Tag Archive for: Saudi Cup

Eclipse likely return point for Mishriff, with Dubai off the agenda

Following his Saudi Cup disappointment last weekend, Mishriff is expected to follow a similar path as last season but will not go to Dubai.

The John and Thady Gosden-trained five-year-old was drawn widest of all in stall 14 when attempting to land the $20million Riyadh feature for a second year in succession.

However, David Egan’s mount was beaten turning for home and allowed to come home at his own pace.

Plans to run in the $6m Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night, which he also won last season, have been shelved, according to Ted Voute, racing manager for Mishriff’s owner, Prince Faisal.

Voute said: “I saw John Gosden at Wednesday at Kempton and he said he was sound and great and he hadn’t done any veterinary check-ups yet.

“He was on Warren Hill and everything appeared fine.

“He definitely wasn’t himself in the Saudi Cup. Basically, most of last year, every time he ran in a Group One we did a medical check-up afterwards. He is valuable and he is pretty well insured, so we made that a standard practice.

“I think we are waiting to see if that throws any light on it.

Mishriff and David Egan winning last year's Saudi Cup
Mishriff and David Egan winning last year’s Saudi Cup (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Douglas DeFelice)

“Looking at it, I think it was multi-factorial. He didn’t break as well as last year and David had to fight with him a little bit. Every time you do that he hangs his head on the side slightly and says, ‘Oh, I’m not sure I like this’. The track was a little bit deeper and he got some dirt in his face, and he wasn’t used to that particularly.

“I don’t think any one of those things beat him, but maybe a combination of all of them might have done.

“There was a lot of kickback this year and my enquiries suggest that there was a slightly different composition through a slightly deeper track.

“That would make a lot of sense with Japanese horses winning – they train on a much deeper surface at home and the local horses would have been training on it. The European horses on the dirt didn’t really fire this year. Last year they did.

“I can’t pinpoint anything apart from what everybody else can see at this moment. I’m sure John will say something when he has run the tests.”

Mishriff, who gained his third Group One success when landing the Juddmonte International at York last August, is set for another mid-summer campaign.

Voute added: “John did say he is not in any rush. We will try to follow the same plan as last year, so that would be the Eclipse next. We definitely won’t go to Dubai.

“I say that, but last year we said we wouldn’t go, then all of a sudden we went to the Sheema Classic!”

Monday Musings: The home defence prevails in Saudi

Two years ago the Saudi Cup was staged for the first time with a total prize fund of $20 million ($10 million to the winner) and therefore the richest single horse race anywhere in the world. There was little surprise when US-trained horses came out on top in the nine-furlong event on the dirt course close to Riyadh.

The winner that day was Maximum Security, the horse that had also finished first past the post in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.  Immediately after the Derby, Maximum Security was disqualified for causing interference on the final bend and was relegated to 17th of the 19 runners under the stringent US interference rules.

The horse’s owners, which include the Coolmore partners, must have been relieved that the Saudi Cup was at least a financial consolation for losing the Derby. Sensationally, though, within a few days of that inaugural running, news came that the colt’s trainer Jason Servis had been arrested. He is named as one of 27 individuals implicated in a US-wide horse doping conspiracy. Their inevitably complex trial is expected to begin next year.

The first actual recipient of the Saudi cash therefore – before Newcastle United and the golfers wanting to play in the Kingdom-inspired planned breakaway from the PGA tour – was Prince Abdul Rahman Abdullah Faisal. The Prince, usually referred to as Prince Faisal in the UK, with his Gosden-trained Mishriff, won the race last year. He, of course, is from the Saudi Royal family.

His horse was back again for the Cup’s third running on Saturday, but he finished last, virtually pulled up by David Egan. The home team this time enjoyed both sides of the triumph, not just a Saudi-owned (again a Prince from the ruling family) but also by dint of its Saudi trainer.

That horse was Emblem Road, a US-bred son of Quality Road, sourced as a two-year-old for around $80,000 at Ocala in Florida, and he came into Saturday’s race with six wins in eight starts, yet started 80-1 (or 50-1, depending on which report you believe).

