It was one of the most exciting races of the inaugural Saudi Cup.
With 600m left of the highly-anticipated $2.5 million Longines Turf Handicap, Call The Wind was in sixth place. By the end, it had claimed top prize in the last of the day’s turf races.
The trainer of second-placed Mekong, however, had seen enough to make sure he brought his horse back to Riyadh for this year’s Long Distance Turf Handicap over 3000m.
“I thought it was a great event, everybody was incredibly hospitable and everybody made great effort,” said Jamie Osborne. “Obviously there was that lovely incentive for us, running for an abnormal amount of money. My horse is owned by Khalid Bin Mishref, who’s a Saudi national, so obviously it was going to be very high on our list of priorities for this horse to go back again.”
The Brits check-in!
PRINCE OF ARRAN
MASHHUR AL KHALEDIAH
BRAD THE BRIEF
OXTED#TheSaudiCup races | 19-20 Feb pic.twitter.com/DBphT1yNnY
— The Saudi Cup (@thesaudicup) February 14, 2021
Mekong was bought privately by Bin Mishref from Britain having previously been trained in Newmarket by 10-time champion trainer Sir Michael Stoute, who has previously experienced major success in the Gulf by winning the Dubai World Cup with Singspiel in 1997 and the Dubai Sheema Classic with Fantastic Light in 2000.
Osborne says that the disappointment of not winning last year was somewhat softened by the circumstances.
“In this sport we’re kind of indoctrinated to think that winning is everything,” the 53-year-old ex-jockey told Arab News. “This is probably the only race day of the year where you can have sense of satisfaction in not winning, because we won half a million dollars. This horse could never win that amount of money in Europe. We all want to be winners but that’s not a bad consolation prize, is it?”
But Osborne is no strangers to success in this region, having won the UAE Derby with Toast of New York in 2014, and remains a big supporter of the Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan.
Now he expects the King Abdulaziz Racecourse turf to be in even better shape than last year for Mekong’s latest run for glory.
“Europe is mish-mash of different types of courses, and this is a firmly uniform oval track,” he said. “The turf surface was very good there last year, I’d imagine it could only improve with another year. It’s a no excuses track, it’s pretty straight forward.”
In October 2019, Mekong was valued in excess of 425,000gns when he went through the ring at Tattersalls October Horses-In-Training Sale and was bought back for that sum by his former owner-breeder Philip Newton, who happens to be Deputy Chairman of Britain’s Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. It was later sold privately to Bin Mishref.
Osborne is frank about its chances of success.
“The key to Mekong, the key to whether he has a chance is the pace of the race,” he said. “He is one of those horses that needs a proper test of stamina. So if they go proper end to end gallop, his stamina will kick in and he has a chance of winning some money. If the race is run at a more sedate, tactical pace then that will detract from his chance.”
“To a degree, we are at the mercy of how the race is run.”
And did the Covid-19 pandemic have any adverse effect on Mekong’s preparation for the 2021 Saudi Cup?
“No, not really, because with this horse we took a view in the middle of last summer that February was going to be a very important month,” said Osborne. “So to give him the best chance of winning some money in this race we gave him a break from June of last year, and we built him back up to this point, and we’ve been able to do everything that we wanted to do with him. We’re going in with a fit, fresh horse. Covid has played a very minor role as far as this horse is concerned.”
Should success come at the Saudi Cup this weekend, Osborne will turn his attention to another big meeting taking place in the Gulf on March 27.
“If all goes well on Saturday, I would very much like to bring him back to the Middle East and run him on World Cup night in Dubai.”
First, there’s some unfinished business to take care of for Osborne and Bin Mishref.