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Monday Musings: Saudi Success for Mishriff

In the latter half of last week’s missive I took you back to June 1989, writes Tony Stafford. Today I’m going another year, all but two days, and the eve of day one of Royal Ascot. The feature and only Group 1 event of the day, and in those days carrying more than double the prizemoney of the Group 2 Queen Anne and Prince of Wales’s Stakes on that afternoon, was the St James’s Palace Stakes.

I’d gone on the Monday evening down to Holland Park Road in leafy West London with trainer Geoff Huffer and I remember there was much discussion about whether Persian Heights, whom Geoff trained for Prince Yazid Saud (son of King Saud, the Ruler of Saudi Arabia in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s) should take his place in the field.

Until checking back I’d forgotten the reason for what was in effect a summit meeting as it entailed something of a gamble. Persian Heights had made his seasonal reappearance as recently as the previous Wednesday at Newbury, when he won a conditions race by an easy four lengths.

Obviously it was going to be a risk and I’m not quite sure why I was there, but there I was. Also in the house that evening was Tony Nerses, nowadays the brains behind Kuwaiti Imad Al Sagar’s bloodstock interests, but in those days the secretary for Prince Yazid.

Mr Sagar, with his then partner Saleh Al Homaizi, also a Kuwaiti, won the 2007 Derby with Authorized, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam; and that victory has provided Tony with a great advertising vehicle. Whenever his boss has a non-home-bred winner, it’s always accompanied with “purchase Authorized by Tony Nerses”.

At some time later that evening, mid-discussion, Geoff and I crossed the road to another of the grand houses in that select enclave – God knows what they would be worth now!  I did look, you wouldn’t want to know!

There we met one of Prince Yazid’s fellow Saudi Arabian Royal family members, Prince Abdul Rahman Abdullah Faisal, and blow me down when on Saturday night his horse Mishriff, trained by John Gosden and ridden by 21-year-old David Egan, exceeded all previous expectations by winning the world’s most valuable race, the Saudi Cup, from the American-trained second favourite Charlatan, in turn ridden by one of the world’s most celebrated and successful jockeys, Mike Smith.

I’m delighted for the Prince who goes sometimes as Prince A A Faisal but more often as plain – well not so plain, just look at the Garrards of London-made all-gold trophy that’s almost as tall as its recipient – Prince Faisal. At home he needs the initials, there’s a bit of competition for that first name among the family.

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They were all friends and indeed relatives with the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman (late son of the present King Salman) of Thoroughbred Corporation fame. He won the 1999 Derby with Oath, four Triple Crown races in two successive years without managing to get all three together as well as umpteen other major races around the world.

Even before 1988, when they were very young men, Yazid and Ahmed were partners together in several good horses, often high-class sprinters trained by Bill O’Gorman running precisely in those two first names.

Well to cut a circuitous route slightly shorter, the decision was made. Persian Heights ran and won comfortably and, while never really graduating any further in his own career, he did leave an indelible mark on the thoroughbred breeding world by being the sire of the great stayer Persian Punch.

Winner of 20 of his 63 career starts for trainer David Elsworth and owner Jeff Smith, only four times did he step below stakes class and he won on all those four occasions. Sixteen stakes wins is right up there and I know from experience that Mr Elsworth never likes to worry about winning a small race when a tilt at a much bigger target is in his sights.

I bought Prince Yazid a few horses after my own first trip to Saudi Arabia in the late 1990’s to race in France where he was based at that time and I later lost touch. I know on returning home, he was in charge of arrangements for the Hajj where Muslim  pilgrims travel to the Holy City of Mecca, a journey they are required to make at least once in their lives.

Prince Faisal meanwhile was breeding some top-class horses to run in his purple, grey epaulettes colours from his prolific broodmare Rafha, winner of the 1990 Prix de Diane for Henry Cecil. The best was easily Invincible Spirit, a sprint-bred son of Green Desert who won seven of 17 starts for John Dunlop but turned into a phenomenal stallion for the Irish National Stud.

Initially standing at a cost of €10k, as his accomplishments increased so did his fee and, at its height from 2016-9, he commanded an investment of €120,000. Down to €100k last year it has taken another little trim to €80k, but his shareholders who took the initial risk won’t be complaining. After all that’s not bad for a 24-year-old!

Kodiac, his half-brother by top Classic sire Danehill, didn’t measure up as a racehorse. I met the Prince at Newmarket on a July Saturday in 2003 and we had a cup of tea together before his colt’s juvenile debut. He was optimistic before the race and was happy afterwards about his third place finish.

