The Saudi Cup 2021: The top contenders

February 17, 2021

Saturday 20th of February, the world will watch the second edition of the richest horse race on the planet: The $20 Millions Saudi Cup. It will be held at the King Abdulaziz racecourse on the outskirts of Riyadh. The race will take place at 8.40 pm local time. 

The Saudi Cup 2020 was really a huge success for the organising committee as they were able to attract a world class field. This race and its unbelievable purse also underlined the Kingdom’s aspiration to become a leading power on the horse racing’s world stage. 

The winter races history : from America to Dubai

Traditionally, during the winter months, the world’s biggest races were taking place in America. But in 1996, Sheikh Mohammed envisioned the concept of organising world class thoroughbred race meetings in the Middle East at a time of the season at which nothing of significance was taking place on the European racecourses. Sheikh Mohammed had realised that he had greatly inspired the rulers of his neighbouring states of the excitement, joy and prestige of racehorse ownership. He perceived that if he could create a racetrack as flamboyant and luxurious as Ascot, Goodwood or Santa Anita, he would attract the top thoroughbred horses in the Middle East in the winter months as the owners of a big portion of them were living in the Persian Gulf. As he is a man with purpose and action, in 1996, the Dubai World Cup Carnival was created.

Florida versus Dubai…

In the past few years, the Dubai World Cup and the Pegasus in Florida have competed for the title of the world’s richest race. The Dubai World Cup has been holding the top spot for years with a staggering $10M only to be outdone in 2017 by the Pegasus offering $12M. The Florida race was again on top, with $16M in 2018. However, as His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is not a man known to tolerate being 2nd best for very long, the Dubai World Cup regained its place at the top in 2019 offering $12M compared to $9M for the Pegasus.

… Dubai versus the Gulf kingdoms.

Then, by the end of that year, the Saudis announced the creation of a championship race taking place in February 2020 with a mind-blowing $20M purse. That news was probably a little bittersweet for the Ruler of Dubai as : HH. Sheikh Mohammed had the ambition that Meydan would become the ‘’MECCA’’ of horse racing during the winter, proof is the gigantic Grandstand he built of nearly a mile long with its 80000 seating capacity and 285 luxurious suites, but, instead of going full steam patronising the Carnival, his neighbouring rulers from Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia replicated the concept in creating top class racecourses supported by massive prize money. Is huge prize money really always serving the best interest of the sport? That is the question…

The Saudi Cup, a recent but very spectacular race 

In comparison with Dubai, the Grandstand at King Abdulaziz racecourse in front of which the Saudi Cup will be run has only 5000 seats. Nevertheless, the Saudi Track drew rare praise for his racing surface for being both safe and fair. Veteran Jockeys Mike Smith and Frankie Dettori agreed with the general consensus rating the dirt track as one of the best they ever rode on after the 2020 edition. 

The best of the best from America, Japan, UAE, England & Ireland chartered to Saudi Arabia to highlight a night that all of us will remember, just days away before the world fell into the abyss of the C19 cataclysm. It has been a spectacular race to watch, with an incredible finish unfolding before our eyes, involving the best dirt horses on the planet. The Americans finished 1st & 2nd and put four of their runners into the first 5 finishing positions, emphasizing the fact that when racing on dirt is concerned, they are the masters of the game. This year, they seem guaranteed to repeat the feat as they sent three superstars that look heads and shoulders above the rest of the field; Charlatan, Knicks Go and Tacitus. 

And if last year’s race was a huge success for the organising committee, able to attract a world class field of 14 among them were ten Grade1 winners with 22 cumulated wins at the highest level, this year, the field looks weaker on paper with only four Grade1 winners with seven wins at the level.  However, let’s just wait and see what will happen on Saturday. 

Who are the Saudi Cup 2021 Top Contenders ?

Despite the global restrictions and that the contest will be run behind closed doors, the race promises to be fascinating. Here is my selection and the top contenders:

1) Charlatan.          7/4             Bob Baffet, Speightstown-Authenticity.