The price was understandable as he faced the reigning Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun, also unbeaten in three runs since that day before Saturday, as well as well-touted fellow Americans Country Grammer and Midnight Bourbon.

The former of that pair is trained by Bob Baffert, another high-profile US trainer several of whose best horses have been found to have had illegal substances in their post-race samples and who is soon to face an inquiry into one of those instances. Interestingly, it was to Baffert that Maximum Security was switched after the Jason Servis licence was suspended two years ago.

Hopes for Emblem Road were drastically reduced when the colt started very slowly but his 53-year-old rider Wigberto Ramos did not panic. A Panamanian who has been riding in Saudi Arabia for the past 24 years, “Wiggy” knows the track as well as any jockey and he steadily made up his ground.

There was still more to be retrieved as Country Grammer set off for home, offering Baffert high hopes of his cut of the $10 million; but Emblem Road, buoyed by his own extensive experience of his home track, would not be denied and got up close home to win by half a length.

The victory was a massive triumph for his local trainer Mitab Almulawah and it must be very possible that his smart and tough four-year-old might be deployed to Meydan to challenge for the Dubai World Cup, victory in which would propel him even higher up the world top earnings table.

I remember when I first started working back in 1990 with the late Prince Ahmed Salman and his Thoroughbred Corporation team which won so many major races around the world, asking whether the family was on a par with the Maktoum family.

The answer came from my pal Jack Rusbridge, the late Prince’s main security advisor, who replied: “No contest. The Saudis’ wealth is a bottomless pit!” Phil Mickelson and Eddie Howe are well aware of that, never mind Baffert who for all the disappointment of his near miss in the big race, collected his share of around $3.5 million for Country Grammer’s second and the victory of his 7-4 favourite Pinehurst in the Saudi Derby earlier on the card.

The rivalry between Dubai and Riyadh is such that the failure of any of the Godolphin ten to win a race would have been regarded as a triumph on the ground for the home team. Rather than any of the more anticipated centres of success, the remaining four races open to the invaders all went to that upwardly-mobile source of big-race excellence that is Japan.

Two wins on the second day of the Breeders’ Cup with Marche Lorraine – sixth to Emblem Road on Saturday – and Loves Only You, who went on to win the Longines Hong Kong Cup in December, jolted many of us to their ever-expanding horizons.

But this was something on an altogether different scale. All four were ridden by Christophe Lemaire who, in the manner of all true international jockeys of the highest order, instantly knew how to handle this track. Three turf races opened the feast, Lemaire making all in two with a come from behind run in between. Then later, in the Turf sprint, he was back in making-all vein, completing an astonishing four-timer for this powerful racing nation.

**

There was some decent jump racing back home at the weekend and it was good to see Milton Harris winning the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton with the now unbeaten-in-five over timber, Knight Salute, who needed to overcome a 5lb penalty for his earlier two Graded wins.

Expensive recruits from the flat were easily brushed aside and while it might have been tight if the Gary Moore-trained Teddy Blue had jumped the last two flights better, Knight Salute looks the main domestic hope for the Triumph Hurdle against the Mullins/Elliott platoon.

Staying chases were the other prime targets for owners and trainers, and both Newcastle’s Eider Chase and then Kempton’s Coral Handicap Chase were mopped up by the mop-haired (although he has trimmed it a shade!) Christian Williams.

Always a shrewdie in his riding days as a generally second-string jump jockey, he seems even more astute as a trainer. He says the plans for the multiple entries for these two valuable prizes were fixed months ago and they were rewarded when Win My Wings justified heavy support down to 11-2 favouritism at Newcastle. Cap Du Nord, 15 minutes later, with Williams – anxiously on course in the paddock at Sunbury - led home a stable one-two completed by Kitty’s Light.

The three Williams contributors collected almost £160,000. On what was the worst performance of his life Mandaloun “earned” £222,222 for finishing ninth in the world’s richest race.