Four wins came from his 24 career starts, none in stakes, but Tony O’Callaghan, the shrewd boss of Tally Ho Stud, bought him and quickly turned him into the world’s most consistent and prolific sire of two-year-olds. His fee, originally €5,000, has been at a high of €65,000 for the last three breeding seasons and the now 20-year-old shows no sign of slowing down as neither does Tony.

It was remarkable that the Prince was so astute to secure the services of the then 20-year-old David Egan as early as he did in his career. Egan travelled to Riyadh for the meeting last year when Mishriff, on his three-year-old debut, finished second in the inaugural Saudi Derby.

Mishriff then returned to Europe and won a Listed race at Newmarket under Egan, but wins in the French Derby and a Group 2 at Deauville were unavailable to the jockey with the Covid travel ban in place. Ioritz Mendizabal and then Frankie Dettori were the happy recipients of Egan’s misfortune. He ran his only disappointing race, again with Dettori in the saddle, when unplaced behind Addeybb at the Champions meeting at Ascot in October on what Gosden has described as the worst ground at any UK meeting he can recall.

Saturday’s victory, on his first run since – this time Dettori was on an unplaced stable-companion – carried the astronomic winner’s prize of £7.29 million, so a nice windfall in percentage terms for Mr Gosden – whose handling of this home-bred colt has been masterful – and Egan. His opportunistic and unflustered riding has to be taken in the context of the opposition and importance of the day. How proud his father John, in the crowd and still a potent jockey in his 50’s, must have been.

Mr Sagar was in Riyadh for the weekend as was Hollie Doyle principally to ride his gelding Extra Elusive – who seemed not to enjoy the dirt surface – in the big race. To show in just how high regard she is held, she got the ride on the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old mare True Self in a ten and a half furlong turf race and they won comfortably. Hollie’s share of the £439k first prize will keep partner Tom Marquand happy down in Sydney while he waits out his quarantine.

While the top two were from the upper end of racing’s hierarchy – the runner-up was a $700,000 dollar buy and ran for Bob Baffert - the third horse home has a much more proletarian heritage.

The five-year-old Great Scot was originally prepared for sale by Rachael and Richard Kempster of Kinsale Farm near Oswestry, Shropshire, and was led out unsold as a yearling for 2,500gns at the mixed Ascot sale. The Kempsters also got a less than brilliant result at the same venue when offering some disappointing Raymond Tooth horses also raised on their farm.

Unlike them Great Scot went on to race for a syndicate of owners – the Empire States Partnership and was originally trained by Tom Dascombe. Seeing the names involved at the time of that yearling sale, I suspect some footballers possibly associated with Michael Owen, who owns Dascombe’s stables, might have been involved.

He won four of 11 races, getting up to a rating of 111, so I expect they got a nice windfall when passing him on. Next time he appeared it was in last year’s Saudi Cup where he finished only 12th of 14 at 100/1 running off the boat as it were.

The latter part of last year was much more fruitful  with wins by 12 lengths and then three lengths before a four-length success in a £78k Listed race last month.

Intriguingly – I hinted there was a Prince Faisal or two – Great Scot is owned by Prince Faisal Bin Khalid (so son of a previous King) and trained by Abdullah Mushrif. Confused? You will be. When the Empire State Partnership people realise that yesterday’s run, still at 66-1 despite the three spectacular wins, earned this Prince £1,459,000 they will no doubt take a moment from watching the football on telly. As for the Kempsters, who run a very nice efficient farm where Punjabi has spent his retirement, they can congratulate themselves for their part in the story.

On the domestic front, Saturday also featured the reincarnation of Goshen, incidentally a son of Authorized, in Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle. Beaten three times since his last-flight fall in the 2020 Triumph Hurdle and in those defeats, showing little sign that he was still a smart performer, he slaughtered his field by 22 lengths, surely ending Song For Someone’s Champion Hurdle hopes.

More interestingly, as the ground dries out will the connections of Honeysuckle, so impressive last weekend at Leopardstown, start to think that maybe the mares’ race over an extra half mile will provide less of a gamble. Faster ground and two miles suits Goshen and almost certainly Epatante. Decisions, decisions!

Mishriff upsets Charlatan to land Saudi Cup glory for Gosden and Egan

Mishriff powered home to wear down American ace Charlatan and land the world’s most valuable race, the $20million Saudi Cup in Riyadh.

