Charlatan and Knicks Go square up for Saudi Cup glory

Arguably the two highest-profile dirt horses in America are primed for battle in the second running of the Saudi Cup in Riyadh.

The eyes of a large part of the racing world will be on the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan and Brad Cox’s Knicks Go at the King Adbulaziz Racetrack on Saturday, as they clash in a must-see running of the $20million showpiece.

Charlatan was considered a leading Kentucky Derby contender last year, before a setback brought his season to a premature halt, while Knicks Go has been a revelation since joining the Cox barn – winning the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup.

Knicks Go answered stamina questions in tremendous style in the Pegasus – while Baffert’s charge returned to action over Christmas, winning the Malibu Stakes in exhilarating fashion.

Baffert is not in Saudi this year, but sent out Mucho Gusto to be fourth to Maximum Security 12 months ago and enjoyed the experience.

The Hall of Fame trainer said: “It was exciting last year, it was different. The facilities were really great. It was a great experience – it went pretty smoothly, and there was a great atmosphere.

“We just made it off his lay-off in time to run in the Malibu in December – and after that race we were thinking about the Pegasus, but it was coming back a little bit too quick. I really had to rush him into the Malibu.

“I think the Saudi Cup is perfect timing for him. It’s $20million, one-turn mile and an eighth – and I think coming off a seven-eighths race, the way he did it, it’s a perfect distance for him.

“He’s got a great mind on him and he’s a good gate horse. It’s challenging to go to Saudi or Dubai or wherever. You need a horse who has a really great mind – and he’s got a great mind.”

The son of Speightstown has run only four times, but Baffert is not fazed at the task in hand for Mike Smith’s mount.

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He said: “I think his talent makes up for his (lack of) experience and I think he has enough experience – he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose, and I think that’s a good trait.

“I think the race fits the bill perfectly for him. To win these races you need to be way the best. I’ve won the Dubai World Cup, because I had way the best horse. You have to have way the best horse when you are travelling that far.”

On facing Knicks Go and the threat his speed poses, Baffert said: “They’re sort of the same type of horse – Knicks Go, I think two turns he likes better because he can get away from his competition. Speed horses like that are so dangerous going two turns – going one turn a mile and an eighth is a different story.

“I think to put the horse where he is more comfortable (is best), don’t chase. I think when you chase, those speed horses beat you if you chase them, because you get tired. The break is so important. Charlatan was chasing a pretty fast horse (Nashville) last time – and he got to him pretty easily.

“Charlatan is a really talented horse and he’s just maturing and getting really good now.”

Cox could hardly be happier with Knicks Go, who won a Grade One as a juvenile and is now fulfilling all his potential at the age of five. He is on a four-race winning streak for his new stable and could even go on to the Dubai World Cup, should all go well.

Cox said: “He’s continued since the Pegasus to show us what he showed us prior to the Pegasus and prior to the Breeders’ Cup. This race is back a little quick, but one thing that gives us confidence is that he won the Pegasus without Lasix, and this race is without Lasix too.

“Another thing is this is five weeks from the Pegasus, and it was five weeks between his allowance win where he broke the track record at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup.

“He had a little bit of a freshening of a couple easy weeks after the Breeders’ Cup and before the Pegasus, so this is sort of a second race off a lay-off for him. Hopefully, after the race, he gives us confidence that he can travel internationally and compete.”

He added: “Right now we’re treating him as if this is his time to shine. If he’s able to do well in the Saudi Cup and then do well in Dubai, that would be very special. If he were able to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Pegasus, Saudi Cup and Dubai, it would be very similar to what Arrogate did with the Travers, the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic, Pegasus and Dubai.

“If he were able to do something like that, it would go down as one of the great streaks in racing history.

“It seems like two of the better horses obviously have a lot of speed and will make this a very good race.”

“We would try to get through these two and then ship him back to the States and work our way back from the Breeders’ Cup after this. Whether that’s the Dirt Mile or the Classic, his runs in Saudi Arabia and Dubai will tell us which one, so it’s one race at a time.”

Drawn in five, Knicks Go will not have to look far to see Charlatan (nine) when the stalls open.

Cox said: “He doesn’t have to have the lead, he’s just a really honest horse who likes to be forwardly placed. When the gate comes open, we’ll let the jock (Joel Rosario) play the break and place him accordingly.