For anyone waiting for news of Glen Again who now has been taken out twice so far when due to make his hurdles debut, I can tell you he has two possible entries later this week. Ian Williams has to choose between Ludlow on Thursday and Newbury the following day. At least the ground will not be heavy wherever he goes.

- TS

Emblem Road shocks the world’s best in Saudi Cup

Emblem Road was a hugely popular but shock winner for the home team in the $20million Saudi Cup in Riyadh.

Trained locally by Mitab Almulawah and ridden by Wigberto ‘Wiggy’ Ramos, Emblem Road is a prolific winner in his homeland but was expected to be up against it taking on the best performers from America, Japan and Europe.

Sent on his way at 80-1, Emblem Road was only seventh turning into the straight when it looked like the huge prize-money was sure to head to America.

Bob Baffert’s Country Grammer and the Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bourbon looked set to fight out a famous finish with Making Miracles, who won the 2019 Chester Cup for Mark Johnston, just behind them.

However, Emblem Road, a stablemate of Making Miracles, was beginning to hit top gear down the centre of the track.

Even with half a furlong to run and with Emblem Road still over a length down, the result began to look inevitable and the home crowd started to go wild.

Ramos began his celebrations on crossing the line and he looked as dumbfounded as the rest. Country Grammer was second with Midnight Bourbon third.

There were some big disappointments, including last year’s winner Mishrif for John and Thady Gosden, Brad Cox’s Mandaloun and the Japanese star T O Keynes.

Mitab Almulawah’s stable representative Hisham Abdul Wahed said: “All the Kingdom has to party. We did a great job today. We defeated nice horses and quality horses, champion horses like Mishriff, Mandaloun and the others. We beat them all today. Thanks to god for all of this.

“The distance was no problem. It was better for him. He will go to 2000 and 2400 metres. I didn’t really see Emblem Road in the closing stages because I was shouting and we win the Saudi Cup.

“The people are very happy for us and we are for them, the Kingdom, for everyone. I told Ramos before the race your horse has a good chance and you will see.

“Ramos deserved this and today he is our champion.”

Panama-born Ramos, 53, said: “I knew he had a chance but now he’s won the Saudi Cup I can’t believe it.

“I waited a little bit and took my horse to the outside and I knew he would find for me. I did not hear anything. I just wanted the finishing line to get this thing done.

“It was difficult to decide between the two horses (Emblem Road and stable mate Making Miracles) but I chose right.

“This is definitely the best moment of my career. I have been here in Saudi for 24 years. I think in two or three years will be my retirement but I’m not thinking about that now. I feel so very happy to win for my people in Saudi Arabia. This is my second home.

“I will be 54 in May. I come from Panama and went to America. I had eight years over there and then I came here.”

Flavien Prat, rider of runner-up Country Grammer, said: “I thought I had the job done.

“He ran great, had a great trip and there are no excuses. He proved what a good horse he is.”

Joel Rosario, third on Midnight Bourbon, said: “ He showed a lot of heart. He ran really well.

“Coming round the final turn I thought it might be my night but then the winner came on in the last part. It was a beautiful race to watch.

“My horse travels really well all the time. He is amazing.

“It’s a good result for the country and for the jockey. He deserved the win and I couldn’t be more happy. I’m still sore after my fall earlier (on Channel Cat) but you have to do what you have to do.”

Jockey David Egan said of last year’s winner Mishriff, who trailed in last of the 14 runners: “He’s better than that. He didn’t jump as sharply as he did last year and was on the back foot.

“We slowly crept up and got into a nice position but once we turned into the bend he was struggling a long way out and it was definitely not him.

“Something must be amiss but hopefully he’s all right. I looked after him and hopefully he’ll have another day.”

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.”

Buick misses Saudi Cup card after positive Covid test

William Buick will miss out on the Saudi Cup meeting in Riyadh on Saturday after testing positive for Covid-19.

The Godolphin jockey had four rides headed by the well-fancied Naval Crown for trainer Charlie Appleby in the 1351 Turf Sprint.