The John Gosden-trained colt, owned by Prince Faisal, made his stamina tell over the nine furlongs after the two US heavyweights, Charlatan and Knicks Go, had gone head to head in the early stages.

David Egan was able to stay on their heels as the star pair turned for home.

Knicks Go dropped away, leaving Mishriff to gradually reduce Charlatan’s lead and get up in the closing stages. Great Scot finished third.

Gosden said from his Newmarket base: “It was a wonderful performance. He showed a lot of grit and courage, and he was able to go the pace of the American horses. It was great.”

Now proven on dirt as well as turf, having won the French Derby last year, Mishriff would appear to have all the world’s biggest races open to him.

But Gosden was keen not to be drawn on future plans, adding: “One race at a time.”

The champion trainer was also quick to pay tribute to his team behind the horse and his preparation.

He said: “What a brave horse, thank you to Prince Faisal and the whole team. It’s down to them and a brave horse, in what was a truly-run race and certainly he had to have a lot of courage never mind ability.

“His owner-breeder Prince Faisal always wanted to come back for the Saudi Cup (after finishing second in the Saudi Derby last year) and the horse had a perfect year bar getting stuck in a bottomless bog at Ascot (in the Champion Stakes), which was really specialist ground. Otherwise he has a superb record.

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David Egan tries to take in Saudi Cup success
David Egan tries to take in Saudi Cup success (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Mahmoud Khaled)

“The team here at Clarehaven have done a great job with him – it’s not easy to get a horse ready in the winter, with the snow and the ice.

“Any time you take on Bob Baffert with a horse of that class (Charlatan) you are pleased if you can get there, so full marks to my team.”

Reflecting on the race, Gosden said: “You do need to break well and get a decent position, David rode a positive race and in the end basically outstayed the American horses. It wasn’t a crazy pace, I was impressed the two American jockeys were containing their horses. You have a world-record miler there (Charlatan) and Brad Cox’s horse (Knicks Go) and they kept the rhythm right.

“There are very few horses who can switch surfaces like that, but I’ve always been told by the top American jockeys and Frankie Dettori that this is the best main dirt track in the world. I think that’s very much proven today – that a turf horse can actually switch to it and put in a big performance. This is a superb track.

“I think he will stay (further), in the end he nailed them because he could go the pace and then just see it out to the end – and that’s a hard-run mile and a furlong.

“I’ll see, we’ll all make decisions together as to how he is and what plans, and discuss it all with Prince Faisal. Take it a step at a time. After a flight like that and training in the winter, we’ll how the horse is for the next 10 days, two weeks when we get back before we start making any grand plans.”

Circumstances meant Egan missed out on Mishriff’s last three races last year, including his victory in the French Derby, where Dettori was in the saddle. However, as Prince Faisal’s retained rider he was back in the plate.

Egan, 21, said: “I can’t believe it. He’s an absolute champion. It’s unbelievable.

“It wasn’t meant to be (not being able to ride in French Derby). That’s racing. It was during the coronavirus pandemic as we all are now.

“I’d like to thank Saudi Cup for putting on such a great event in these tough times and making everything as Covid safe as we could be.

“I’m just delighted to get back on board Mishriff and win it for all the team.”

It’s only when you go past the line you realise what a big deal it is

He went on: “Last year he was a horse that jumped slow. He chased down the Japanese horse in the Saudi Derby and finished second. I always thought if he jumped on terms I would have nearly won last year.

“He has matured through the year and Mr Gosden had him primed for today. He’s been training well on the track. He seems to enjoy the track here. He’s very relaxed in the mornings.

“He jumped as well as he’s ever done. I squeezed him along for the first 50 yards and I was surprised how well he was going down the back straight. I was on Mike Smith’s (riding Charlatan) heels.

“The only worrying sign I got was when they started quickening, but once we got into the straight I knew I was going to mow them down. Thankfully the line came in time for us.

“Ever since he was second here last year I’m sure it was on Mr Gosden and Prince Faisal’s mind to come back here. With this race in Prince Faisal’s back garden, it was a no-brainer. He’s taken on some top-class horses from all round the world and he’s proved how good a horse he is and how much he has matured mentally and physically.

“With the amount of prize-money on offer it’s a huge deal, but going into the race I didn’t feel any pressure. It was just like going into any normal race.

“It’s only when you go past the line you realise what a big deal it is.”

