Brad Cox concentrating on Saudi Cup task with Mandaloun

Brad Cox insists he has managed to focus on preparing Mandaloun for the Saudi Cup despite the distraction of his horse being awarded the Kentucky Derby earlier this week.

The Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit has been officially disqualified after testing positive for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone, a prohibited substance in Kentucky on raceday. Baffert and connections will appeal the ruling, but Cox’s attentions have been fixed on the world’s most valuable race and he is happy with the way Mandaloun has settled in Riyadh.

“The thing with the Kentucky Derby is we didn’t think much about it the night before the announcement and I’m kind of glad, though I don’t know if it’s over or not,” he said.

“Our focus is the Saudi Cup first and foremost right now. He’s settled in well. He trained great on Thursday morning, my first morning here, and I was happy with what I saw. He seems to be on it and we’re focused on Saturday rather than what happened nine or 10 months ago.”

Should Mandaloun be successful at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, it would be a fitting result as the four-year-old carries the colours of the late Prince Khalid Abdullah, who died in January last year.

“Right after the Kentucky Derby, Garrett O’Rourke (manager of Juddmonte Farms in America) said the family would really like it if we could target this,” said Cox.

“Obviously, there were some Grade Ones we were looking at, like the Haskell, but we turned our attention to this. We got one run into him five weeks ago. It was a good run, probably a little better than we expected and it looks like he’s taken a move forward from three to four.

“I know he has physically and Florent (Geroux, jockey) thought he had mentally in his race, so we’re set for a big effort.

“It’s a good race. The horse on the outside (Mishriff) is the defending champ. He’ll be hard to beat. The mare from Japan (Marche Lorraine) is good, the four Americans make sense – they belong – and there’s the Godolphin horse. It’s a good group, but our horse is right where we want him.”

Mandaloun's trainer Brad Cox
Mandaloun’s trainer Brad Cox (PA)

The Keeneland trainer is hoping Mandaloun will show no ill effects from his victory over Midnight Bourbon last month on what was his first start since July.

“It may be a touch quick after his last run four weeks ago. Someone said ‘why run him back?’. And I said ‘there are 20 million reasons to have a shot’,” he added.

Thady Gosden reports the Prince Faisal-owned Mishriff to be a better specimen of a horse at the age of five as he bids to win the Saudi Cup for the second year running – a feat that would make the five-year-old the number one money earner of all time.

Gosden, who trains the Make Believe entire jointly with his father, John, has seen a positive difference since last year.

“When you see him physically, he’s got more muscly and has a thicker neck as you’d expect being a year older and he looks like he’s retained the same speed,” he said.

David Egan celebrates Saudi Cup glory with Mishriff
David Egan celebrates Saudi Cup glory with Mishriff (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Douglas DeFelice)

“He’s always been a very tough horse and is very enthusiastic in his work. The preparation has gone smoothly and we couldn’t have hoped for a better run into it.”

Mishriff won from stall 12 in 2021 and has to overcome being on the wide outside in gate 14.

“Obviously it’s a bit wide, but he’s better there than on the rail in stall one,” he went on. “It’s not ideal, but it is better than being bang on the rail. We’ll see and hopefully it will work out well.

“It was a great thrill for the owner last year and a wonderful achievement. He bred the dam, he owned the sire. It’s rare you see that in any horse in a Group One.”

Gosden senior did not make the trip last year, but is in attendance this time for what could be a historic performance.

“It’s a race which looks to have a lot of depth, a really fabulous race actually, a proper international Group One,” he said.

Steve Asmussen is convinced the best is yet to come from Midnight Bourbon.

Midnight Bourbon looks a picture in trackwork
Midnight Bourbon looks a picture in trackwork (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Mahmoud Khaled)

“He has an elite level of talent without finishing it off at this stage. He’s not had the success his ability would allow, but it also leaves a lot for us moving forward,” he said.

“He is still in a physical and mental development that I think allows for him to possibly end up being the best horse in training in the world this year.

“It’s one thing after another but it’s there, it just needs to come together. I’m hoping beyond hope and expecting that he’s waiting for the Saudi Cup stage to put it all together perfectly.”

Saeed bin Suroor was delighted to have given Real World, the mount of Frankie Dettori, a helping hand by selecting a decent draw for the first time.

Real World was given a good draw by his trainer Saeed bin Suroor
Real World was given a good draw by his trainer Saeed bin Suroor (David Davies/PA)

“It’s the first time I chose a good draw. It’s great, I hope he can show his good turn of foot and I think he’ll get the distance well,” he said.

“There is no excuse, Frankie knows the horse well. The horse has improved physically and mentally he is much better. When we used to take him to the races he used to sweat up badly, but he is much more relaxed now and over time he has really learned much more.

“I hope he can handle the dirt and I think this is his best distance.”

Baffert, meanwhile, believes Country Grammer has what it takes to put up a good show.

“I thought he worked really well the other day and you want to see that they like the track and are moving well,” said the Hall of Fame trainer.

“The class is there and the distance won’t be an issue, but the only thing I worry about with him might be the one-turn mile and an eighth instead of two turns. We saw that last year with Knicks Go not being as effective as around two turns.

“I’ve been working him aggressively from the gate, so he’ll get out and be up on the speed and I’ve been training him to run around one turn. His races before he went on the shelf were pretty impressive and he’s proven that he’s a fighter.”

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