A statement on the Saudi Cup Twitter feed said: “William Buick has returned a positive PCR test and will not be able to fulfil his rides on Saudi Cup day.”

He also had to give up his four mounts at Meydan on Friday.

James Doyle will take over on Naval Crown and on Siskany in the Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap, with Frankie Dettori replacing Buick on Noble Truth in the Saudi Derby.

David Egan comes in for Buick’s other ride on Copano Kicking the Riyadh Dirt Sprint. Egan also gets a spare ride on Happy Power in the Turf Sprint due to Doyle switching from Andrew Balding’s charge to Naval Crown in that race.

Mishriff drawn wide in Saudi Cup defence

Mishriff will have to overcome a wide draw if he is to defend his Saudi Cup title in Riyadh on Saturday.

Thady Gosden, who trains the five-year-old in partnership with his father John, picked stall 14 of 14 at a draw ceremony on Wednesday ahead of the $20million feature.

Mishriff started from stall 12 when triumphing last year, before going on to win the Sheema Classic in Dubai and the Juddmonte International at York.

Gosden admitted the draw was far from perfect, but reports the Make Believe horse to be in top trim as he bids to tries to add the £11.1million he has already secured in prize money.

He said: “Obviously it’s not ideal but last year he was in 12, so hopefully he will jump well and be able to run down the backstretch.

“He still has the same enthusiasm (at home), he still has a bit of a buck and a play and shows us he’s feeling well. He’s in good form.”

Real World will be in stall four in the Saudi Cup
Real World will be in stall four in the Saudi Cup (David Davies/PA)

Saeed bin Suroor and Frankie Dettori team up with Real World, with the Godolphin runner having made a rapid ascent through the ranks last year.

The five-year-old won each of his four outings, graduating from the Royal Hunt Cup to win a Newbury Listed prize before landing the Group Three Strensall Stakes at York.

He signed off with a narrow verdict in the Group Two Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp and was victorious at that level in the Zabeel Mile on his reappearance at Meydan last month. He will be in stall four.

Bin Suroor said: “I think this is the first time I have chosen a good draw! He shows a good turn of foot and he can jump well from the gate.

“Frankie rides him and he knows him well. It would be great to see him run well.”

Mandaloun, who was officially awarded the 2021 Kentucky Derby earlier this week following the disqualification of Medina Spirit, leads the American charge and he will be in stall six for the nine-furlong dirt contest.

He already has a win under his belt this season, having landed a Grade Three at Fair Grounds.

Trainer Brad Cox said: “He’s doing well. He stepped forward from three to four, which is what you like to see. I think he needs to take another step forward and I think he can.”

Sealiway has his first start for trainer Francis Graffard
Sealiway has his first start for trainer Francis Graffard (Steven Paston/PA)

Last season’s Champion Stakes hero Sealiway will be partnered by Ryan Moore for the first time as he starts from stall 11.

Now trained by Francis Graffard, he makes his first start of the year in Riyadh, with Pauline Chehboub, representing part-owner Haras de la Gousserie, believing he has improved further over the winter.

“He had a big season last year, but we think he is better than ever at four,” she said.

“He’s a very versatile horse. He travelled well and he is a horse with a big personality – you know when he’s around.

“Mickael Barzalona rides Magny Cours, so we have Ryan Moore – he’s not bad!”

The Andre Fabre-trained Magny Cours will be in stall seven, with leading Japanese hopes Marche Lorraine, who was a shock winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, in 13 and T O Keynes in stall eight.

Egan relishing Saudi Cup defence with Mishriff

David Egan has hailed Mishriff as “the perfect racehorse” ahead of his defence of the Saudi Cup.

John and Thady Gosden’s money-spinner will take his career earnings higher than any other horse in history should he win the newly anointed Group One in Riyadh on Saturday.

Having shown great versatility, winning over a variety of trips on turf and on dirt, Mishriff has proven himself unique among the world’s best.

“The horse is in good shape again, he’s fit and healthy and he’s got all guns blazing, I suppose,” said Egan.