Egan dedicated the triumph to his father John, also a jockey, who was on hand to witness the success.

“It’s so special dad being here,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be the rider or the person I am today. He’s done everything he can to hep me in my career, pushed me and trained me hard and this one’s for him.”

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.”

Saudi Cup contender Mishriff in mighty form

Mishriff’s connections are delighted with last year’s French Derby hero as he goes for glory in the world’s richest race, the Saudi Cup, in Riyadh.

The John Gosden-trained colt takes on two of America’s best dirt horses in the Brad Cox-trained Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go and Bob Baffert’s lightly-raced Grade One star Charlatan as well as other classy performers in Saturday’s $20 million showpiece.

One thing Mishriff has in his favour is that he has had experience of Riyadh’s dirt surface, having finished second in the Saudi Derby at this meeting 12 months ago.

Mishriff proved himself to be a leading three-year-old when winning his next three races, including the Prix du Jockey Club before running below par in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on his final start.

The Make Believe colt is reported to be in tip-top shape to start his four-year-old campaign.

“Everything’s good. I saw him this morning. David Egan rode him round the race track with John Gosden’s other horses Global Giant and New Treasure,” said Ted Voute, racing manager to owner Prince Faisal.

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“He stretched his legs, and it went very well.

“Mishriff didn’t do anything strenuous. He changed his legs perfectly going into the turn, which was nice to see.

“He did everything he was asked. He’s bouncing and he looks really well. He looks as well as I’ve seen him.

“He really enjoys it and he’s posing for the cameras. He likes it out here and seems to thrive on travel.

“We’re just looking forward to the big day.”

Andrew Balding saddles Bangkok, who is trying a dirt surface for the first time.

The five-year-old had a confidence-boosting win at Lingfield this month.

“He’s had a relatively busy winter and seems in great form,” said the Kingsclere trainer.

“Obviously it’s a big ask against the best horses around, and it’s his first time on a surface like that, but he’s in great shape.

“He’s a horse we’ve always thought a lot of.”

Extra Elusive is Hollie Doyle's mount in the Saudi Cup
Extra Elusive is Hollie Doyle’s mount in the Saudi Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

Extra Elusive finished two places ahead of Mishriff when sixth in the Champion Stakes on his first try in Group One company.

The Roger Charlton-trained gelding had earned his chance at the top level with a pair of Group Three victories.

Extra Elusive will be ridden by Hollie Doyle in her capacity as retained jockey to owner Imad Alsagar. She is hoping for a good run if he can overcome a wide draw and act on the surface.

“I’ve got drawn 14 – which has its pros and cons,” she said.

“I’m not sure how he’ll handle the dirt and the kickback – but he ran well in the Champion Stakes, so hopefully he can run a nice race.”

Hollie Doyle ready for Riyadh challenge next

Hollie Doyle is set for another high-profile foreign assignment after being recruited for this month’s STC International Jockeys’ Challenge in Riyadh – where she will then team up with old ally Extra Elusive the following day in the $20million Saudi Cup.

Doyle enjoyed an exceptional 2020 campaign, and hot on the heels of rides at the Breeders’ Cup meeting and the Hong Kong International Jockeys’ Championship, she will now line up alongside 13 other leading jockeys in the competition at King Abdulaziz Racetrack on February 19.

She said: “I’m really excited to be riding in Saudi. I’ve had a few international trips recently, including Hong Kong, America and Bahrain, and it’s great that I’m getting to go to these big meetings around the world.

“Competing in the jockey challenge events is really cool, because you get to ride alongside some of the world’s top athletes. I’ve only been to some of these places for a short period of time, but I’ve learnt a lot. That’s what will hopefully make me a better jockey, and I’ll keep taking these opportunities with both hands.

“Last year was unbelievable, and when you get a taste of success it makes you want it even more. I’ve now got even more drive and ambition to succeed in 2021.”

Extra Elusive is set to be Hollie Doyle's Saudi Cup mount
Extra Elusive is set to be Hollie Doyle’s Saudi Cup mount (Tim Goode/PA)

Doyle – whose year included a first Group One winner and third place in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award – will be joined by the likes of William Buick, Shane Foley, Cristian Demuro and Jessica Marcialis in a challenge which will feature seven international women, two local men and five international men.

Last year’s event provided a slice of history as Lisa Allpress became the first woman to ride a Flat winner in Saudi Arabia when taking the opening leg.

