Mishriff, Mandaloun, Midnight Bourbon top international field for $20M Saudi Cup

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Mishriff, shown winning the 2021 Saudi World Cup, is among the favorites to repeat on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Katsumi Saito
1 of 4 | Mishriff, shown winning the 2021 Saudi World Cup, is among the favorites to repeat on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Katsumi Saito

Feb. 25 (UPI) -- A supremely classy and fascinating field heads to the post at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Saturday for the third running of the $20 million Saudi Cup, with defending champion and U.S. rivals Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon leading the way.

The Cup itself is the culmination of two days of world-class racing on dirt and turf. The U.S. contingent also has a good shot in the $1.5 million Group 3 Saudi Derby with the Bob Baffert-trained Pinehurst. Three of Saturday's races are on the turf, with the others on the acclaimed Saudi dirt surface.


Back home, the Kentucky Derby chase continues this weekend in Arkansas, where Newgrange, winner of the Southwest Stakes in his previous start, returns from California as the favorite for the $1 million Grade II Rebel. He also hails from the Baffert barn.

At Gulfstream Park, the reigning U.S. filly/mare champion, Letruska, returns to action for the first time since her shocking loss in the Breeders Cup Distaff. Which brings us to ...


An oddity: The winner and the defeated favorite from November's Breeders' Cup Distaff at Del Mar are both in action Saturday -- winner Marche Lorraine in the Saudi Cup, where she again is a long shot, and Letruska, who beat only one rival at Del Mar, in the Royal Delta Stakes, where she again will be a big favorite.

So we shall see what we see. Moving right along:

The Saudi Cup

When he first heard the idea for the Saudi Cup, Baffert was asked if he thought world-class horses could be lured to a jurisdiction that, at the time, was unfamiliar to many. His answer: "If you put up $20 million, you'll get good horses in the starting gate."

That was the case when the race kicked off in 2020 and never more so than for Saturday's renewal, which finds top horses from around the globe vying for the winner's share over the King Abdulaziz Racecourse dirt in Riyadh.

The evolving rivalry between American colts Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon looms large but easily could be overshadowed by returning 2021 winner Mishriff or a Japanese contingent that includes the aforementioned Marche Lorraine and last year's Japanese dirt champ, T O Keynes.


There are other serious contenders in a very deep field, including Sealiway, who represents France while making his first start since winning the Group 1 British Champions Stakes at Ascot in October.

And then there's Country Grammer. Perhaps the least-regarded of the four U.S. starters, the lightly raced 5-year-old son of Tonalist has been right in the thick of things in most of his eight career starts and was last seen winning the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita nearly nine months ago.

He's trained by the aforementioned Baffert, who knows a nice purse when he sees it.

Mandaloun's trainer, Brad Cox, said the No. 6 gate assigned his colt is satisfactory, adding, "He tends to race forward, tracking the leaders, so provided he breaks well, and there is no reason why he won't, then I expect he will be up with the pace."

Scott Blasi, assistant to Midnight Bourbon's trainer, Steve Asmussen, said the No. 3 stall is OK, too, but noted the absence of handlers in the gate -- a difference from American racing. Nonetheless, Blasi added, "It's a good draw for us as he has tactical speed."


Mishriff was awarded the No. 14 gate and co-trainer Thady Gosden was left to put the best face on that.

"Obviously, it's not ideal," Gosden said. "But last year, he was drawn in 12 before winning, so hopefully on Saturday he'll jump well and get into a good place in the back stretch. It's a very competitive looking renewal of the race. He comes here in good form and still shows plenty of enthusiasm."

Baffert had the opposite problem as Country Grammer drew the rail.

"I would have preferred an outside draw," he said. "But it will be a great race and we're happy to have a horse good enough to be there."

Baffert also has the likely favorite for the Group 3 Saudi Derby in Pinehurst, a Twirling Candy colt who finished second to Forbidden Kingdom in the Grade II San Vicente at Santa Anita in his most recent start Jan. 29.

