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Saudi Cup Preview: Knicks Go Prepared For Desert Scorcher
Knicks Go after winning the Pegasus World Cup (Credit: Coglianese Photos / Tim Sullivan)

Saudi Cup Preview: Knicks Go Prepared For Desert Scorcher

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go is prepared to scorch the desert sand in Saturday’s $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racetrack, the second annual running of the world’s richest race.

The Saudi Cup is a one-turn 1 1/8-mile event restricted to horses who were given an official invitation to participate. This year’s edition is the final event on an 8-race card and has a post time of 12:40 PM Eastern.

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Here’s a look at the full field for the Saudi Cup:

Chuwa Wizard – The lone Japan representative in the field has won 5 of his 10 dirt starts, hit the board in 4 others, and exits a 2 1/2-length score in the 1 1/8-mile Champions Cup (G1) at Chukyo. His sire King Kamehameha has established himself as a leading stallion in Japan, whose two national representatives finished sixth and seventh in last year’s event.

“He seems to have settled into the new surroundings here,” trainer Ryuji Okubo said. “He traveled to Dubai last year and that helped him a lot for a long trip to Saudi Arabia.”

Bangkok – He exits a hard-fought 1/2-length victory in the 1 1/4-mile Winter Derby Trial Stakes on Lingfield’s all-weather surface in his first start under top global rider Ryan Moore, who retains the mount here. The distance is of no concern, but will he handle the type of speed and kick-back that comes with racing on dirt? Andrew Balding trains the Irish-bred.

“He came here fit and seems very well,” Balding’s wife and assistant Anna Lisa said. “It’s all systems go.”

Great Scot – One of two returning for more after competing in last year’s running, his connections must hope he finishes better than 12th this time. He was purchased privately with that race in mind following a career-best performance to win the 2019 Superior Mile (G3) on the Haydock lawn. Local jockey Adel Alfouraidi debuts aboard this British-bred with no dirt form.

Max Player – The only horse to compete in all three legs of last year’s American Triple Crown, he returns for his first start since finishing fifth in October’s Preakness Stakes (G1). He’s another who should have no problems navigating the distance and will team up with internationally-renowned rider Umberto Rispoli, who ships in from California for the weekend.

“Shipping and training went smoothly,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “(Max Player) is doing well.”

Knicks Go – The hottest horse in American dirt racing brings along a 4-race win streak for his first trip overseas, which includes setting 2 new Keeneland track records at difference distances. He’s also won 2 straight Grade 1s (the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup), the latter at 1 1/8 miles, and retains jockey Joel Rosario for the fourth straight start.

“We’ve had him a while now and he’s really always trained with a lot of energy and has been aggressive,” trainer Brad Cox said. “I don’t know if I’m looking to see him progress as much as I am just looking for more of the same – he’s been that good.”

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Global Giant – Globally-successful trainer John Gosden brings this British-bred to the Middle East for his first dirt try after winning twice on both turf and synthetic surfaces. His strong pedigree suggests that dirt is doable; his sire Shamardal’s dam is a half to 2002 Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Street Cry, sire of 2007 Kentucky Derby (G1) champion Street Sense.

“He went over to Bahrain and ran very well there,” said Gosden’s son and assistant trainer Thady. “The race didn’t quite go to plan, as he broke a little bit slowly and was finishing well late but wasn’t quite able to peg back the leader. He’s in good form, too. He had a little break over the winter but seems very well in himself.”

Tacitus – He returns to Riyadh for a second go after finishing fifth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths, in last year’s running. The American-based Juddmonte Farms homebred has just 1 victory in his past 11 starts while consistently facing elite competition, but he always seems to give his best effort and should at the very least be considered a strong threat to hit the board against these.

“He continues to mature all the time and he’s mentally more focused,” said assistant trainer Neil Poznansky. “He’s really coming into himself.”

Sleepy Eyes Todd – Not only has he won half of his 16 starts, but he crossed first at six different tracks across America and at very different levels. He won 2 straight heading into the Pegasus World Cup, finishing fourth, and this one-turn configuration should help him better navigate this distance; he didn’t hit the board either time trying it at two turns.

“He is in good form, he ate all of his dinner, and everything is OK right now,” trainer Miguel Silva said.

Charlatan – Despite not debuting until February 2020, he crossed the wire first in all 4 starts last year, though a positive drug test disqualified him from victory in the Arkansas Derby (G1). He returned from a seven-month layoff to crush fellow 3-year-olds in the 7-furlong Malibu Stakes (G1) and may sit just off Knicks Go early. This is his first test against older horses.

“He’s doing very good,” said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes.

Military Law – Returning from 10 months away, he was a 1 1/4-length winner of the first round of the Al Maktoum Challenge Series, a 1-mile test at the Group 2 level on Meydan’s dirt. He was second in both subsequent rounds of last year’s Al Maktoum Challenge series and was headed to the Dubai World Cup before the pandemic hit. Antonio Fresu retains the mount.

“He’s done very well since his last run,” said assistant trainer Maria Ritchie. “He did a gallop on Saturday and he’s had a couple easy days to freshen up.”

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Simsir – He necked out Global Giant to win last November’s Bahrain International Trophy, a 1 1/4-mile conditional stakes on the Sakhir turf in his first start for local trainer Fawzi Nass. The Irish-bred must pass his first dirt test, but he has a 2-1-1-0 record on synthetic (both times at 1 5/16 miles) and his dam is a descendant of the influential American dirt sire Danzig.

“He is in good form,” Nass said. “I think he traveled well; he ate up his food last night, so all is good.”

Mishriff – Gosden’s second stable runner was a well-beaten eighth in last October’s British Champion Stakes (G1), a 1 1/4-mile test at Ascot over soft turf. Ignore that dud and this Irish-bred has nothing but good form, including winning 3 straight prior to the British Champion Stakes and a runner-up effort in last year’s 1-mile Saudi Derby on this same course.

“It was bottomless ground on Champions Day for Mishriff’s final run of last year, but he had a little break and has been training well since he started back,” Thady Gosden said. “He’s in good form.”

Derevo – He makes his debut from the same barn and while wearing the same silks as Great Scot after compiling an 11-3-2-1 record for his breeder Juddmonte Farms. Privately sold and gelded since his ninth-place effort in last September’s Cambridgeshire Handicap going this far on Newmarket’s lawn, this British-bred won 2 of 3 starts on synthetic earlier in his career.

Extra Elusive – His fortunes improved greatly when Hollie Doyle first jumped aboard him last August; she piloted him to win 2 straight Group 3 routes on the Windsor turf. Perhaps the soft going led to his well-beaten sixth-place finish in the British Champion Stakes last time out. His dam’s sire Hennessy was a multiple graded stakes winner on American dirt.

“We talked to the company who traveled him here and he traveled well,” said traveling head lad Andre Alencar. “Since he’s been here, he’s been eating and drinking well. All good so far.”

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