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Extra Elusive’s planned participation in the Saudi Cup on February 20 adds an extra frisson for Doyle, who could also team up with the Jane Chapple-Hyam-trained Albadri in the Saudi Derby.

“It looks as though Extra Elusive has got into the Saudi Cup, so I’d be really excited about riding him in that on the Saturday,” she said.

“The prize-money goes all the way down to 10th, so it would be great if he took his chance there and could get amongst it.

“I’d like to think he’ll handle the dirt because he goes well on slow ground here in England. I’m not sure how similar it would ride to a slow turf track, but I’d prefer to ride him on the dirt than I would on the turf as you’d imagine it will be slower. The Saudi Cup is only nine furlongs, and we know he stays further than that.

“I could have Albadri on the Saturday too, because I know Jane Chapple-Hyam is hoping to go for the Al Rajhi Bank Saudi Derby after his win at Southwell recently. He’s a lightly-raced horse that’s going the right way at the moment, but he’ll need to take another big step forward to get competitive.”

Albadri was a winner for Hollie Doyle at Southwell last month
Albadri was a winner for Hollie Doyle at Southwell last month (Mike Egerton/PA)

Extra Elusive won two Group Threes last year in the shape of the Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock and Windsor’s Winter Hill Stakes – providing a leg of Doyle’s famous five-timer at the Thamesside track in August.

His trainer Roger Charlton had been looking at a turf option on the card, but the lure of the showpiece event has tempted connections.

He said: “There’s been a bit of toing and froing, but he’s going to run in the Saudi Cup.

“We got an invite to the Saudi Cup that we weren’t really expecting – and having discussed it with the owner (Imad Al Sagar), he’s very keen to run in it. The prize-money is so much more than the Neom Turf Cup – if you finish 10th in the Saudi Cup, it’s the same prize-money for finishing second in the turf race.

“Over 1800m they’ll go very, very quick – and the kickback will be something he hasn’t experienced before. We’re hoping we can get among the money.

“In the past he has inclined to be up at the front making the running – this obviously won’t be the case, so a wider draw would probably be beneficial to keep him out of the kickback.”

Extra Elusive (left) was last seen in the Champion Stakes
Extra Elusive (left) was last seen in the Champion Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Extra Elusive was last seen finishing a creditable sixth in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October, two places in front of fellow Saudi Cup contender Mishriff.

Charlton added: “He’s been pretty consistent and he won his two Group Threes well last year. He was placed in another, and the ground wouldn’t have suited him in the Champion Stakes – but he ran a good, consistent race again.

“My concern is that he hasn’t travelled abroad yet, and he’s a fairly highly-strung individual. It’s how he takes a 16-hour journey door-to-door and how he handles the training on the track out there.

“He had a break after the end of last season, and the weather hasn’t been very helpful to us – we’ve had snow here twice. He didn’t resume exercise until after Christmas, and it’s been a steady build-up. He does all his training by himself, but he seems in good form. It’s important that he’s in a consistent and steady routine every day.”

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 www.thoroughbreddailynews.com: “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.

Buick and Foley join stellar Riyadh cast list

William Buick and Shane Foley have joined the list of world-renowned riders poised for action in the STC International Jockeys’ Challenge, which takes place in Riyadh on February 19, the eve of the $20million Saudi Cup.

Buick, who took part in the original turf trials at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in January last year, has a number of big rides on Saudi Cup day itself and is looking forward to the challenge against the world’s best 24 hours earlier.

He said: “My first time riding in Saudi was around 12 years ago, I’ve been in and out since then. Last year I came over for the turf trials, which went very well indeed.

William Buick took part in trials of the turf course in Saudi Arabia last year
William Buick took part in trials of the turf course in Saudi Arabia last year (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Martin Dokoupil)

“The Saudi Cup raceday itself was a massive success. There were winners from all over the world, and the races were really competitive. For the organisers of a big meeting, that’s your dream – competitive racing and a level playing field.

“I’m really looking forward to the international jockeys’ challenge. I love these competitions. I think I’ve won the Mauritius one once – I’ve taken part in Hong Kong a few times, and there was also one the JRA used to do on Japan Cup weekend.

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“This will be my first time riding in the Saudi challenge, and I really like the look of the format – four races, everyone riding in each race and the points system. It’s simple but it works.”

Space Blues is set to be a key mount for Buick on the $30.5million Saudi Cup card, where he is pencilled in for the Turf Sprint.

