Benbatl does some track work in Riyadh
Benbatl does some track work in Riyadh Image Credit: Saudi Cup

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia is all set to take another giant step forward and into the upper echelons of world-class international racing when it hosts the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Saturday.

more than 60 of the world’s best thoroughbred and Purebred Arabian horses from nine countries will compete across a high-quality eight-race card that stacks-up against the sports major horse racing events including Royal Ascot in the UK, the Breeders’ Cup in America and the Dubai World Cup.

The Saudi Cup was conceptualised to highlight the sporting revolution that has enveloped the country over the past year, where it has hosted mega-events such as boxing matches, motor sport and football.

It also aims to provide exciting new opportunities for the racing industry both in the region, and internationally, with the vision of developing a Middle Eastern series or races involving already established Dubai and Bahrain.

The pinnacle of Saturday’s race day is the $20 million Saudi Cup, a 1,800 metre dirt blockbuster, which has attracted 14 of the planet’s best middle-distance equine athletes.

Dubai is well-represented in the gala which boasts a total purse of close to $30 million, which has gone a long way in attracting the highest quality of horse. Seven glittering races comprise a robust undercard comprising both dirt and turf races which will be run over distances from 1,200 metres and beyond.

As many as four runners represent Dubai connections in the $20 million showpiece, led by Godolphin’s tri-continental champion Benbatl, Satish Seemar’s stable star North America and the in-form Emirati handler Salem Bin Ghadayer’s duo of Capezzano and Gronkowski.

However, they confront a formidable four-strong raiding party from America headed by 2019 Cigar Mile winner Maximum Security, who was unluckly disqualified in the Kentucky Derby.

Hall of Fame American handler Bob Baffert is represented his two best older horses including this year’s Pegasus World Cup winner Mucho Gusto and 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up McKinzie.

Midnight Biscou, America’s 2019 Older Female of the Year, who strung together seven straight wins confidentl y takes on the boys with the iconic Mike Smith in the saddle.

Gold Dream, Tacitus, Chrysoberyl, Great Scot, Magic Wand and Mijack complete the field of 14.

Benbatl, who is trained by Godolphin’s all-conquering handler Saeed Bin Surour, carries Dubai’s biggest hopes as he makes his second star on dirt, having previously been campaigned exclusively on turf.

But Bin Surour, and Benbalt’s jockey and British champion Oisin Murphy can take heart from the feedback of several jockey’s who competed in Friday’s International Jockey’s Challenge.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith, who boasts 26 Breeder’s Cup wins in what has been a glittering career, gave the King Abdulaziz racetrack a huge tumbs-up saying: “This is one the best dirt courses in the world.

“The horses are so safe on it. American should look at this course.”

Lisa Allpress who won the opening race in the Challenge was also full of praise for the course which she described as ‘amazing.’

“There is hardly any kick-back and the overall feel of the track is just amazing,” she said. “I absolutelyloved it.”

Meanwhile Bin Suroor commented to Benbatl’s chances following his impressive performance in his prep race at Meydan last month.

“We know that this will be a much tougher race compared to his first run on dirt and it is important that he can race handy,” he said. “He has always jumped well in his races but being able to stay out of the kickback will be key against this opposition.

“This is the first ever big international race in Saudi Arabia, so it would mean a lot to win it. Benbatl has been an exceptional horse for us, winning three G1 races, and I am hoping for another good effort.”

Godolphin is represented in three other races on the Saudi Cup undercard, with Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter who is the favourite in the Longines Turf Handicap over a mile and seven furlongs.

Appleby said: “Cross Counter is in great order. We felt he ran another good race in the Melbourne Cup last time out.

“He came straight to Dubai after Australia and has enjoyed a nice break. His preparation has gone to plan and we know that he can run well fresh, so he should be a major contender.