“He’s a credit to Team Gosden and everyone at Clarehaven, mentally he must be so strong. He’s a credit to himself as well, to do it on any surface and any trip is quite astonishing really.

“It was a feather in his cap having run well in the (Saudi) Derby out here the year before last and now he’s run well here twice, whereas some will be coming out here for the first time and running on this sort of surface for the first time.

“He’s had a similar prep in the UK, he travels well and takes it all in his stride so I hope things go nice and smoothly into the race.”

He went on: “Mishriff won’t feel the pressure, this is his usual trip in February and he’s getting used to it now. My form study will start when the draw happens.

“He’s a lot more professional in his races now. As a three-year-old he would jump slow and took an age to get going. He was just immature, but racing and developing with age has helped turn him into the perfect racehorse.

“Last year everyone had their eyes on Knicks Go and Charlatan, it’s more of an open race this year there’s half a dozen who could win.

“Mishriff has proved he’s the horse to beat with track experience and leads the way, I suppose.”

Bin Suroor in no rush to decide on Real World’s Saudi Cup bid

Saeed bin Suroor will wait until closer to the time before deciding whether to bid for Saudi Cup glory with Real World following his impressive return to action in Dubai last week.

The five-year-old won the Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot, a Listed event at Newbury and a Group Three at York in Britain last season, before rounding off his campaign with Group Two success in France.

He made his comeback in the Zabeel Mile on turf at Meydan on Friday and a dominant display has teed him up for a step up to the highest level in the coming weeks.

Bin Suroor said: “He has come out of the race well. He is fresh and happy and I am happy with him.

“He was 90 per cent ready to go, which is why we started him over the mile. He showed some speed, but the best trip for him is a mile to a mile and a quarter.

“He is in good form and was invited yesterday for the Saudi Cup. We have plenty of time to decide whether to run there as it is not until February 26, so we will see.”

Real World was beaten in each of his four races on the dirt at Meydan last year, but Bin Suroor is not too concerned about the prospect of switching surfaces should he head for Riyadh.

“If he is going to run in the Saudi Cup he will be running on the dirt, but physically he looks good and is much better than he was this time last year,” the trainer added.

“He works on the Tapeta at Al Quoz and always handles it really well. There is a big difference between the Tapeta and the dirt, but it would be great to run in the Saudi Cup.

“We have seen what he can do in England, in France and now in Dubai and it will be good to see him running in Group One races now, either in Saudi or Dubai.”

Saeed bin Suroor at Goodwood
Saeed bin Suroor at Goodwood (John Walton/PA)

In the aftermath of Real World’s comeback victory, Bin Suroor reported the son of Dark Angel had galloped over six furlongs at his Al Quoz training base in one minute and 12 seconds, a time comparable to the workouts posted by the speedy American horses he could meet in Saudi Arabia and later the Dubai World Cup.

Reflecting on that scintillating spin, Bin Suroor said: “I don’t like to squeeze the horses in the morning, but it was a fast piece of work and he was finishing on the bridle well. It was three weeks before he ran.

“I’m really happy with him. He looked good before his run and looks even better since.”

Dubai run first for Real World before Saudi Cup assignment

Saeed bin Suroor is keen to give Real World a run on turf at the Dubai Carnival before he heads for the Saudi Cup.

Hugely progressive last year, the five-year-old won the Royal Hunt Cup under a jubilant Marco Ghiani and went on to land a Listed race at Newbury, the Strensall Stakes at York and the Prix Daniel Wildenstein on Arc weekend.

Bin Suroor now has his sights fixed on the most valuable race in the world and has no qualms that it takes place on dirt.

Former stable star Benbatl went close in the inaugural running two years ago when third to Maximum Security, and the race now carries Group One status.

“He worked today and he worked really well, he’s in good order and I’m very happy with him,” said Bin Suroor on Thursday.

“The target with him is to take him to Saudi, but I would like to give him a race first at the end of this month.

