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Top US Contenders Point To $20 Million Saudi Cup

James Murphy
by in Horses on
  • Several top US contenders are pointing to the $20 million Saudi Cup on February 20, 2021.
  • Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go is tentatively planning to travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 8.
  • Steve Asmussen’s Max Player will also make the trip with stablemate Cowan competing on the undercard.

There’s a simple dynamic in horse racing: the races with the most lucrative pots will attract the best equine talent. That’s definitely the case when it comes to the second running of what is billed as ‘The World’s Richest Race’–the Saudi Cup. The Saudi Cup is the main event of the February 20, 2021 race card at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The entire card offers purse money totaling $30.5 million USD.

HRH Prince Bandar shared this simple message on behalf of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia of which he is the chairman:

We’re putting on the SAUDI CUP in the hope that people who love horses and racing around the world might come and take a closer look at our culture and our country: explore a place they’d never thought of visiting and perhaps see it anew.

Over the years, we will be delighted if the SAUDI CUP can attract some of the finest horses and become one of the more sought-after races to participate in and watch.

One horse almost certain to compete is Pegagus World Cup winner Knicks Go. Following his win on January 23 he is expected to leave the US on Februarty 8 for the trip to Riyadh. Trainer Brad Cox gave the caveat that the trip is contingent on his fitness in this week’s workouts but that doesn’t sound like it will be an issue:

“He came out of the Pegasus in great shape. We just want to see how he works and how he comes out of it. Hopefully we see what we want to see.”

Knicks Go will likely be one of the favorites in the Saudi Cup, most likely the #2 choice behind Bob Baffert’s lightly raced but brutally talented Charlatan. At last check, Charlatan was being pointed to the Saudi Cup, bypassing the Pegasus World Cup following an impressive showing in winning the December 26 Malibu Stakes. Baffert says that the Malibu was essentially just ‘a day at the office’ for Charlatan:

“He breezed today and it was a very, very nice work. We are leaning toward the Saudi Cup. I don’t want to bring him back too quick. He came out of the Malibu really well. He always showed that he was a brilliant horse.”

“When he won the Malibu he wasn’t really super keyed up for it. He ran a lot better than I thought he would. I thought he could win and I thought he would run well.”

Baffert says that Charlatan’s talent and ‘mental game’ will more than make up for his lack of racing experience:

“I think his talent makes up for his inexperience. I think he has enough experience where he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose. I think that’s a good trait.”

“I think coming off the seven-eighths race, especially the way he did it, I think it is a perfect kind of distance. We know he ships well and he has a great mind on him. He’s a good gate horse. It’s very challenging to go to Saudi or Dubai. You need a really great mind and he has a really great mind. So I think that race fits the bill perfectly for him.”

Steve Asmussen will also send his top four year old, Max Player, to the Saudi Cup. Max Player finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the October 3 Preakness, his last race. His previous win came on February 1, 2020 in the Withers Stakes. Also making the trip to Saudi Arabia will be stablemate Cowan who is coming off a distant second finish behind Caddo River in the January 22 Smarty Jones Stakes. Cowan will be entered in the Saudi Derby on the undercard.

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