Very Impressive winner of the Malibu at Santa Anita, the 4 year-old is an American bred, trained and owned. Disqualified winner of the Arkansas Derby in early May, he has been sidelined by injury shortly after. It took him 8 months to come back to the races and when he did on boxing day, it was so impressive that he was immediately installed  the Saudi Cup favourite. It was a huge relief for his ownership group and trainer, as his disqualification shed several millions of the stallion deal they had signed with Hill ‘n’ Dale in Kentucky.

Charlatan was bred there by Stonestreet (Kendall-Jackson Wines) that remained in the ownership group along with SF Bloodstock (George Soros Fund), John Fielding (Amay Marketing), Fred Hertrich III (Hertrich Automobile Dealership), Golconda Stables, Starlight Racing and Madaket Stables LLC (Sol Kumin). It followed the new American trend of share ownership in which high profile investors joined forces to mitigate the risk and increase their chance to have at least one of their horses in their large portfolio, racing at the highest level. 

As his ownership is, Charlatan’s pedigree is entirely American. His female line goes back to Selina, daughter of the Godolphin Arabian and imported to America in 1760.

2) Knicks Go            3/1             Brad Cox, Paynter-Kosmo’s Buddy 

BC Mile and Pegasus winner last month, Knicks Go is an exciting challenger for Charlatan. He is a speed horse like him and we will certainly see them on the front end of the Saudi Cup 2021 after the first few hundred yards. Knicks Go showed raw talent when winning the Futurity at Keeneland as a 2yo, but he really turned into an invincible monster after being switched to the barn of Brad Cox early last year. 

He is owned by the Korean Racing Authority that bought him as a yearling at Keeneland for the modest sum of $87 000. The Korean Racing Authority is a public company established to manage and promote the racehorse breeding industry in South Korea. 

Knicks Go has an American Pedigree with a female line developed in Maryland. 

3) Tacitus             14/1       Bill Mott,        Tapit-Close Hatches 

The sight of Tacitus winning on Saturday carrying the colour of Juddmonte farm, a month after the passing of his founder Saudi Prince Khalid Adbullah Al Saud  would cause an emotional outburst of many racing fans. The Prince was adored within the racing community, thanks to his impeccable manners, his long term involvement in the sport and his long list of thoroughbred Champions like Enable, Frankel, Arrogate, Dancing Brave etc…

Tacitus is incontestably a World Class competitor even though he is still looking after an elusive Grade 1 win. He is not short of talent as his wins in the Tampa Bay Derby,  Wood Memorial and Suburban show, and his places in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont, Travers, Jim Dandy, Jockey Club Gold Cup (twice) demonstrate. Maybe his come from behind style of running has been more conducive, so far to minor honours than winning at the highest level. His trainer, the genial Bill Mott, hoped that the top two could look horns early in the race, softening each other and allowing Tacitus a bold rally in deep stretch. 

Prince Khalid was the nephew of Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia and first cousin of his six sons that ruled the Kingdom after their father passed in 1953.

Tacitus is a Juddmonte homebred from one of the Stud most accomplished female dynasty, the Monroe line that the operation bought as a yearling in 1978. Bill Mott also trained his dam Champion Close Hatches and he found the same fighting spirit in her first foal by Tapit, the American leading Sire of 2014, 2015 & 2016..

4) Military Law            12/1           M.Al Mheiri,         Dubai- Marine Bleue 

The son of Dubawi was a minor winner of three races for John Gosden and Qatar Racing in England before being sold for a mere 110 000 Guineas at the Tattersalls Newmarket sale in July 2019. 

Military Law then joined the UAE racing stable of M. Al Mheiri, where he made spectacular improvements of more than twenty pounds on official rating. His win last month in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 over a mile at Meydan Race Course was very impressive and put him at the table of the leading contenders for the Saudi Cup. 

Military law is now owned by Dubai based owner Nasir Askar from Libya. 

5) Global Giant          40/1         John Gosden        Shamardal-Aniseed

Global Giant is trained by England Champion trainer John Gosden and will be ridden by Frankie Dettori. He is considered a long shot by the pundits as he is completely unexposed  on Dirt.

He is owned by H.H. Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa Deputy Chairman of Bahrain Horse Racing High Committee. It is under his passionate leadership that Bahrain accomplished so much so fast in the Kingdom with the creation of international races such as the Bahrain International Trophy. An international turf event inaugurated in 2019.

