RIYADH: Top UK trainer Karl Burke is planning a two-pronged raid on the glittering Saudi Cup next year.
Based in Yorkshire, Burke is preparing both Holloway Boy and Al-Qareem for the world’s most valuable race meeting on Saturday Feb. 25.
Holloway Boy is being aimed at the $1.5 million Group 3 Saudi Derby, while Al-Qareem has the $2.5 million Group 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap as his target.
Both races will take place on the same evening as the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race, at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.
Classic hopeful Holloway Boy became the first horse for 26 years to win at Royal Ascot on his debut when landing the Chesham Stakes at British Flat racing’s most prestigious meeting in June.
Although he failed to add to that victory in four races later in the season, he finished in the first three in all of them, including when third in the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster in October.
Burke is plotting a path to the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May with the son of Ulysses and he believes the timing of the Group 3 Saudi Derby, run over 1,600 meters on the dirt track, perfectly fits into his plans.
“It was always in my mind to give him a prep run before the 2000 Guineas. If we go out to the Saudi Derby, it still gives us the guts of two months into the Guineas,” he said.
“Timewise, it’s ideal and the prize money is huge. As long as he’s fit and well at the end of January, I would imagine that’s where we’ll go.
“He’s a horse with a lot of ability. He showed that again in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster when he probably should have been second. The winner, Auguste Rodin, is obviously a very useful horse,” he added.
The dirt surface is one unknown for Holloway Boy but Burke is confident it will not be a problem. He believes he has the right action for dirt, and he was impressed when he saw King Abdulaziz Racecourse firsthand in February at this year’s Saudi Cup.
“I went out for the big meeting earlier this year — some of my owners invited me out there. I was very impressed with everything.
“The jockeys reported the dirt track was very horse friendly compared to some others. The kickback wasn’t as severe, so it helped put it in our minds to give Holloway Boy a chance around there.
“I wouldn’t be keen to run him on ‘normal’ dirt but, from what I saw myself and listening to the jockeys, it’s a very kind surface in Saudi.
“Mishriff obviously went out there and won the Saudi Cup in 2021, so it’s proven to be friendly to the European horses so to speak.”
In a dual assault on racing’s most valuable meeting, Burke is preparing smart staying prospect Al-Qareem to join Holloway Boy in Saudi Arabia.
He progressed from handicaps to land a French Group 2 over 3,000 meters at Longchamp in October, having finished fourth behind subsequent St. Leger winner Eldar Eldarov in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot.
He has the Group 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap as his Saudi target. With $2.5 million in prize money on offer, Burke sees it as an opportunity not to be missed. “It’s huge money and a horse like Al-Qareem would go there with a chance. If he couldn’t win, he’d have a chance of picking up some big place money.
“He’s come back in and he’s cantering away steady at the moment. We’ll pick his work up now to Christmas and he’ll work through January. If he’s in good shape at the end of January, we’ll aim him at the Red Sea.
“That’s the plan in our heads at the moment but there is a lot of training to go into him over the next six weeks. When we get to the end of January, we’ll make a firm decision. I’m very pleased with him at the moment.
“We’d hope he could develop into a Cup horse next season. He’s shown a good level of form and he’s only a three-year-old. He’s only a baby really.
“He’s a big-framed horse, so he can strengthen and step up again next year. He’s obviously got to prove it yet but that’s the type of horse we’re hoping we can turn him into.”
This will be the fourth year of the Saudi Cup meeting and Burke is keen to be involved in the fixture. “With the huge prize money on offer, it’s going to make every racing jurisdiction around the world take notice,” he said. “The Japanese were unbelievably strong there last year and I’m sure they will be again this time. You’d be mad not to take notice of the Saudi Cup meeting.”