“I will judge him when he works next week and see when I think he is ready for a race and then we’ll make a plan.

“We don’t need to run him on dirt before Saudi, I’ll run him on turf, we’ll go back on dirt in the Saudi Cup.”

He went on: “Benbatl was as good on dirt and turf. People keep saying Real World didn’t win on dirt this time last year, but he wasn’t the same horse then that he is now. He’s changed so much physically.

“Last year he was quite weak. He had a few races on dirt and I know he didn’t win, but he ran well, you couldn’t say he didn’t like dirt – he just wasn’t as good then as he is now.

“When we took him back to Newmarket he grew and became a better horse, it’s as simple as that.

“That is why I want to run him on turf first, to get him ready for the Saudi Cup.”

Mishriff heads entries in defence of $20m Saudi Cup

Last year’s winner Mishriff and Breeders’ Cup heroes Knicks Go and Life Is Good are among the entries for the Saudi Cup on February 26.

Over 700 entries from 22 different countries including 71 Group One winners have been given the option of running at the meeting which has over $35million in prize-money up for grabs.

Mishriff went on to win in Dubai last year and also landed the Juddmonte International at York, taking his career earnings through the $15m mark. Should he retain his Saudi Cup crown, he would become the highest-earning horse of all time, surpassing Winx.

Mishriff’s stablemate Lord North has also been given the option by John & Thady Gosden.

The UK ranks are bolstered by Coronation Cup winner Pyledriver, who went close in Hong Kong last time out, the William Haggas-trained My Oberon and William Knight’s Sir Busker.

There is a strong representation from Japan, with Champions Cup winner T O Keynes gaining automatic entry to the Saudi Cup, while another Breeders’ Cup winner, Marche Lorraine, is also among the entries for $20m race.

Along with Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Knicks Go and Dirt Mile champion Life Is Good, the strong American team could also include Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun.

The French-trained duo of Sealiway and Skaletti are also in the mix.

Mishriff on course for Saudi Cup defence

Mishriff is reportedly “even stronger” than last season ahead of his defence of the Saudi Cup in Riyadh next month.

The globetrotting bay, who is trained by John and Thady Gosden, claimed the world’s richest race in February last year when beating Bob Baffert’s Charlatan by a length.

The victory kick-started a successful 2021 for the horse, who went on to claim the Sheema Classic at Dubai’s World Cup meeting before adding a six-length triumph in the Group One Juddmonte International at York. He was last seen finishing fourth in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October.

Now a return to Saudi Arabia is imminent for the five-year-old, who is currently the second-favourite for the hugely-valuable contest behind Todd Pletcher’s Life Is Good.

“That’s his target, the Saudi Cup, and as far as I know everything is on track,” said Ted Voute, racing manager to Mishriff’s owner, Prince Faisal.

“He’s amazing, going back to back to Dubai and then Saudi, he’s got an amazing constitution.

“What I do know is that John said to me that he’s thickened out even more and he’s even stronger.

“We’ll wait and see, I notice we’re second-favourite to one of the American horses which I like, that takes the pressure off a little bit!

“Fingers crossed he stays in one piece and gets out there, it would be fun.”

Pyledriver on course for Saudi Cup date

Pyledriver is set for more international exploits as he remains on course for a tilt at the $20million Saudi Cup in late February.

The five-year-old was last seen contesting the Group One Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in December, a race in which he was beaten only a length by prior winner and favourite Glory Vase.

Trainer William Muir, who holds a joint licence with Chris Grassick, reported the horse to be in fine fettle following his exertions and a busy winter was pencilled in as the son of Harbour Watch missed a good portion of his summer campaign due to a minor groin injury.

Now the Saudi Cup plan is coming to fruition as the promise of more overseas riches beckons, with the Sheema Classic at the Dubai World Cup meeting the next intended port of call after Pyledriver’s bid for the world’s richest race.

“It was always our next step because he had all of last summer off and had a break, but it wasn’t like he was in his box and doing nothing,” said Muir.

