirt. He’s drawn wide out of the kickback, and he’ll see out the trip.

While it would be incredible for #4 Emblem Road (10-1) to shock the world again, his stablemate, #9 Scotland Yard (20-1), could be the under-the-radar local to exceed expectations. The former Steve Asmussen trainee — out of a half-sister to Beholder, Into Mischief, and Mendelssohn — is treated in depth here.

Best of luck on Saudi Cup Day!