Top picks for the Saudi Cup Day races at Riyadh

February 18th, 2021

It’s clear Saturday’s card at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia is going to be memorable, with seven stakes worth a combined $28.5 million, including the second running of the world’s richest horse race.

With a strong renewal of the $20 million Saudi Cup leading the charge, the action at Riyadh is stacked from top to bottom with competitive racing.

The card kicks off at 8 a.m. ET. Let’s analyze the six international stakes and come up with a play for each.

Neom Turf Cup

Freshened since a third-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), newly crowned champion turf male Channel Maker looms as the favorite in the 2,100-meter Neom Turf Cup.

But the veteran seven-year-old will cut back in distance and has shipped around the globe, so there are a couple question marks for a runner prone to misfiring in the past.

I’m tempted to take a shot against Channel Maker with the Group 3-winning miler #10 Tilsit. Unraced since he finished fourth, behind British classic winner Kameko, in a strong renewal of the Sept. 25 Joel (G2), Tilsit has only run four times and still has plenty of upside.

If he handles the stretch out in distance, he can spring an upset under internationally acclaimed jockey Ryan Moore.

Top pick: #10 Tilsit

Turf Sprint

It’s going to be tough for anyone to take down #9 Space Blues. The Godolphin colorbearer has won four straight races and boasts five wins and two seconds sprinting 1,400 meters.

Victorious in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) when last seen, Space Blues is the fastest horse in the field and will be tough to deny if he brings his "A" game for his first run since August.

Top pick: #9 Space Blues

Red Sea Turf H.

#1 Call The Wind won the inaugural running of this 3,000-meter turf test by 2 1/2 lengths, and a defense of his title is well within reach. He hasn’t finished off the board since 2018 and remains in strong form, with a win in the Prix Kergorlay (G2) over this trip two starts back.

But 2019 Jockey Club Derby winner #8 Spanish Mission has also run well over extended distances and figures to offer a better price in the wagering. The winner of the Doncaster Cup (G2) at 2 1/4 miles, the stoutly bred son of Noble Mission will be guided by Moore and can give Call The Wind a run for the money.

Top pick: #8 Spanish Mission

Saudi Derby

Godolphin holds a strong hand, with undefeated Triple Crown nominee #8 Rebel’s Romance and the dominant filly #13 Soft Whisper.

The latter has been flashier than her stablemate, and most recently dominated the UAE One Thousand Guineas by seven lengths. But I prefer the chances of Rebel’s Romance, who showed tenacity to run down recent UAE Two Thousand Guineas (G3) winner Mouheeb in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas Trial.

U.S. shipper #2 Cowan also warrants respect, off runner-up efforts in the Remington Springboard Mile S. and Smarty Jones S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. But the son of Kantharos has done his best work sprinting and might prefer a slightly shorter trip than the 1,600 meters he’ll tackle in the Saudi Derby.

Top pick: #8 Rebel’s Romance

Riyadh Dirt Sprint

#8 New York Central and #6 Matera Sky were separated by a head when they finished first and second in this race last year, and they rank among the logical contenders in the 2021 renewal. But don’t sleep on the chances of #12 Switzerland.

A two-time U.S. Grade 3 winner in 2018, Switzerland struggled in Dubai during 2019 and 2020. But the son of champion sprinter Speightstown roared back to life in the Jan. 21 Dubawi (G3) in Dubai, where he rallied to spring a 33-1 upset in his first start off a long layoff. A repeat of that effort will make Switzerland dangerous at Riyadh.

Top pick: #12 Switzerland

Saudi Cup

Malibu (G1) winner #3 Charlatan and Pegasus World Cup (G1) victor #8 Knicks Go are both brilliant speedsters proven over 1 1/8 miles. They enter in hot form for high-profile trainers and stand a strong chance to run first and second.

It's tough to split Knicks Go and Charlatan, but the draw may tip the scales in favor of Charlatan. Knicks Go drew post 5, while Charlatan landed in post 9, which should allow the latter to work out a stalking trip and pounce in the homestretch, just like he did when he defeated a strong field in the Malibu by 4 1/2 lengths.

Top pick: #3 Charlatan

Good luck!