“We couldn’t get him right for the Juddmonte International, so we gave him a break to bring him back for Hong Kong, then Saudi and Dubai.

“He lost a wee bit of weight coming home (from Hong Kong) but he’s put it on – and more – he’s not stopped or just been moseying around, he’s been doing two canters.

“He is thriving from going out and getting the sunshine and coming home, he’s absolutely thriving and he’s in really, really good shape.”

Pyledriver took the lengthy journey to Hong Kong in his stride and was evidently able to produce a good run after his travels, something Muir finds reassuring ahead of his next trip overseas to the King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh.

“That helps, with him I can think ‘well that’s easy now, what’s the problem?’,” he said.

“That’s on the agenda to go there, that’s what we’re training for. We’re trying to peak for that weekend.”

After the Saudi Cup and Sheema Classic, the trainer is hoping to rest the horse and then plan a return to action on British turf, with races like the Juddmonte and King George on the agenda before the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and an eventual return to Hong Kong.

Pyledriver following his Coronation Cup win last year
Pyledriver following his Coronation Cup win last year (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

“That’s where we’ll try to end up (Dubai), go there and come back home, have a break and see if we can pick him up for the second part of our season,” said Muir.

“Whether that will be the King George or the Juddmonte I don’t know, it depends which one comes at the right time basically.

“He’ll be back about then and hopefully we’ll do that and have one race before the Arc and then back to Hong Kong.”

Hayley Turner eager to tackle International Jockeys Challenge

Hayley Turner insists she is looking forward to take part in the 2022 International Jockeys Challenge at the Saudi Cup after recovering from a broken thumb.

The 38-year-old expects to be back riding again in Britain in the new year before heading off to Saudi Arabia at the end of February.

“The thumb is fine. I broke it at Wolverhampton a few weeks ago,” said Turner.

“I did it the last day before we had a little break – I’d pulled up one of David Simcock’s horses after the line and he just fell over. It was just unlucky.”

Turner will then set her sights on the stc International Jockeys Challenge run at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, as part of the two-day Saudi Cup meeting, which is headlined by the $20million Saudi Cup – the world’s most valuable race.

The jockeys’ competition, run on Friday, February 23, features four handicap races worth $400,000 each, with a further $100,000 prize fund for the challenge itself.

Seven international female riders will take part, along with five international males and two local men, with the jockeys receiving 15% of prize money won.

“This will be my first time riding in Saudi and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Turner.

“Hollie (Doyle) rode out there this year and I’ve spoken to a few others who have said it’s a really nice track to ride.

“Apparently it’s a bit like Belmont Park and I’ve ridden there a few times before. It’s exciting to be part of the Saudi Cup meeting, it’s been attracting a lot of people. The prize money is amazing so it’s easy to see why.

“I always enjoy riding in jockey challenges. I’ve taken part in quite a few – Mauritius, South Africa, Japan, Ireland and France – and obviously the Shergar Cup is one of my favourites. It will be nice to tick another one off the list.”

Among those facing Turner will be recently retired Australian superstar Glen Boss, who climbs back into the saddle to compete in the four-race contest.

Last year’s winner Shane Foley also returns to defend his crown.

Shane Foley underwent hip surgery this week
Shane Foley underwent hip surgery this week (Tim Goode/PA)

Foley, currently sidelined after having a hip operation this week, hopes to be fit in time for the Saudi Cup weekend, where a total prize purse of $31.5m is on offer for Saudi Cup day alone.

“I really enjoyed my first International Jockeys Challenge,” said Foley.

“It was a pleasure to ride against some great jockeys and I thought the track rode very well. It’s nice to see them including the turf in this year’s event, which might even give the European jockeys a bit of an edge.”

He added: “The prize money is brilliant, and you just have to see the list of jockeys that go out there to gauge how important it is for us. It’s nice to be competing alongside them all and the likes of Saudi, Dubai and Bahrain are the places we need to be during the winter.

“I know Jessie (Harrington) will be aiming a couple for the Saturday too, including Ever Present in the Red Sea Turf and possibly Confident Star in the Saudi Derby, so it would be nice to have some rides on Saudi Cup day too.”