“The post will be important, obviously. I watched the race last year several times, and it’s hard to get a read on it because the horse on the lead (Mucho Gusto, fourth) was so far off the rail and then (Midnight Bisou, second) was actually glued to the rail – so it’s hard to know how the track plays. It seems like two of the better horses obviously have a lot of speed and will make this a very good race.”

British hopes are led by the John Gosden-trained Mishriff (David Egan), who ran a fine race when second in the Saudi Derby last year on his way to winning the French Derby.

Connections are happy to have been handed a wide draw.

Mishriff is one of two runners for John Gosden in the Saudi Cup
Mishriff is one of two runners for John Gosden in the Saudi Cup (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“John Gosden said all along he wanted a wide draw to stay out of the way of the kickback and the speed at the beginning from the American horses. With stall 12, he probably got his wishes there,” said Ted Voute, racing manager to owner Prince Faisal.

“I hope we’re good enough to beat the American horses. It would be wonderful if a European horse could. It’s what dreams are made of.”

Mishriff is joined by stablemate Global Giant (Frankie Dettori) – while Hollie Doyle partners Extra Elusive for Roger Charlton, and Andrew Balding runs smart all-weather performer Bangkok (Ryan Moore).

Andrew Balding is worried about Bangkok's low draw in the Saudi Cup
Andrew Balding is worried about Bangkok’s low draw in the Saudi Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA

Balding is concerned with Bangkok’s low draw.

“Whether he’s streetwise enough for a draw like that (stall two) we’ll find out, but I don’t know until it plays out,” said the Kingsclere handler.

“Hopefully he can run with credit.”

Knicks Go poised for Saudi Cup duty

Brad Cox has given Knicks Go the green light for the $20million Saudi Cup and should that adventure go well he will then head on to Dubai.

The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner followed up in the Pegasus World Cup – and Cox now has his sights set further afield.

He told “As long as he breezes well this weekend, we’re going to the Saudi Cup. We plan to ship him out Monday.

“The owners (Korea Racing Authority) would like to go to the Saudi Cup and they’ve made that clear. I looked for a reason not to run him back in four weeks and he’s given me no indication that would not be a good idea.

“That’s why I’ve said I want to see him breeze one more time before we put him on a plane. He really rebounded from the Pegasus in great shape and in good order. He’s not giving me any reason to not run him, so we’re going to press forward.”

Knicks Go is likely to meet Bob Baffert’s Charlatan, a dual Grade One winner himself.

“It will be a good match-up between those two,” said Cox said.

“Our horse does have to make the adjustment back to one turn and we don’t know how he will handle that. I do like that he handled not having any Lasix at Gulfstream just fine. That’s a positive and one thing we have going for us. He’s in great form right now and, hopefully, we can keep him that way.”

Cox added a short flight to Meydan for the Dubai World Cup is “definitely under consideration”, should all go well in Saudi Arabia.

Knicks Go part of high-class nominations for World Cup night

Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go heads a star-studded list of nominations for the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on March 27.

Brad Cox’s five-year-old got the year off to a flying start with an all-the-way win at Gulfstream Park last month, to follow up his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile triumph.

Knicks Go is among 176 nominations for $12million Group One that includes Bob Baffert’s lightly-raced Malibu Stakes scorer Charlatan.

Knicks Go after his triumph in the Pegasus World Cup
Knicks Go after his triumph in the Pegasus World Cup (Mathea Kelley)

Other major contenders for the 10-furlong showpiece are Shug McGaughey’s multiple Group winner Code Of Honor, Godolphin’s unbeaten Maxfield from Brendan Walsh’s American stable and the Bill Mott-trained Tacitus.

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John Gosden’s Dubai Warrior – who is expected to run in the Al Maktoum Challenge Rd 2 next week – has been given an entry.

Addeybb is the standout in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic, although he is more likely to head to Australia instead, according to his trainer William Haggas.

The Japanese representation is led by Chrono Genesis, who most recently won the Arima Kinen at Nakayama in December.

Chrono Genesis (far side)  is in the Dubai Sheema Classic
Chrono Genesis (far side) is in the Dubai Sheema Classic (JRA)

Among other big names are 2019 Hong Vase victor Glory Vase, the Mott-trained Channel Maker, David Smaga’s Nao Da Mais and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mogul.

The Gosden-trained Prince of Wales’s Stakes scorer Lord North is one of the nominations for the Dubai Turf.