The Charlie Appleby-trained five-year-old enjoyed a tremendous time of things last year, culminating with his first Group One victory in the Prix Maurice de Gheest.

Buick said: “I should have a couple of nice rides at the meeting. Space Blues will be heading out there for the Turf Sprint, all being well. He’s on the right track at the moment and is a Group One winner, so we’re excited about him.

“Secret Advisor is entered in the Long Distance Turf Handicap and he had some nice form in Dubai last winter. He backed that up with a solid campaign in Europe. The track, trip and ground should be perfect for him – so we’re looking forward to it.”

Foley finished runner-up to Colin Keane in the Irish jockeys’ championship last year – and like Buick, he is relishing the Saudi challenge.

He said: “I really enjoy riding abroad and think it’s massively important. The racing in Saudi Arabia is a big and growing operation as far as owners are concerned, and all it takes is to kick on with one there and you could bring an owner back to Ireland for your stable.

Shane Foley with the Group One-winning Lucky Vega
Shane Foley with the Group One-winning Lucky Vega (PA)

“I rode in the Japanese jockeys’ challenge in 2018 – which was a good experience – and I’ve ridden against some of these jockeys, like Pierre-Charles Boudot and Jessica Marcialis in the Arc and Breeders’ Cup weekends. It’s nice to be associated with these high-quality names and events, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Also like Buick, Foley will be in action the day after the challenge.

He added: “We have Barbados going for owner Mr Zhang in the Long Distance Turf Handicap on Saturday, and if he can reproduce his (Irish) St Leger run then he will be bang there. I’m just hoping the ground is not really firm. He’ll handle nice quick ground – if it gets too firm that will be the only negative, but I’ve heard the ground last year was beautiful.

“It would be massive, and for the owner as well. He’s a big supporter of mine, and I’ve been retained by him for the last couple of years. He’s always stood by me and he has invested quite heavily in the game.

“Last year he had his first Group One winner with Lucky Vega, and it would be great to have a winner out on Saudi Cup day for him because he’s a proud and competitive man.”

Gosden seeking high draw for Mishriff’s Saudi Cup challenge

John Gosden is hoping Mishriff will get a wide draw to help his chances in the Saudi Cup in Riyadh next month.

The son of Make Believe took to the dirt surface well when runner-up in the Saudi Derby over a mile last February from stall 12 of 13.

“He worked nicely going into it, but first time on the dirt, you never know. He did have the benefit of a wide draw last year and we were thrilled the way he ran,” said Gosden.

Mishriff, owned and bred by Prince Faisal, built on that run by winning his next three races, including the French Derby when stepped up to a mile and a quarter.

“I think he’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse, very much so,” Gosden told a Saudi Cup press conference.

“He’s got a great stride, great tactical speed and a powerful finish. I think that is his perfect trip. Whether we stretch him out to a mile and a half one day, I don’t know.”

Gosden feels the nine-furlong one-bend showpiece will be run at an American pace, especially with Knicks Go and Charlatan likely to be in the line-up.

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“This race is run on the dirt and at a very different tempo. You need a wide draw,” he said.

“If it was a mile and quarter it would suit us a lot better, but it’s very fast. The Americans go hard and it’s not a race with any hiding places.

“He’s had a nice down time building up to this. He’s a genuine horse, he enjoys his training.

“He’s not a horse who requires a massive amount of work, so to that extent he’s the right type to get ready early in the year.”

David Egan is set to be reunited with Mishriff in the Saudi Cup
David Egan is set to be reunited with Mishriff in the Saudi Cup (Joe Giddens/PA)

David Egan, Prince Faisal’s retained jockey, will take the ride, having missed Mishriff’s last three races in 2020.

“He hadn’t have a great run of it, when he wanted to ride he was either suspended or he was stuck with all the quarantining,” said Gosden.

Frankie Dettori rides Global Giant for the Newmarket handler in the Middle Distance Turf Cup.

The combination went down by a neck in the valuable Bahrain International Trophy in November.

“He came back in great order and breezed nicely this (Wednesday) morning,” Gosden went on.

Global Giant and Frankie Dettori team up in the Middle Distance Turf Cup
Global Giant and Frankie Dettori team up in the Middle Distance Turf Cup (Steven Cargill/PA)

“The horse was as frustrated as the jockey and the owner and the trainer, but he got too far back and got there too late. The wire came up a stride and a half too soon, but that’s racing.

“He’s fine, he’s going for the Middle Distance. It will be a tough race. Distance-wise it’s probably the top end of his range.

