Strong Euro Challenge On Saudi Cup Card


Magic Wand is on her travels again for the inaugural Saudi Cup | Bronwen Healy


The venue may be largely unfamiliar on the world stage but many of the runners lining up at King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh on Saturday afternoon are well known across the world of racing and they include, of course, a strong challenge from Europe.

The main event, the $20-million Saudi Cup over nine furlongs on the dirt, has attracted a highly competitive American contingent, including Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) and Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute), and they will be taking on two seasoned campaigners from Europe headed by the well travelled Magic Wand (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) for Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore team. The 5-year-old mare was last seen running second to Zulu Alpha (Street Cry {Ire}) in the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational S. following a year in which she was campaigned in America, Dubai, Britain, Australia and Hong Kong as well as her native Ireland.

Godolphin’s Benbatl (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) may be listed as a runner for the UAE but so familiar is he to European racing fans that success for him would feel like a ‘home’ win. Following his easy victory in the G2 Al Maktoum Challenge, his major target will be to give Saeed Bin Suroor a tenth win in the G1 Dubai World Cup in a month’s time. The winner now of 10 of his 20 starts in Britain, Germany, Australia and Dubai, the 6-year-old should be given the utmost respect on Riyadh’s acclaimed dirt track.

“He won well on the dirt in Dubai, so we know that isn’t a problem,” said Saeed bin Suroor on Monday when confirming Benbatl for the race. “He’s been working well since and he’s in good form. The race will be very tough, we know that, but we’re looking forward to seeing him run.”

Longines Turf H.
Worth $2.5 million, making it the most valuable race on the under card, this contest over a mile and seven furlongs features plenty of European stayers, a number of whom will likely travel onwards for the G2 Dubai Gold Cup.

Last year’s winner of that race and also the 2018 Melbourne Cup, Cross Counter (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}), is a strong contender for Godolphin and he will take on some familiar rivals from last year’s Melbourne Cup, including runner-up Prince Of Arran (GB) (Shirocco {Ger}) and the Joseph O’Brien-trained pair of Twilight Payment (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) and Downdraft (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), both of whom represent Australian owners in Lloyd Williams and OTI Racing respectively.

Charlie Appleby is looking forward to the return to the track of his staying star Cross Counter, who finished eighth at Flemington in November, and said, “I was very pleased with his run in Melbourne. He put up a good performance despite the traffic problems and the weight, and he galloped out strongly. He travelled straight from Melbourne to Dubai and he has wintered well there. His preparation has gone very well and I’m expecting a big run from him on Saturday. If he brings his A-game he’s the horse they all have to beat. We’re not giving the weight away like we are in Melbourne, it’s a condensed handicap really.”

The hardy campaigner Dee Ex Bee (GB) (Farhh {GB}) has left Mark Johnston’s stable to be trained in Dubai by Salem bin Ghadayer and has had one run at Meydan on Jan. 30 since his third-place finish in the G1 Prix du Cadran last October.

Johnston will be represented, however, as he has entered King’s Advice (GB) (Frankel {GB}), who posted an impressive eight wins from nine starts in five months last season.

One place ahead of Dee Ex Bee when they met at Meydan last month was Mekong (GB) (Frankel {GB}), an expensive purchase by Khalid Mishref last autumn when he moved from Sir Michael Stoute to Jamie Osborne, for whom the 108-rated 5-year-old is making his second start.

Willie Mullins may have his mind more on the Cheltenham Festival at this time of year, and though his globetrotting mare True Self (Ire) (Oscar {Ire}) boasts more of a National Hunt pedigree she has proved herself a very capable Flat campaigner on the international circuit, highlighted by her G3 Queen Elizabeth S. victory at Flemington last November.

She is the second of two challengers in the race for OTI, whose principal Terry Henderson said, “We take the opportunity to support these international meetings where they present. We had a French horse running in Doha last weekend and now we have True Self and Downdraft in the 3000-metre race in Riyadh. They are both in pretty good order and Frankie [Dettori] will ride True Self and Ryan [Moore] will ride Downdraft, so that’s not going to do us any harm. We’re really looking forward to being there.”

The French-trained duo of Group 2 winner Called To The Bar (Ire) (Henrythenavigator) and Call The Wind (GB) (Frankel {GB}), who has been first and second in the last two runnings of the G1 Prix du Cadran, complete a strong challenge from European stables.

Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup
Deirdre (Jpn) (Harbinger {GB}) may be Japanese-bred, -owned and -trained but she has spent so long in Newmarket in the last year that we will claim her as a semi-European winner should she prevail in this mile-and-five-furlong contest on the grass.

She’ll be taking on Intellogent (Fr) (Intello {Ger}), trained in Chantilly by Fabrice Chappet, who celebrated a winner at Qatar’s major Emir’s Trophy meeting last weekend, and the former French-trained Trais Fluors (GB) (Dansili {GB}), who switched from Andre Fabre to Ken Condon in Ireland at the end of last season.

The beautifully-bred Mount Everest (Ire), a son of Galieo (Ire) and Six Perfections (Fr), is Aidan O’Brien’s challenger for the race for his breeders the Niarchos family in partnership with Coolmore, while multiple group winner Royal Youmzain (Fr) (Youmzain {Ire}), flies the flag for Germany and Andreas Wohler.

The STC 1351 Cup
Glorious Journey (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) has already shown some decent form for Charlie Appleby in Dubai this year with a convincing win in the G2 Al Fahidi Fort on Jan. 23. The 5-year-old heads to Saudi along with stable-mate Mubtasim (Ire) (Arcano {Ire}), who was third behind him last month, for this 6 3/4-furlong sprint.

“He’s a typical Dubawi and just gets better with age,” said Appleby of Glorious Journey, who will have the services of William Buick in the saddle while James Doyle will ride Mubtasim. “He’s found his niche in these seven-furlong races—through it’s a bit less for this race—but that’s a perfect trip for him on a turning track, it’s sharp enough round there, a bit like Santa Anita, and I think it will suit him. I was delighted with his last run and he’s come out of that race well.”

He continued, “We’ve got to wait for the draw yet, and that will be key round there, but Mubtasim is a very forward-going horse and he’s definitely come on for that run in the Al Fahidi. He’d been off the track for some time but he’s come out of that well. We’re very excited to be there. Unfortunately we don’t have a runner in the big race but Saeed has his runner [Benbatl] and it will be exciting to watch.”

Five British-trained runners look set to stand their ground, with Suedois (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) representing David O’Meara, Sir Dancealot (Ire) (Sir Prancealot {Ire}) making the trip for David Elsworth, and Momkin (GB) (Bated Breath {GB}) and Royal Intervention (Ire) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}) representing William Haggas and Ed Walker respectively.

Graignes (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}), will be making his first start for George Baker having been sold at Arqana’s Arc Sale for €600,000 the night before he finished fifth in the G1 Prix de la Foret.

“I’m looking forward to it very much. It will be a fantastic experience,” said Baker. “The form lines are there and he’s in very good order. The very good horses are always the ones who travel well and he’s travelled without turning a hair. So that’s one big tick in the box because if they travel to these far-flung posts and enjoy it and take it well, that is a massive part of the battle. My sense is that 6¾ furlongs on quickish ground is going to be a little bit sharp for him, particularly with a couple of American speedsters in there, but you don’t turn down invitations like that and we’ll know a lot more about him afterwards.”

Speak In Colours (GB) (Excelebration {Ire}), whose best performances have tended to come on ground with a bit of give, is another contender in Riyadh for Joseph O’Brien, while the consistent 12-time winner King Malpic (Fr) (King’s Best), who took the G3 Prix de Ris-Orangis at Maisons-Laffitte last summer, represents France and the Thierry Lemer stable.

The Saudi Derby
The John Gosden-trained and Coolmore-owned Cherokee Trail (War Front), a dual winner last September in the UK, will be tested on the dirt in the Saudi Derby against Godolphin’s dual Group 2-placed Final Song (GB) (Dark Angel {Ire}), whose win at Meydan on Jan. 2 came at the expense of Down On Da Bayou (Super Saver). The latter is also in the line-up following her easy G3 UAE Oaks win last week.

On the eve of the Saudi Cup card, the racecourse hosts the Kingdom Day stc International Jockeys Challenge, featuring 14 top riders from around the world. The seven female jockeys taking part on Friday are Mickaëlle Michel, Sophie Doyle, Nicola Currie, Sibylle Vogt, Emma-Jayne Wilson, Coralie Pacaut and Lisa Allpress. They will be joined by Frankie Dettori, Yutaka Take, Ryan Moore, Olivier Peslier, Mike Smith and two Saudi Arabian jockeys, including Adel Alfouraidi and another yet to be named.



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