By Richard Rosenblatt
A stellar field of 14 horses from around the world, led by defending champion Mishrif, has been listed as likely starters for the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) at King Abdulaziz Racetrack on Feb. 26.
The third edition of the world’s richest horse race is the highlight of a two-day festival at the track in Riyadh with total purses worth $35.1 million.
Mishriff, the brilliant 5-year-old Ireland-bred trained by John and Thady Gosden, overtook Knicks Go and Charlatan to win last year’s Saudi Cup in a thrilling stretch run to the finish.
Combined, the field has won 16 Group/Grade 1 races, including three by Mishriff – the Prix du Jockey Club, the Dubai Sheema Classic, and the Juddmonte International and Champions (the Saudi Cup did not have Grade 1 status last year).
The field of likely starters announced Friday is an international one, for sure, with a pair of Japan-bred horses accepting entries — Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Marche Lorraine and Champions Cup (G1) winner Keynes.
The United States has a strong contingent, too, with four Hall of Fame trainers and newly-minted two-time Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox all seeking to compete for the winner’s share of $10 million.
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The Hall of Famers and their entries are Bill Mott (Art Collector); Bob BaffertCountry Grammer); Todd Pletcher (Happy Saver); and Steve Asmussen (Midnight Bourbon).
Cox sends over Mandalouna winner of three in a row (including the Grade 1 Haskell via a DQ) and ran second to Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby (G1) – with a possibility of being declared the official winner if Baffert’s Medina Spirit is DQ’d following a post-race positive for a medication banned on race-day.
Also listed as likely starters by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia are Brazil-bred Aero TremEngland-breds Making Miracles and Secret AmbitionsIreland-bred Real WorldFrance-bred Sealiwayand US-bred Emblem Road.
“If Mishriff can retain his crown in The Saudi Cup, it would be a fantastic story for horse racing, but he will have to be at his best with some brilliant horses entered from Japan, Europe, the US and elsewhere,” Tom Ryan , Director of Strategy and International Racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, said. “After such a difficult year in 2021, we are delighted to be able to welcome racing fans from around the globe back to King Abdulaziz Racecourse. Everyone has worked incredibly hard to ensure the success of the event this year and that The Saudi Cup continues to showcase the best in world horse racing.”
The race was given Grade 1 status this year. The undercard includes five Grade 3 and two Grade 2 races.
The first Saudi Cup was won by Maximum Security in 2020, but the result (and the winner’s purse) remains uncertain until a completed investigation into former trainer Jason Servis’ role in a horse-drugging scandal is completed.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.