“He’s got a very good chance and he’s in good form right now.”

Gosden goes for the Saudi Derby this year with New Treasure, a 90,000 guineas purchase at the Sales in November out of Jim Bolger’s stables in Ireland.

The former Jim Bolger-trained New Treasure runs for the John Gosden stable in the Saudi Derby
The former Jim Bolger-trained New Treasure runs for the John Gosden stable in the Saudi Derby (PA)

“He was in the horses-in-training sale and Jim was selling, so you have to have a sense of reality about that. He didn’t go for a great deal of money,” said Gosden.

“The horse came here and the owners wanted to aim him at this race.

“He won a Group Three (Round Tower Stakes) over six furlongs on soft ground. He’s not run over a mile before, but we’re hopeful he’ll get it.

“He’s on a one-way ticket. He races and stays there to race with the local horses.

“He’s very genuine and is a giver. He’s a fun horse to run in the race and it a great way of going down there – a Group Three winner and going for the Saudi Derby.”

Mishriff to take Saudi Cup challenge

Mishriff is being prepared for the $20million Saudi Cup in Riyadh next month.

The four-year-old has previous experience of the dirt course there, having finished second in the Saudi Derby last winter before going on to lift the French Derby at Chantilly in July after winning the Newmarket Stakes.

The John Gosden-trained colt completed a hat-trick in the Prix Guillaume D’Ornano at Deauville in August and was last seen in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on his only subsequent start.

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Ted Voute, racing manager to owner Prince Faisal, said: “John’s preparing him for the race. The Prince and him discussed it in late December and the Prince lives in Riyadh.

“It’s on a dirt track which he handled last year when he came second. We’re going back a furlong, but we hope it won’t inconvenience him.

“It’s something to look forward to. There’s not a lot for him at home until probably June. Last year he went out there and (then) won the French Derby which was the same sort of timing. It gives him a few months off after he comes back.”

Voute confirmed that David Egan will be in the saddle.

“He’s in Bahrain at the moment so he’s nice and close,” he added.

“We’ve contacted him already and he says he’ll be delighted to ride him. He’s retained by us, but for one reason or another he didn’t get back on him last year (after Newmarket).”

More than 100 horses from nine countries and a total of 17 Group One winners have been entered for the Saudi Cup.

Among other British entries are Roger Charlton’s Extra Elusive, Saeed bin Suroor’s Military March, the Charlie Hills-trained Tilsit and William Haggas’ Addeybb, winner of the Champion Stakes.

A particularly strong American challenge on a race won last year by Maximum Security includes the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan and Kenny McPeek’s Preakness Stakes heroine Swiss Skydiver.

Japan’s recently crowned Dirt Horse of the Year, Chuwa Wizard, could also line up having gained an automatic spot when winning the Champions Cup at Chukyo last month.

Monday Musings: Maximum Security in the Sportswash Classic

Michael Tabor has seen many amazing and unexpected things – more positive than negative – in his long association with horse racing around the globe, but I’d be willing to wager that the one-time King of the Punters would never have expected to see his colours carried in a race in Saudi Arabia, writes Tony Stafford. That happened (twice) on Saturday night in Riyadh and Maximum Security came out on top while sporting them in the world’s richest-ever horse race.

His friends in London could only marvel – “Typical Michael!” they said – when his Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby as a near 25-1 shot coincidentally 25 year ago. That win was the forerunner to Tabor’s teaming up with John Magnier at Coolmore Stud, and Thunder Gulch stood throughout his stallion career at Ashford Stud, Coolmore’s Kentucky breeding arm, albeit without ever producing anything near his own eminence.

Now his friends back home are no longer shocked with anything achieved by the Coolmore triumvirate – Derrick Smith, like Tabor a former London-based bookmaker, was the latest addition - and he has shared in the last six (since Pour Moi in 2011) of the eight Epsom Derby wins for the team.

As time has gone on, M V Magnier, John’s son, has been increasingly visible, at the sales especially. He was the on-site presence on Saturday after Maximum Security came with a sustained run up the straight at the King Abdulaziz racecourse near Riyadh to win the inaugural Saudi Cup over nine furlongs of the dirt course. Modest and measured as ever, he embodies the Coolmore reserve in the face of their coruscating triumphs.

To say that recent events on the world stage have made for tensions in western countries’ attitudes to the Kingdom is an under-statement, but KSA (as it likes to be known) has hit on the idea of using sporting events to counter that negativity.

