Classic Hero Mishriff Returns To Riyadh

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Global Giant, left, and Mishriff on Riyadh's dirt track on Tuesday | Emma Berry

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—The world is a much different place 12 months on from the inaugural Saudi Cup meeting when the full horror of the Coronavirus crisis was only beginning to become apparent. So many of racing's key events have been disrupted since then and, with many countries still in lockdown or under severe travel restrictions, it is no small wonder that this year's meeting is able to proceed, even though the attendance will be markedly reduced from last year.

Eschewing the obvious travel complications, a posse of 27 European-trained horses has descended on the Arabian desert ahead of the second running of the Saudi Cup at Riyadh's King Abdulaziz Racecourse. Along with a team of local runners, they have been joined by strong contingents from America and Bahrain, and five horses from Japan. A further eight runners from the Godolphin battalions currently wintering in Dubai will ship into town on Wednesday and the scene will be set for round two of the newest major international race meeting on the circuit.

The European raiders feature a Classic winner among them—last year's Prix du Jockey Club victor Mishriff (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}), who is in Riyadh for the second time, having been runner-up in last year's Saudi Derby. His presence will no doubt delight his Saudi owner/breeder, Prince A A Faisal, whose contribution to European racing is immense, not least as breeder of the perennially popular stallions and half-brothers Kodiac (GB) and Invincible Spirit (Ire). Their dam, another French Classic-winning homebred, Rafha (GB) (Kris {GB}), also appears as the third dam of Mishriff, who is by the Prince's Poule d'Essai des Poulains winner Make Believe. Mishriff's half-brother Momkin (Ire) (Bated Breath {GB}) is also set to race in the stc 1351 Turf Sprint on Saturday's undercard for Saudi trainer Abdullah Mushrif.

Mishriff's trainer John Gosden is represented in Riyadh by his son Thady, who said after watching the colt exercise with the stable's fellow Saudi Cup runner Global Giant (GB) (Shamardal), “It's wonderful for Prince Faisal to have a runner in the Saudi Cup. He puts a huge amount into the sport and takes a lot of time over his horses and cares about them deeply. He's very passionate and it's brilliant for him to have a horse who is a Classic winner and is now coming back to his home country to hopefully run well in the big race.”

He continued, “It was bottomless ground on Champions Day for Mishriff's final run of last year but he had a little break and has been training well since he started back. He's in good form. He knows his way around here a bit and he handles the dirt well. It's a brilliant track here—obviously Mishriff is a turf horse but he handles it well.”

Isa Salman Al Khalifa's Global Giant comes into the Saudi Cup from his second-place finish in the Bahrain Trophy and he will reoppose the winner of that race, Simsir (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}). The latter is trained by Fawzi Nass, who was successful at last year's meeting with Port Lions (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}).

Gosden added, “Global Giant went over to Bahrain and ran very well there. The race didn't quite go to plan as he broke a little bit slowly and was finishing well late on but wasn't quite able to peg back the leader. He's in good form, too. He had a little break over the winter but seems very well in himself.”

The Gosden stable's runner in this year's Al Rajhi Bank Saudi Derby, run over a mile, is New Treasure (Ire). The Jim Bolger-bred son of New Approach (Ire) won last year's G3 Heider Family Stables Round Tower S. before being sold to Saudi-based Nads Stud at Tattersalls for 90,000gns and transferred to Newmarket. 

The $1 million Saudi Derby has also drawn an international line-up. New Treasure's fellow Newmarket trainee Albadri (Ire) (Dandy Man {Ire}) races for Australian-born Jane Chapple-Hyam, while Charlie Appleby and Saeed Bin Suroor field the unbeaten Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and wide-margin UAE 1000 Guineas winner Soft Whisper (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) for Godolphin. Francis Graffard has sent recent Chantilly winner Homeryan (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) from France, and Japan, America and the UAE are also represented.

When Oxted (GB) emulated his sire Mayson (GB) by winning last year's G1 Darley July Cup it proved to be one of the most popular results of the disrupted season. The 5-year-old has run just once since then, when fifth in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint, and he enters new territory on Saturday in the Saudi Arabian Airlines Riyadh Dirt Sprint.

Oxted's trainer Roger Teal and his wife Sue stepped off a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight at 3.45am on Tuesday and, after completing the Covid tests obligatory within the Saudi Cup 'event bubble', came straight to the track to see their stable star canter under their son Harry.

“It's his first try on dirt and his first time round a bend so that's lots of firsts. Hopefully there will be another first come Saturday,” said Teal, who said he was delighted with the way Oxted had coped with his debut international flight. “He travelled really well on the plane and that was really good to hear as he's not even been overnight racing at home so it's a lot to take in.”

Former jockey Harry Teal, who now assists his father at their Lambourn stable, was also having his first spin on a dirt track and gave his mount the thumbs-up. He said,”Oxted had his first morning out on the track and he loved it. He felt great, moved really well on the dirt and handled the bend well. It was like a carpet out there.”

Chasemore Farm's Brad The Brief (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}), trained by Tom Dascombe, and Harry's Bar (GB) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}), one of two runners at the meeting for Ireland's Adrian McGuinness, will also be tested on the dirt for the first time in the 1,200-metre contest. 

Following a year when many of the world's most valuable prizes suffered cuts in purse money while so much of the action was conducted behind closed doors, the already well endowed Saudi Cup meeting has increased in value from $29.2 million to €30.5 million. It is preceded on Friday by the International Jockeys' Challenge with a 14-strong line-up of top riders that includes last season's first-time Group 1 winners Hollie Doyle and Jessica Marcialis.

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