RIYADH: Trainers of the runners in Saturday's running of the $20 million Saudi Cup shared their thoughts on their horses' chances in the big race after Wednesday's track work.
Find out what each had to say below...
Benbatl (GB) – Godolphin’s tri-continental Group 1 winner Benbatl was scheduled to arrive into Saudi Arabia from his Dubai base on Wednesday afternoon with the remainder of the Godolphin contingent.
The Saeed bin Suroor-trained son of Dubawi is rated 125, the highest of any horse competing on the Saudi Cup card. A win for the 10-time Group 1 performer would be another highlight in the storied career of his conditioner, who has won Group 1 races in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Singapore, USA and UAE.
“It would mean a lot for us to win,” bin Suroor said. “It is the first ever Saudi Cup and the first big international race in Saudi. It is a very important race and would be important for us to see him run well and win. He has been a very good Group 1 horse for us and very versatile. I’m very happy with him and I think he will give a good run.”
Benbatl exits a victory in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 at Meydan Racecourse. A winner of half his 20 starts, he has earned more than $5.7 million, while winning top-level affairs in UAE, Australia and Germany. Additionally, he owns a Royal Ascot victory when landing the Group 3 Hampton Court in 2017.
Chrysoberyl (JPN) – The Japan-based horse cantered steadily for half a lap on the dirt track in the morning.
“He lost about 20kg during his journey to Saudi Arabia, which was an initial concern, but he was very relaxed today. He has been eating very well for the couple of days, so his condition is getting better. Christophe Soumillon will breeze him tomorrow,” trainer Hidetaka Otonashi said.
Gold Dream (JPN) – Had some light exercise in the quarantine stable area.
“He is getting familiarised with the new surroundings. I think all has gone well so far as he has never experienced running over the surface,” trainer Osamu Hirata said.
“He is in good shape and has been the same as how he is at home. My impression with the dirt course is that it has a lot of grip but less kick-back, which is completely different from Japanese dirt tracks. I understand the horses in the race will be very very competitive, maybe the best in the world, so I am looking forward to competing with them as one of the top Japanese dirt horses. It has been an honour to be invited to run in such a big event.”
McKinzie (USA) and Mucho Gusto (USA) – Trainer Bob Baffert made his first appearance at the track on Wednesday morning and the affable conditioner was pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“They shipped well,” Baffert said. “They’ve done well. No negatives at all they look healthy and happy. McKinzie looked pretty sharp (this morning). We stood him the gate. The track’s (surface) is pretty nice. They’re both getting over it pretty well.”
Unraced since a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Baffert seemed unfazed: “He worked great before he left (February 17, 1200m at Santa Anita). We just let him open up through the lane (on Tuesday) – Mucho Gusto did the same thing. Just to get their blood flowing.
“Mucho Gusto has really changed a lot. These last three months I’ve seen a big change in him. He’s filled out. He’s just changed for the better. You could tell from that last work right before the Pegasus Cup Invitational (at Gulfstream Park on January 25) a light went on in him. The way he ran. He’s always shown up. He’s always run hard. He’ll be right there.
“Until you put them in the gate you never really know. You’re watching and all of a sudden, they turn it on. They’ve adjusted a little bit. You have to come with really good horses. If you get away well and have some luck you still have to show up.”
Maximum Security (USA) – Had an easy gallop around the quarantine training track. He will be out on the dirt track on Thursday morning.
“I thought Max shipped really well. I weighed him before he left and when he got here and he lost 27lbs. We weighed him yesterday and he had gained back 11lbs. So we are feeling OK,” said trainer Jason Servis.
Midnight Bisou (USA) – Was accompanied by Rowdy Yates (USA), who runs in the Samba Saudi Derby.
“Midnight Bisou and Rowdy Yates both galloped a mile (1600m) on the dirt,” said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen.
“They will both stand in the starting gate (Thursday),” Blasi added. “Midnight Bisou will go at 7am and Rowdy Yates at 9am.”
Midnight Bisou, a 5-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute, will be facing male rivals for the first time in the race, following a second-place run in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park in November.
North America (GB) – Ramzan Kadyrov’s 8-year-old Group 1 winner North America (GB) has arrived in Saudi Arabia following a short flight from neighbouring Dubai and the Zabeel Racing Stables base of trainer Satish Seemar.
“He and my other horses arrived around 11.45, I believe, and all went well with the flight,” Seemar said. “I’ll arrive later this week.”
The 8-year-old son of Dubawi, who is expected to stretch his legs over the King Abdulaziz Racecourse dirt after clearing quarantine on Thursday, is running outside of the UAE for the first time since August 2015. Seemar confirmed that Richard Mullen, Zabeel’s stable jockey, will ride North America.
“He’s been a great horse for us at Zabeel and he’s won all three legs of the (Al) Maktoum Challenge at Meydan, so we are taking our best horse to Saudi Arabia,” Seemar said. “It’s very special for us.
“We are sending our best middle-distance horse, our best sprinter with Gladiator King (USA) and a very promising 3-year-old that we really like in Lake Causeway (USA). I can’t do much else to compliment these races.”
Magic Wand (IRE) – The well-travelled filly arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning and spent her morning on the training track on Wednesday.
Tacitus (USA) – Had an easy morning on Wednesday a day after getting in his final drill in advance on Saturday’s main event.
“We usually jog him or canter him a day after a work. They have a four-furlong (800m) track in the quarantine centre so he just went out there and loped (1600m) today,” said Riley Mott, son of and assistant to United States Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
“We blew him out (600m on Tuesday.) He went in a pretty snappy time of 35 seconds with a gallop out of 48 3/5 (for 800m),” continued the 28-year-old Mott. “He looked like he was just galloping through the stretch. It didn’t seem he was going that fast but good horses will do that. He’s generally not that aggressive of a work horse and he was by himself. Given those factors it was very impressive.”
Like all of the United States horses, the 4-year-old son of Tapit has had more than a week to acclimate to his surroundings.
“He settled in immediately. He’s very professional in that regard,” Mott added. “His appetite has been good, his temperature has been good. Legs are clean. He’s moving sound. He seems to get over the (dirt) track very well. When the horse gets over it, he doesn’t seem to be ‘spinning his wheels’ or struggling. It seems like a good surface as far as I can tell.”
Capezzano (USA) – Sultan Ali’s swift UAE-based star arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday morning from Dubai at just before 11.00am local time. The 6-year-old Salem bin Ghadayer-trained son of Bernardini was the beaten market favourite in last year’s Dubai World Cup and enters off a one-sided victory in the $200,000 Firebreak Stakes on February 13 over 1600m.
Gronkowski (USA) – Phoenix Thoroughbreds and Khalid bin Mishrif’s runner arrived in with the remainder of trainer Salem bin Ghadayer’s impressive quintet of contenders at the meeting on Wednesday morning at just before 11.00 am local time. The 2019 Dubai World Cup and 2018 Belmont Stakes runner-up is looking for his first victory since March 2018, but exits a pair of progressive runs in Dubai over the last two months when third in both The Entisar (Listed) and Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (Group 2).