This is no easy task as the full field also includes several 3-year-olds who have been knocking heads in Dubai. Japanese connections, who have an enviable history here, bring Sekifu, a Henny Hughes colt who finished fourth behind three potential Kentucky Derby prospects in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki Racecourse in his last start.


The massive day of racing kicks off with three Group 3 events on the King Abdulaziz turf -- the Neom Turf Cup at 1 5/16 miles, the 1,351 Turf Sprint at just less than 7 furlongs and the Longines Red Sea Turf at 1 7/8 miles. The Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint at 6 furlongs runs just before the Saudi Cup.

The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia strives to provide a stage for racing's second- and third-tier jurisdictions and that commitment culminates in Friday's Saudi International Handicap, restricted to horses from those nations, which shares billing with the four-race Jockey Challenge.

The Road to the Roses

Newgrange, undefeated after three starts, returns to Oaklawn Park as the 9-5 morning-line favorite among 11 entered for Saturday's $1 million Grade 2 Rebel.

The Violence colt shipped in from Sana Anita last month to win the Grade III Southwest Stakes with an impressive late move. That backed up earlier victories in the Grade III Sham Stakes on New Year's Day and a maiden event at Del Mar in November.

The race offers 50 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points for the winner but Newgrange is not eligible as he's trained by -- him again! -- Baffert, who is banned from this year's and next year's Derby by Churchill Downs.


The second- through fifth-place runners from the Southwest -- Barber Road, Ben Diesel, Kavod and Dash Attack -- all take another shot. The competition also includes Un Ojo, upset runner-up in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct, and Chasing Time, who steps up from a dominating allowance win over the Oaklawn track.

Sunday's $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park has a competitive field of eight with several out-of-towners, two of them trained by Steve Asmussen.

American Xperiment comes from Fair Grounds, but his record shows a win at Saratoga, a third in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity last September and a second at Oaklawn in his 2022 debut. Classic Moment, training at Sam Houston, was last seen finishing sixth in the Southwest behind Newgrange.

Straight Up G, trained at Santa Anita by Richard Baltas, has been running against fellow California-breds.

The Path to the Oaks

Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn Park got only six takers but there are some choice ones in the bunch. The morning-line pick is Secret Oath, an Arrogate filly seeking a third straight win over the Oaklawn strip. She won the Martha Washington Stakes on Jan. 29 in her most recent effort, drawing off to score by 7 1/4 lengths.


Yuugiri tackles a tough assignment in her 3-year-old debut. The Shackleford filly finished her 2-year-old campaign with a second in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs and has been working steadily at Oaklawn for nearly two months.

Optionality, a Gun Runner filly, was second in the local Martha Washington but before that won three in a row at tracks in Indiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Those three drew the inside gates. Outside them are relative long shots Ice Orchid, Free Like a Girl and Red Queen.


Gulfstream Park

Letruska won the Eclipse Award as 2021's champion female dirt horse despite her 10th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup and will do her best to justify those of us who voted her that award when she lines up six rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Royal Delta.

There actually was little doubt about the Eclipse Award as Letruska, a Super Saver mare who started her career in Mexico, won five straight races before the loss at Del Mar, four of them Grade I affairs.

Rivals in the Royal Delta will be overmatched if Letruska returns to form. If not, Crazy Beautiful looks the most likely upsetter. The Liam's Map filly was third in the Grade III Comely at Aqueduct in her last race back in November.



Saturday's $100,000 Stymie Stakes at 1 mile has a field of seven with Green Light Go as the solid morning-line favorite. The 5-year-old son of Hard Spun was second in the Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap in November and won his return in an allowance race over the course Jan. 13.

Turfway Park

A dozen fillies and mares are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Wintergreen Stakes but the Turway oddsmaker had little trouble finding Breeze Rider as the 9-5 favorite. The Paynter mare has won three of her last five starts including the My Charmer Stakes on the Turfway all-weather strip in December by 4 3/4 lengths.

