RIYADH: With the Saudi Cup less than a fortnight away, the likely runners for the two-day $30.5 million event have been revealed.
The field will be led by a strong American contingent including Brad Cox’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go.
The King Abdul Aziz Racecourse in Riyadh will host 77 overseas contenders representing 13 different countries from around the world who between them have won 24 Group or Grade 1 contests.
Also lining up in the Saudi capital from the US will be Grade 1 Malibu Stakes winner Charlatan, and Tacitus, who finished fifth in the inaugural race last year and is owned by Juddmonte Farms.
The highlight of the meeting, taking place on Feb. 19 and 20, will be the $20 million Saudi Cup, and the second staging of the world’s most valuable race looks set to feature another crop of international star names.
Ryuji Okubo’s impressive Grade 1 Champions Cup winner Chuwa Wizard (Japan) represents Japan, while John Gosden is likely to saddle Mishriff (Ireland) who was second in the Al Rajhi Bank Saudi Derby at this meeting 12 months ago.
“We were very excited when we saw the entry list for the second staging of the Saudi Cup and now we know the likely fields, we really are delighted,” said Tom Ryan, director of strategy and international racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
“A battle between the likes of Knicks Go, Charlatan, Mishriff, and Chuwa Wizard in the Saudi Cup would be a huge thrill, while the strength and quality of all the other races has really stood up.”
A host of other top-class horses look likely to take their spots in Riyadh, with Freddy Head’s four-time Group 1 winner Call The Wind (Great Britain) seeking back-to-back victories in the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf Handicap, alongside last year’s third Prince Of Arran (Great Britain), trained by Charlie Fellowes.
Both the 1200m $1.5 million Saudia Riyadh Dirt Sprint and $1 million STC 1351 Turf Sprint have also attracted a host of well-regarded types.
Group 1 July Cup winner Oxted (UK), trained in the UK by Roger Teal, looks all set to run in the Saudia Riyadh Dirt Sprint, where he could take on Yoshito Yahagi’s Justin (Japan), the earner of an automatic spot in the race after winning the Grade 3 Capella Stakes in December.
The STC 1351 Turf Sprint is another race that has attracted a strong field, with last year’s winner Dark Power (Ireland), trained in Bahrain by Allan Smith, back to defend his crown. He will face a strong challenge again this time around with Charlie Appleby’s Space Blues (Ireland), the winner of his last four races, including most recently in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest, as well as Joseph O’Brien’s Speak In Colors (Great Britain), both expected to line up.
Bill Mott’s Channel Maker (Canada), last seen finishing third to Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, is the likely star name in the 2100m $1 million Neom Turf Cup, a field which also includes Gronkowski (US), now trained by Abdul Aziz Khalid in Saudi Arabia.
The Purebred Arabian runners in the 2000m $2 million Obaiya Arabian Classic are headlined by the Group 1-winning Messi (Belgium), trained by Timo Keersmaekers in Belgium, who will clash with last year’s winner Tallaab Al-Khalediah (Saudi Arabia), trained locally by Mutlaq bin Mushref.
This year’s Saudi Cup meeting also sees the addition of a new race, the $500,000 Al Rajhi Bank International Handicap, which is specifically aimed at horses trained in IFHA Part II or Part III countries, and is run on Friday, Feb. 19 on STC International Jockeys’ Challenge day.
There are horses entered from six different countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Greece.
“The entire team are working incredibly hard to deliver a world-class event where the health and safety of all participants is paramount,” Ryan said.
“It has obviously been a difficult year for everyone, and we are glad that we are able to put on this meeting for racing fans all over the world to enjoy.”