SATURDAY’s inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup numerically shapes up as a clash of American stars and Dubai Carnival standouts, but Japan is not to be overlooked, and Ireland’s Ballydoyle is also taking a stab on dirt for the world’s richest horse race.
Satish Seemar-trained, Dubai-based North America, whose dam, Northern Mischief, is owned by Heversham Park, is one of the runners in this field who can be lethal on the front end – a scenario that is not easy to manage with other pace players and the Satish Seemar veteran will try to leverage his position from post 4.
The other three UAE-based contenders are Dubai World Cup veterans. Gronkowski, perhaps best known stateside for his second to Justify in the 2018 Belmont (G1), has been revived by trainer Salem bin Ghadayer in Dubai and nearly upset Thunder Snow in the 2019 World Cup. Thus his warm-up thirds so far this season could set him up for a peak.
Stablemate Capezzano has won four of his last five. That blip was a last-of-12 finish in the World Cup that he exited lame, but he recently returned to wire the Firebreak (G3). Post 13 will probably not be conducive to those tactics.
Contested over 1800m around one turn at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, the Saudi Cup configuration is reminiscent of Belmont Park. That could elevate the U.S. runners with Belmont experience, but the dirt track has a reputation for minimal kickback that plays to all running styles.
While the Americans set the standard of dirt form, each must rise to a particular challenge. Last year’s champion 3-year-old male Maximum Security handily beat older horses in his two final outings of 2019, but they were some way below the division’s best. Reigning champion older dirt female Midnight Bisou has bossed fellow distaffers, but she’s never faced males.
Now they’ll be tested by multiple Grade 1 hero McKinzie, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) runner-up who cuts back to arguably his optimal trip. Yet McKinzie isn’t always the most resolute customer, and he can get outdueled by a more dogged foe.
At Wednesday’s draw, the American shippers landed mostly together in the middle, except for Tacitus in post 2. Midnight Bisou drew post 6, with Maximum Security next door (post 7) and the Baffert duo Mucho Gusto (post 8) and McKinzie (post 9) alongside
Godolphin’s representative Benbatl, a multiple Group 1 winner on turf, just aced his dirt experiment in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2). That made him a leading player for the March 28 Dubai World Cup (G1). The uncertainty here is how he’ll cope with the American pace presence, and whether he’ll find this dirt track as congenial as Meydan.