The Cheltenham Festival, for most of you, is the only thing on your minds. With less than two weeks to go, excitement is really building before the start of the four-day bonanza with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday.
We’re buzzing with anticipation for our favourite meeting of the year, the greatest show on turf! There’s no shortage of top-class racing on offer this Saturday though, with the most valuable race on earth taking place over in Saudi Arabia. The inaugural Saudi Cup, with a purse of $20m, plays host to fourteen international raiders all bidding to land the jackpot.
Here’s the lowdown, as well as a look at some of the supporting races and a 35/1 treble. Be sure to check out our tips and analysis this Saturday, with racing from Doncaster, Kelso and Newbury live on ITV.
The Saudi Cup (17.40)
With $10m on offer to the winner, the biggest names in dirt racing have pitched up. A field of fourteen includes British, Irish, Japanese and American contenders.
Our challenge is led by Benbatl for the Godolphin team. The six-year-old, three-times an international Grade One winner, has won both starts in Meydan with ease this term. That includes his most recent victory, success on his first ever start on dirt. That was an easy win, but he needs to pull out a lot more to go two-from-two on the brown stuff.
Another horse who arrives here after victory in Dubai is Capezzano, who landed a Group Three by seven-lengths on his return from a lay off earlier this month. That’s his fourth win from his last five starts, but his Dubai World Cup flop (sent off 2/1 favourite) suggests he has a little to find at the highest level of competition.
It’s hard to fault the attitude of A P O’Brien’s Magic Wand who gained a deserved return to winning ways at Flemington in November. She’s plied most of her recent trade abroad, including when beaten just a short head in the Hong Kong Cup in December. She’ll need a clear career best on figures here though, and races on dirt for the first time, something that her pedigree doesn’t suggest will suit.
The Americans have the strongest challenge, and Maximum Security is the right favourite. He’s finished first past the post in seven of his eight races, including when a disqualified winner of the Kentucky Derby in May. He’s won three of his four starts since to make amends for that disappointment, including an impressive success at Aqueduct last time out in December.
Figures suggest that Maximum Security is at his ceiling though, with RPRs of 121 recorded in his last three runs. That won’t be enough to beat an on song MCKINZIE. Bob Baffert is no stranger to international success, landing the Dubai World Cup with Arrogate in 2017.
He’s likely to have his contender spot on for this and the nine furlong trip is ideal. It was over this distance that the five-year-old impressed at Saratoga back in August. With a line put through his two runs since – the first was his prep for the Breeders’ Cup and at the event proper he once more found ten furlongs too far – he’s the one who looks most likely to land the jackpot.
Selection: MCKINZIE @ 3/1
The 1351 Turf Sprint (13.35)
A turf contest over six-and-a-half furlongs which is filled with well-known contenders. Suedois has been on the go for years, and gained a deserved return to winning ways at Goodwood in August. He defied a mark of 110 in Meydan back in January on his second start this winter and has each-way claims here.
He should come up short to the improving GLORIOUS JOURNEY though. Charlie Appleby’s charge has often been pigeonholed as a soft-ground horse, but he should his versatility when defying a penalty on his recent reappearance at Meydan on a sound surface. That was a career best effort on RPRs in which he showed plenty of speed over seven. He could prove hard to beat.
David Elsworth’s Sir Dancealot is the current second favourite. He’d have a great chance if on a going day, but he suffered from a lack of consistency last term, including when held in fourth behind the selection at Newbury in August. The quick surface will suit him, but all his best form comes over seven furlongs, his form figures over six reading 9160523174950. With that in mind, he’s passed over.
Selection: GLORIOUS JOURNEY @ 2/1
Longines Turf Handicap (14.10)
A race once more dominated by European raiders. Willie Mullins’ True Self has come in for plenty of market support in recent days. The seven-year-old mare, three-times a Listed winner in the UK and Ireland, landed a Group Three in Australia in November. She signed off last year with a tame effort in the Hong Kong Vase, an effort that suggests she has plenty to find at this level.
One who knows what’s required to win top races internationally is CROSS COUNTER. He landed the Melbourne Cup in 2018 before following up in the Dubai Gold Cup. Both those efforts came off the back of lay-offs. As a result, it’s of no concern that he hasn’t been seen since November where he was beaten little over a length in the Melbourne Cup under top weight.
He twice finished behind Dee Ex Bee last term when chasing home Stradivarius at Ascot and Goodwood. Ultimately though, he wasn’t beaten far and will enjoy the quick surface on offer here. He thrived on quick ground when thrashing Dee Ex Bee in the 2018 Gordon Stakes at Goodwood. With his old rival only finishing fifth on his recent stable debut for bin Ghadayer, the vote goes to Charlie Appleby’s globetrotter.
Selection: CROSS COUNTER @ 2/1
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The Dubai Carnival draws another week closer to World Cup Night. Group Three action as well as a number of competitive handicaps are on offer this week. A 57/1 treble including runners from Charlie Appleby’s, Charlie Fellowes’ and David Simcock’s yards is on site.