Around the world, around the clock:

The Saudi Cup program isn't quite the be-all, end-all of the weekend's global racing scene. Here's a little more.


Friday's seventh program of the World Cup Carnival takes a decided backseat to the Saudi Cup. But that doesn't mean it should be ignored as there are some potential candidates for the World Cup night itself -- and some generally good racing throughout the six heats on the card.

The feature is the Grade III Dubai Millennium Stakes with Star Safari looking for a repeat win as part of a Godolphin quartet. The 6-year-old Sea the Stars gelding went on from the 2021 win to finish sixth in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic the following month.


He already has two races under his belt at Meydan this season, finishing first and second for trainer Charlie Appleby, who also saddles the promising 4-year-old Royal Fleet. Godolphin's other mentor, Saeed bin Suroor, has entered Big Team and Volcanic Sky.

A wild card is Burgas, a 4-year-old, Turkish-bred colt by King David who arrives from Ankara with a record of eight wins from 12 starts. Bulut Karahan, racing manager for owner/breeder Fedai Kahraman, said Friday's race is intended "to get him ready for the Dubai Sheema Classic at the Dubai World Cup meeting."

Also looking forward to the World Cup meeting are the connections of Batwan. The 7-year-old is prominent in a tough field of 12 in the Lincoln Nautilus Handicap at 1,200 meters.

Assistant trainer Marine Henry said the hope is for "a good run here and to earn an invitation into the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup day."

There are two new events on the card, the Jumeirah Derby at 2,000 meters on the turf and the Al Karama Stakes at 1,400 meters on the dirt.

American trainer Doug O'Neill has a long shot in the Lincoln Aviator Handicap at 1,200 meters on the dirt with Notre Dame. The Into Mischief gelding drops from the group ranks to see when he can do against softer competition.


The Carnival wraps up next weekend with Super Saturday, previewing most of the action on World Cup night, March 26.


Saturday's Group 1 Neds Blue Diamond Stakes for 2-year-olds at Caulfield anchors a three-Group 1 program. The Blue Diamond is for 2-year-olds. The Ned's Oakleigh Plate is run at 1,100 meters, the Blue Diamond at 1200 and the Lamaro's Hotel Futurity at 1,200.

Hong Kong

Sunday's Hong Kong Classic Cup, 1,800 meters around the Sha Tin turf, is the second leg of the 4-year-old Classic Series that culminates in the BMW Hong Kong Derby. There's a full field of 14, only a few of whom would be a massive surprise to make the frame.

The favorites, almost perforce, are the 1-2 finishers from the first leg of the series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile on Jan. 30. In that, California Spangle led most of the way, only to be chased down in the closing stages by Romantic Warrior, who won by 1/2 lengths. The Irishman and Turin Redskin, third and fourth in the Mile, also are back.

For what it's worth, Romantic Warrior, who remains undefeated, had to wait for racing room through the stretch in the Mile and responded gamely when shown daylight. The Irishman was making up lots of ground on the outside.


California Spangle was used early from an outside gate but then allowed to dictate things rather easily through the middle stages.

Solve the riddle and the rewards should be commensurate.


Lord North, idle since taking down the Group 1 Dubai Turf last March at Meydan, finally returns to action Saturday in the Group 3 Betway Winter Derby on the Lingfield park all-weather course.

The race is a highlight of the British All-Weather Championships but certainly a good showing would have the heavily favored 6-year-old Dubawi gelding on a plane to Dubai rather than pointing toward the Easter Classic on AWC Finals Day on Good Friday.

Trainers John and Thady Gosden, although certainly preoccupied with Mishriff in Riyadh, send out Lord North at Lingfield along with Forest of Dean, last year's Winter Derby winner, who did go on to the 2021 Easter Classic, where he finished third.

Others well-fancied in the Saturday field are Alenquer, a group stakes winner on the turf who tests the all-weather for the first time, and Fancy Man, who is 2-for-2 on all-weather surfaces. Alenquer finished second to Mishriff in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York in August, albeit 6 lengths in arrears.


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