Saudi Cup: Gift Box could surprise more heralded rivals

January 9th, 2020

Maximum Security, McKinzie, or Midnight Bisou?

The three “Ms” are dominating early discussions of the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Saudi Arabia, scheduled to take place Feb. 29.

The world’s richest horse race will be held over 1 1/8 miles around one turn, a configuration favorable to all three of the favorites. Not only have Maximum Security, McKinzie, and Midnight Bisou all won Grade 1 races going 1 1/8 miles, they’ve all shown the brilliance necessary to win top-level races around one turn. It’s easy to understand why fans are abuzz about their prospects for the Saudi Cup.

But with $20 million on the line, the depth of the Saudi Cup figures to run deep. If Gift Box makes the trip, there could be an upset brewing.

While Gift Box isn’t as heralded as the favorites, on his best day he’s been every bit their equal. Conditioned in California by trainer John Sadler, this 7-year-old son of Twirling Candy defeated McKinzie by a nose in the 2019 Santa Anita H. (G1), when he showed tenacity to battle back and win the 1 1/4-mile race with a 105 Brisnet Speed rating.

Gift Box recently returned from a 6 1/2-month layoff in the 1 1/16-mile San Antonio (G2) on Dec. 28 at Santa Anita, where he delivered a powerful performance. Sent straight to the lead by jockey Joel Rosario, Gift Box carved out a solid pace and pulled clear in the stretch to win by 3 3/4 lengths. His final time of 1:42.73 translated to a 108 Brisnet Speed rating.
What makes Gift Box so dangerous is his perfect blend of tactical speed and seemingly inexhaustible stamina. He refused to lose against McKinzie in the Big 'Cap, and since the main track at King Abdulaziz Racetrack is sandy—which could place a premium on stamina—Gift Box figures to be a perfect fit for the Saudi Cup.

It isn’t a given that Gift Box will make the trip to Saudi Arabia. Sadler has mentioned a defense of his Big 'Cap title as an alternative goal, even though the purse—just $600,000—is considerably less lucrative.

But if Gift Box heads overseas, don’t assume the flashy brilliance of Maximum Security, McKinzie, and Midnight Bisou will win the day. If the Saudi Cup becomes a test of stamina, Gift Box can capitalize with another gritty, refuse-to-lose performance.