Global Giant is a son of Sheikh Mohammed stallion Shamardal, sadly deceased last year and comes from the Almyre female line developed in France by Daniel Wildenstein that gave the French a Breeders Cup Classic victory with Arcangues. 

6) Mishriff     7/1        John Gosden       Make Believe-Contradict

Mishriff is among the Saudi Cup favourites after a pleasant second place at the track last year in the Saudi Derby and a brilliant win in the French Derby at Chantilly.

He is owned by the Saudi Prince A.A. Faisal, who has been a big supporter of English racing for nearly 40 years. Prince Faisal was riding as a kid not far from where is now situated King Abdulaziz racecourse and developed a strong affinity for thoroughbred racing. He is cultivating a top class nursery named Nawara Stud in England where Mishriff was born. Prince Faisal owned his dad Make Believe that won him a classic (French 2000 Guineas) and supported him with his best broodmares. Among them was Contradict, a grand-daughter of the Nawara Stud foundation mare Rafha.

Prince Faisal bred Rafha that was so small that her trainer the late Henry Cecil said of her: ‘knee high to a bumble bee’.Nevertheless, she won the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) in 1990 and established herself as an incredible influence through her sons Invincible Spirit and Kodiac.

7) Chuwa Wizard 16/1 R. Okubo King Kamehameha- Chuwa Blossom

Chuwa Wizard is coming from Japan after winning the Champion Cup at Chukyo Racecourse in December.That win gave him an automatic berth to the Saudi Cup. He created an upset that day beating Japanese superstar Chrysoberyl fair and square. It would be an even bigger surprise to see him beat the likes of Charlatan and Knicks Go saturday.

However, his trainer Ryuji Okubo declared: ‘I started to think about the Saudi Cup for Chuwa Wizard as soon as the race was announced in 2019’.

Chuwa Wizard has a Japanese pedigree from top to bottom, his parents were bred in Japan, and you can read in his pedigree all the sires that shaped Japan breeding in the last century: King Kamehameha, Sunday Silence, Northern Taste etc…His female line was developed by the Yoshida family at Shadai Farm after the purchase and importation of the mare Facimine from America in 1971.

8) Simsir 40/1 Fawzi Nass, Zoffany-Simawa

Last November, Simsir displayed an incredible bravery to hold on the late charge of Global Giant and Irish Derby Winner Sovereign in the desperate finish of the Bahrain International Trophy. It was an incredible achievement for his Bahraini connections as the horse arrived in the Kingdom only three weeks previously.

His dynamic trainer Fawzi Nass quickly identified the Saudi Cup as Simsir’s target. Simsir ran 4th in the Crown Prince’s Cup last month but connections were quick to point out that it was just a prep for the big night at Riyadh in February. Fawzi Nass is an extremely ambitious Bahraini trainer that made no secret of his international aspiration. He already made history in Saudi Arabia as the first trainer to have won a Turf race in the Kingdom. We can see him regularly in Europe during the summer months at the races and at the stables where he is highly active. Fawzi Nass was at Deauville last September buying a Dubawi half-sister to Sottsass and Sister Charlie for  ‎ 2.5M and at Newmarket in October buying the Kingman half-brother to Galileo Gold for 2,7M Guineas. He made the purchases for himself ; he is an Executive Director of the Engineering Manufacturing company the Nass Group, in association with Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, member of the Bahraini Royal family, and the head of the government Supreme Council for Youth and Sports.

The young Shaikh is incredibly energetic and driven. He is an accomplished Endurance rider and is passionate about the sport of thoroughbred racing.

Simsir was bred by the Aga Khan for whom he raced in Ireland and Dubai before being bought by the sagacious Bahraini investors. Simsir female line goes all the way back to Tourzima, foundation mare of Marcel Boussac that produced so many champions for the Aga Khan and gave her Majesty the Queen Elisabeth II her recent Gold Cup Winner Estimate at her beloved Royal Ascot.

Horse racing has frequently been called the Sport of Kings, Saturday should fit the bill!

Franck Mourier

Image: Saudi Cup Logo, Saudi Jockey Club

Contributing Authors

Franck Mourier

Franck trained thoroughbreds for 25 years in 16 different jurisdictions, he has worked as an odds compiler and is now a bloodstock advisor based in...

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