PTF here! I did a runner-by-runner write for the Saudi Cup itself you can read here.
Also, the great Steven Bonnick has provided his undercard analysis for me to post below:
1:00 – Neom Turf Cup
A conditions race over 10f, this contest features a really wide range of backgrounds and abilities. The eye is instantly drawn to CHANNEL MAKER, who is a standout on paper. Bill Mott’s gelding comes here off the back of an excellent third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, having won back-to-back Grade 1 races prior. He could get some pace pressure and it’s been a while since he won over shorter than 11f, so it’s hard to recommend him as a bet.
TILSIT was progressive for high-profile connections last year, running well in a Group 2 on his final start. He strikes as the type to improve again this season and he should be a little more comfortable over this distance than he has been over a mile so far.
TRUE SELF was a winner in Australia on her most recent start and this thoroughly likeable mare looks capable of hitting the board on a going day. She is not the most consistent but stays well and the faster the pace the better.
SALTONSTALL progressed nicely on bad ground and synthetics towards the end of last year and warrants a go against opposition of this quality. He needs to prove he is as effective over this sort of distance, while FOR THE TOP must bounce back from a disappointing return to action on his most recent start.
1:35 – stc 1351 Turf Sprint
Another conditions event that is extremely difficult to unravel, with form lines from around the world converging. On what we know, SPACE BLUES is better than these. He is a specialist over this sort of distance and his most recent win, in the Prix Maurice de Gheest, is the best piece of form in the field. He’s well drawn but it would be a concern that he got better as the season went on last year and was disappointing when well beaten at 4/6 in a similar contest in Dubai last March, having hung right the whole way.
GLORIOUS JOURNEY, a stablemate of the winner, isn’t quite as good but does come here with a solid run under his belt, finishing 3rd in a Group 2 at Meydan behind LAND OF LEGENDS. He is not the most straightforward but these are his conditions and he should make his presence felt, particularly if there is a pace to run at.
LAND OF LEGENDS has progressed nicely from handicaps and produced a career best last time when landing a Group 2 in Dubai. He had a good trip there but he is clearly a horse on the up.
DARK POWER was a fair performer at handicap level when last seen in Britain but has found plenty of improvement since switched to the Middle East, winning this race last year under a superb ride from Frankie Dettori. Dettori is in the plate again here but Dark Power’s two efforts this winter have been dull. The extra distance should suit here, however.
2:10 – Red Sea Turf Handicap
A competitive staying handicap that provides the first interesting horse from a betting perspective in SPANISH MISSION. This horse looked an improver in 2019, winning a valuable race at Belmont which has worked out nicely. He lost his way a little at the start of last season but the switch to Andrew Balding revived him and he was a deeply impressive winner of the Doncaster Cup. He bombed out on bad going at Ascot when last seen but I wouldn’t hold that against him and this son of Noble Mission is bred to improve again as a 5-year-old. He gets 9lbs from last year’s winner CALL THE WIND and 4lb from Melbourne Cup third PRINCE OF ARRAN, and that weight concession might tip the balance in the favour of this talented horse, who would have had a pretty strong shot here even at level weights.
There is little between SECRET ADVISOR and SPANISH MISSION on a line through Dashing Willoughby, but the former also has to concede weight to Spanish Mission, who gets Ryan Moore here.
2:45 – Jockey Club Local Handicap
A nine furlong dirt race with 20 runners which is about as easy to solve as you’d expect. Lots of intertwined form here but ALBATHALY was impressive when beating DERWAS in the Custodian Of The 2 Holy Mosques Cup last time out, is on an upward trajectory and is the most tentative of selections.
4:10 – Saudi Derby
A fascinating affair. SOFT WHISPER has swept all before her at Meydan this winter and could hardly have been more impressive last time, thrashing Mnasek by seven lengths. That rival has gone on to win the Group 3 UAE Oaks by six-and-a-half, having won her maiden by a wide margin, and is clearly a fair tool herself. That SOFT WHISPER could turn her away with such ease suggests she has a serious engine and whatever beats her here is likely to win – it is interesting they skipped the UAE Oaks, which on paper would have been a gimme, to take on the boys here for significantly greater prize-money. Mike Smith rides and she is the one to beat.