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Whether it works or not is questionable but the fact that last year, by paying a handful of top golfers massive appearance fees (far beyond the actual winner’s prize) for a Saudi golf tournament, they did persuade them to come. One or two, indeed, didn’t make the cut for the last two days of the tournament, but never mind, they came and had a lucrative little jolly.

They certainly came from all around the world for the Saudi Cup with its world record prize fund of £15million – yes that WAS sterling! – easily outstripping previous record holders the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Pegasus (briefly) and the Dubai World Cup where you might expect some of Saturday’s principals to reappear.

Whether four weeks would be deemed sufficient for Maximum Security to go again must be doubtful. He had a tough enough race in chasing down early leader and old rival Mucho Gusto up the straight and, once getting past the weaving-around leader, he then had to resist the vigorously-ridden US mare Midnight Bisou in the final half-furlong.

The riders of three of the first four home were given suspensions, all for whip offences. Mike Smith on the runner-up, had 60 per cent of his share of the £2.6million second prize docked for hitting her 14 times (maximum ten) as she came from last to almost winning in the straight. Oisin Murphy, on the gallant third Benbatl, got a couple of days, but can shrug off whatever sanction he got when partnering the same horse in the World Cup.

The versatile six-year-old, a recent convert to dirt racing, will now assuredly go as Saeed Bin Suroor’s main chance of a tenth winner of his country’s principal race. The Americans will again provide the biggest threat to a home winner as they have ever since the great Cigar, trained by Bill Mott, was the first of their 11 victors in the inaugural running in 1996. American-trained horses filled four of the first five places, confirming that dirt is their playground.

The path to a Saudi win for the Tabor colours – Aidan O’Brien’s globe-trotting mare Magic Wand was the other, filling ninth spot and collecting an acceptable-enough £225,000 for her efforts – needed some understanding from Gary and Mary West, the breeders and, thereto, outright owners of the colt.

They had suffered the ultimate penalty back on the first Saturday in May last year when Maximum Security was “taken down” after crossing the line first in the Derby for an incident on the home turn when jockey Luis Saez was deemed to have caused significant interference. He was placed officially 17th of the 19 runners and the Wests’ mood at their misfortunate could hardly have been improved

when he failed when a 1-20 shot next time in a Monmouth Park Listed race. They could easily have dumped the jockey as a result and the new owners were wise enough to leave well alone.

Happily, consecutive wins in the Grade 1 Haskell back at Monmouth, a Grade 3 at Belmont and finally the Grade 1 Cigar Mile were enough to clinch the champion three-year-old colt Eclipse Award for the Jason Servis-trained colt. Coolmore stepped in for a half share, making it three recent “winners” of the Kentucky Derby to stand at Ashford. He will follow in the steps of American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018), the only Triple Crown winners since Affirmed in 1978.

New Year’s Day, Maximum Security’s sire, is a son of Sheikh Mohammed’s Street Cry, most famed for siring 37-time winner Winx. New Year’s Day raced only three times, all as a juvenile, winning the last two, a Del Mar maiden race and then the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In that race he beat Coolmore-owned Havana, previously unbeaten and sporting the Tabor colours.

There was a link to Justify in Saturday’s big race. Gronkowski, the mount of Frankie Dettori and running for Phoenix Thoroughbred III and Khalid bin Mishref, sent over from his present base in Dubai, met Justify in the Belmont Stakes, the final outing in a six-race unbeaten career for the latter. Previously with Jeremy Noseda he was being prepped for the Kentucky Derby and won four consecutive all-weather races for the now-retired (but no doubt probably to return) Newmarket trainer.

I’m pretty sure that the last of them was a win-and-you’re-in qualifier, but in the end Phoenix fell out with Noseda and switched Gronkowski to top US trainer Chad Brown. He didn’t take up the Derby engagement, but Brown aimed him at the Belmont and he finished a one-length second to Justify who retired as the only ever unbeaten Triple Crown winner among the 13 possessors of that distinction. Even Secretariat lost five times!

Noseda’s former wife Sally is a sister to Lady Cecil and also trainers Rae and Richard Guest. The family is largely based around Newmarket but Richard has been based for many years in the North, riding the winner of the Grand National for Durham-based Norman Mason, and then training from a yard in Yorkshire. This week comes news that he is coming to town to join his siblings, effectively as private trainer to construction businessman Simon Lockyer, who most recently had his team with Shaun Keightley.