The Group One could also be the target for the likes of Bahrain International Trophy winner Simsir, trained by Fawzi Nass, Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes victor Colonel Liam and Fort Lauderdale Stakes winner Largent, both under the care of Todd Pletcher, and David O’Meara’s admirable globetrotter Lord Glitters.

American-trained horses account for 13 of the 24 winners of the Dubai Golden Shaheen. They have a typically-strong offering, including Peter Miller’s C Z Rocket, Steve Asmussen’s Yaupon and Doug O’Neill’s Wildman Jack.

The six-furlong Al Quoz Sprint has attracted nominations from across the globe, headed by by star Australian sprinter Bivouac, trained by James Cummings for Godolphin.

Among other winners at the top table are Neil Drysdale’s Oleksandra and Roger Teal’s July Cup winner Oxted.

There is a strong British presence in the Dubai Gold Cup, headed by Charlie Fellowes’ Melbourne Cup-placed Prince Of Arran, Mark Johnston’s Prix Royal-Oak scorer Subjectivist and Andrew Balding’s Doncaster Cup winner Spanish Mission.

Knicks Go clash with Charlatan would be ‘great match up’

Brad Cox’s dominant Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go remains in the mix for a mouthwatering clash with the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan in the Saudi Cup.

Knicks Go earned an automatic berth with an all-the-way success at Gulfstream Park, proving he can stay further than a mile into the bargain.

“He’s done extremely well, he bounced out of the race fine and flew back to New Orleans on Sunday morning,” Cox told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

“It looked like Joel (Rosario) didn’t get to the bottom of him, so hopefully we can head towards the Saudi Cup.

“As a trainer, you try to stay positive but always look at things that could go wrong. Obviously it was our first start without Lasix, he had yet to win at a mile and an eighth and as he’d been so dominant at Keeneland (Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile) – we had to transfer that form to South Florida and he was able to do so.”

The Saudi Cup sees the field only take one turn and Cox is in two minds whether or not that will be in Knicks Go’s favour.

“It’s hard for me to say if a one-turn mile and an eighth will suit him,” said Cox.

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“He went really quick the other day, there was a horse on his outside – I thought 46 (seconds) for the half-mile was quick enough, but he was able to stay on.

“He’s able to get into that one big cruising speed where he’s comfortable and I think he’s able to put horses away between the half (mile) to three-eighths pole. I think he’ll adapt to the one-turn.

“He doesn’t have to lead, he’s just naturally gifted and is quick from the gate. You’d like to think he doesn’t have to lead, but he’s performing well with the style he has right now.

“Charlatan is a very good horse, obviously lightly-raced, but he’s got crazy good numbers. He’s a freak talent, but he does lack some experience. If we decide to go to Saudi, it would be a great match up, it really would.”

Joel Rosario returns on Knicks Go following his Pegasus win
Joel Rosario returns on Knicks Go following his Pegasus win (Marta Lavandier/AP)

Another star in Cox’s barn is dual Breeders’ Cup Distaff heroine Monomoy Girl, who could take on the boys at some stage this year having stayed with Cox following her sale for $9.5million.

“There were definitely different views from the people who had interest in her, but I feel very fortunate that Spendthrift were able to purchase her,” said Cox.

“Their plan was to continue to race her all year and try to get her back at the Breeders’ Cup, which I think is probably the right thing for her.

“It’s been mentioned we might take on the males. We’ve picked out a few races like the Bayakoa and Apple Blossom as short-term goals, then (we’ll) reassess as the year goes on.

“I’d prefer an opportunity before then (Breeders’ Cup) and that would then give us the opportunity to go in the Classic or remain with the girls in the Distaff. It would be great for racing, I do believe.”

Excitingly for British fans, Cox’s Aunt Pearl, who beat Mother Earth and Miss Amulet in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf at the Breeders’ Cup, is still being considered for Royal Ascot.

“Royal Ascot is still on the cards. She’s back training. We’ve just given her an opportunity to catch her breath while there wasn’t much going on for three-year-old fillies in the States,” said Cox.

“The Coronation Stakes would be what we are looking at. I’ve only seen videos, but she looks like she’s filled out and she looks amazing.”

Cox also has three contenders for the Kentucky Derby at this stage.

He said: “We’ve Essential Quality, but we’ve got some other colts. Caddo River has a lot of speed, Mandaloun will wear blinkers on his next start – he has a lot of talent but needs to put it all together mentally.”

Knicks Go blitzes Pegasus World Cup opposition

Knicks Go added to his Breeders’ Cup success with a brilliant victory in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.