Godolphin have a strong hand here as they also have the unbeaten gelding REBEL’S ROMANCE, who has some interesting form parallels with his stablemate having also beaten a subsequent Classic winner. He was impressive when winning two novices in Britain, the latter in a fast time, and successfully transitioned to dirt with a narrow, but smooth, victory over Mouheeb, who landed the UAE Guineas next time out. He has immense untapped potential and at this stage it’s hard to say how good he is.
Runner up to Mouheeb in the Guineas was MESHAKEL, who was very moderate on turf in Britain but has improve massively for dirt and distance in Dubai. He has little to find with REBEL’S ROMANCE on strict form lines and might have gone for home a little too soon last time. If he is ridden with a bit more patience here, he could well hit the board.
Readers will likely know all about COWAN, who finished runner up in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Sprint. He has yet to match that excellent grass form on dirt and is more exposed than most of his rivals. He was kicked out of the way by Senor Buscador at Remington Park last time and will surely find one too good.
NEW TREASURE makes his debut for John Gosden having broken his maiden in a Group 3 on turf last season. He ran well at Listed level subsequently but needs to improve for this first experience of dirt to figure here. It’s not impossible, as he’s out of a Congaree mare, and also gets a gelding operation and Dettori for the first time. There is quite a lot going on here, then, and if things click into place he has a reasonable chance on ratings.
Finally, French-trained HOMERYAN might not be a forlorn hope. He got better with every run last year, running a close second in a Group 3 on his final start, pulling clear with one who went onto fill the runner-up berth in a Group 1. He prepped nicely for this with an easy win on synthetics at Chantilly and much will depend on how he handles the dirt. Sea The Stars is not an obvious dirt sire, but he has a really good record at Southwell – a British track where they run on Fibresand, a surface very similar to dirt – and this talented colt could go well at a big price.
4:50 – Riyadh Dirt Sprint
Hard to imagine that this year’s Riyadh Dirt Sprint will be as dramatic as last year’s race, where NEW YORK CENTRAL came from nowhere to run down Japanese front-runner MATERA SKY, who looked certain to win for almost the entire race. NEW YORK CENTRAL was disappointing last time out and will probably need a pace meltdown to retain his crown, particularly as he has been campaigned over a mile since and probably needs further than this six furlongs ideally.
MATERA SKY will line up again and comes here off the back of a solid effort last time out when second. He has looked as good as ever this season and is berthed in stall 1 here, having been drawn on the wide outside last time. The inside stall is a double-edged sword, as he probably won’t have to work as hard as he did last year to get to the lead, but may find horses coming across him or eyeballing him. Provided he can get away and get clear, he should take a lot of catching again.
Fellow Japanese raider JUSTIN finished behind MATERA SKY last time, and COPANO KICKING, in turn, has twice finished behind JUSTIN. Horses from Japan are always worth a second look at these meetings but MATERA SKY looks to have a class edge of his compatriots.
OXTED is well clear on the ratings by virtue of having won the July Cup at Newmarket last year and is a thoroughly likeable and improving horse. He is unproven on dirt but is by Mayson, who has a sensational record on dirt-like Fibresand. He has good early speed and will need to display that here if he is to get a good early position from stall 11. On ability, he has leading claims.
BRAD THE BRIEF’s final run of 2020 would give him a pretty solid chance of hitting the board here but he doesn’t really have a promising pedigree for dirt, while the prolific HARRY’S BAR has done his winning at lower levels and might find this company a bit hot.
Perhaps the most interesting runner at bigger prices is SWITZERLAND. This ex-Steve Asmussen gelding has some back class and looked revitalised last time out on his debut for Satish Seemar, winning with a bit in hand despite a wide trip with no cover. He has the ability to hit the board.