Life Is Good handed Pegasus target before possible overseas raids

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile hero Life Is Good is firmly on course for a headline-grabbing clash with Knicks Go in next month’s Pegasus World Cup before a potential tilt at the Saudi Cup.

Life Is Good blitzed his rivals at Del Mar, claiming his first Grade One verdict by five and three-quarter lengths on what was just his third start for Todd Pletcher having previously been trained by Bob Baffert.

The nine-furlong Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park is next on the agenda for the three-year-old, who could face off with Breeders’ Cup Classic victor and defending champion Knicks Go, who is due to round out his racing career in Florida on January 29.

Pletcher said: “He’s in great form and is training superbly like he always does. We’re targeting the Pegasus right now and keeping an eye on both Saudi and Dubai.

“We were very impressed (with his Breeders’ Cup win), he threw it down from the beginning and ran some super-fast fractions. Everything he has done has always indicated that more distance will not be a problem.”

Of a potential clash with Knicks Go, Pletcher added: “They are two horses with the same racing style, it really should be a thriller. We hope we come into it in good form and let our horse do his thing.”

Life Is Good is one of four Pletcher runners that could merit consideration for the Saudi Cup on February 26, along with Happy Saver, Dr Post and Fearless.

The Saudi Cup is also over nine furlongs and Pletcher said: “It’s a challenging race, we know that, but he (Life Is Good) ran very well in the Kelso at Belmont over a mile, so it should suit him fine.

“We don’t see the extra distance being a problem. The Pegasus is the plan, we can then make a decision after that.”

Saudi Cup starting point for Sealiway

Sealiway will begin what connections hope is the start of a “big international campaign” in the Saudi Cup on February 26.

It will mean a switch to dirt for the Champion Stakes winner – trained by Cedric Rossi – but with the race elevated to Group One status in just its second year and maintaining its position as the most valuable in the world, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

A Group One winner as a juvenile, he finished second to St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey and returned from a mid-season break to claim a fine fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe before his famous success at Ascot.

He is owned by Guy Pariente and the Chehboub family under the guise of their stud, Haras de le Gousserie, and racing manager Pauline Chehboub said: “He had a brilliant season, just as we hoped.

“It was a great run behind St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey Club, and he then ran a nice race in the Arc before that huge performance in the Champion Stakes. We always believed he was a top-class horse, and he showed his talent at Ascot. The best is yet to come with him.

“It wasn’t a surprise for us (winning at Ascot), he was in very good form after the Arc. He was the best two-year-old in France after his win in the Lagardere and he proved after Ascot that he was the best three-year-old. It was a crazy day, very emotional. We were so pleased with him, he’s very special.”

Following the Ascot win. the international races at Hong Kong had been mooted but it was decided that the Saudi race was a better fit.

“It wasn’t easy to say no to Hong Kong,” said Chehboub.

“He improved a lot on Champions Day and came out of the race very well. We all looked at the programme book with my father and co-owner and breeder Guy Pariente, and we thought the Saudi Cup was a good target.

“We are planning a big international campaign,” she added.

“We’re not sure exactly where yet but there is the Arc in October and I’m sure we’ll be going back to Ascot at some point. The first thing is Saudi, we’ll make a plan after that. We think 2022 is going to be a very big year for Sealiway.”

It is always a big task for top-class turf horses to prove as effective on a dirt surface but last year’s winner Mishriff showed it can be done.

“Sealiway works on the sand in the mornings and he’s very impressive on it,” said Chehboub.

“We think it will suit him well, we don’t think it will be a problem. He is a very flexible horse. He has a lot of speed and we saw in the Arc that he can stay. We are confident he can adapt to different distances and tracks.

“We love a challenge. It’s very exciting to be a part of a race like the Saudi Cup and to meet all those great horses from America and Japan. Mishriff won it this year and he’s one of the best horses on turf in Europe, so it shows that it’s possible.”