The former Grade One-winning juvenile is unbeaten since joining Brad Cox and confirmed his quickly-attained status as one of the best horses in the world with another dominating effort from the front – just as he had done in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Swiftly away under Joel Rosario in the $3million showpiece, the five-year-old had Last Judgment for company through the early stages, with the well-fancied Tax just behind that pair.

But Rosario’s partner always looked to be doing it easily and once his rider pressed the button at the top of the stretch it became just a matter of whether he would see out nine furlongs, on what was his first try at the trip.

The red-hot favourite answered that question in emphatic style, galloping all the way to the line to comfortably account for old foe Jesus’ Team and Independence Hall.

Asked to sum up the performance, Cox told NBC Sports: “I’d say greatness was the word – great horses do great things and he did something great, so I’m very proud of him.

“When a horse is up front and they are going that quick, you are always a little concerned, but Joel has a lot of confidence in the horse and the horse has confidence in him, so it worked out great.”

The win opens up even more options for Knicks Go, with obvious options available in the shape of the Saudi Cup over nine furlongs and the Dubai World Cup at a mile and a quarter.

Cox added: “If he gets the right set up I do believe he can get a mile and a quarter. It’s a mile-and-a-quarter pedigree.”

Knicks Go primed for Pegasus World Cup mission

Victory for Knicks Go in the $3million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday night would cement the rapid rise to fame of the Brad Cox-trained five-year-old.

A Grade One winner as a two-year-old, Knicks Go joined the Cox stable at the start of last year and won two allowance races before heading to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Sent off a short-priced favourite at Keeneland, he made all under Joel Rosario to run out a comfortable winner over Jesus’ Team, breaking the track record in the process.

Cox is aware of the extra significance success in the fifth running of the Gulfstream showpiece would bring, in terms of the future for Knicks Go as a stallion.

Cox – who had four winners over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup meeting – said: “It’s a very prestigious race. It hasn’t been around that long, but with the likes of Gun Runner, Arrogate and City Of Light, there are champions that have won this race. It means a whole lot.

“It’s a race that can make a stallion, and we’re still trying to do that with Knicks Go. He’ll be a stallion at some point. This would mean a lot and do a lot for his value as a stallion.

“Not only is it a great purse, but it’s going to add a lot of value if he’s able to win the race.”

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He will, however, have to carry his undoubted speed over nine furlongs for the first time.

Cox said: “I haven’t raced a lot at Gulfstream, but I think speed is always a good thing there. I’m a big believer that speed is good at a mile and an eighth and beyond – obviously it depends on how much other speed is in the race.

“But I think he can get it. I think he’s a horse that once he gets free and loose, he runs with a lot of confidence.”

He added: “I’m excited. I really do think he’ll handle a mile and an eighth. In his three races with us last year, there was horse left.

“In the Breeders’ Cup, Joel reached up and grabbed him four or five jumps from the wire, so he was still going.”

Jesus’ Team tries to reverse the form, with last year’s winning rider Irad Ortiz jnr in the saddle for the first time.

Trainer Jose D’Angelo said: “It’s very exciting. It is the most important race of our calendar in South Florida at Gulfstream Park. I think it’s a big test for both me and Jesus.”

The betting suggests the biggest dangers to Knicks Go are Tax and Code Of Honor.

Trained by Danny Gargan, Tax was ninth last year to Mucho Gusto, having stumbled at the start.

“He’s better now than he’s ever been. We always knew he was a really good horse. He’s grown and developed into a better horse than he was last year. I think with age he’s getting better and getting stronger, healthier,” Gargan said.

““He has a few little issues we had to work through, and he’s gotten through them. I’m expecting a big performance.”

Code Of Honor at his best would promise to a major danger to Knicks Go.

The record of Shug McGaughey’s charge is littered with high-class form, including a third to Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby and victories in the Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup, the latter on the disqualification of Vino Rosso following a very tight finish.

He was last seen in the Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs, finishing second to Bodexpress.

McGaughey said: “In the Clark, he was bottled up there. By the time he got loose, the race was pretty much over.

“Before that, going a mile, Chad’s (Brown) horse (Complexity) kind of controlled what was going on. I think Javier (Castellano) knew he had to be closer and move a little sooner.

“The Whitney was a throw out. His first race was good. I probably shouldn’t have run him in the Metropolitan Mile. He was wide and Vekoma got the trip. He’s a nice horse. Maybe this will be his day.”