Riyadh and Kelso don’t go together in conversation much, so this weekend really is a real mixed bag. While Cheltenham fever continues to grow and the cold weather batters Britain, over in Saudi Arabia they host the first Saudi Cup card on the flat in likely 30-degree temperatures.
Millions of pounds are being offered and while the races aren’t graded yet they have attracted some top runners, many of whom will be very familiar with fans of British and Irish racing.
Among other things, money is going down this week on a Willie Mullins-trained horse, but not in the setting you’d expect!
1.35 Riyadh (1351 Cup) – GLORIOUS JOURNEY
Run over a trip just short of seven furlongs, this race looks absolutely tailor-made for Charlie Appleby’s charge Glorious Journey and he may yet be able to lead home a 1-2 for the yard with Mubtasim.
There are plenty of familiar names here and lots of reasonable contenders including Sir Dancealot, Speak In Colours, Larchmont Lad and the former John Gosden-trained Legends Of War, but really they do not possess the tactical speed over this trip that our lad does and he could be on for this huge £450,000 first prize.
Despite having to tackle a wide draw on this tight track, Glorious Journey’s basic level of form is way above this field and should see him prove too good following a fluent comeback win at Meydan in a Group 2 last month.
Last season he carried on showing improvement and was a close second to Limato at Newmarket before winning the Hungerford Stakes and now he can add this valuable prize to his CV under first choice jockey William Buick.
2.10 Riyadh (Turf Handicap) – TRUE SELF
The Turf Handicap is the staying race on the card, run over a trip of 1m7f and at these weights it could be wise to stick with not only the nous of Willie Mullins, but also the sheer race riding brilliance of Frankie Dettori who is in the form of his life.
Top contenders from major European races Cross Counter and Dee Ex Bee, who is now trained in the Middle East, should head the betting but given their ratings they, along with Call The Wind are arguably much of a muchness.
True Self on the other hand, a seven-year-old mare rated 130 over hurdles, has won five of 11 on the flat and continues to improve for experience. She’s a Listed winner at Bath, Newmarket and Gowran while she also took a Group 3 at Flemington in Australia in November and she can carry on her successful globetrotting with another win here.
2.45 Kelso (Premier Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – CLONDAW CAITLIN
We may be able to grab just a little bit of value here with this Clondaw Caitlin on the basis that most of the attention (and cash) could go the way of Paul Nicholls’ Calva D’Auge.
The fact however that the Nicholls horse has been doing his winning at Plumpton and Wincanton, without improving a whole lot, doesn’t bode well for this very different test.
Our horse won ever so easily on another stiff track at Newcastle and will love conditions here. Ruth Jefferson has the assistance of Brian Hughes once again for this mare who would have had a serious chance off level weights for me, so with a 7lb allowance she has to be backed.
Cheddleton is next best with conditions in mind, while the bigger priced Elf De Re can also not be ruled out.
3.57 Kelso (Handicap Hurdle) – BIALCO
There are questions in this race regarding several of them when it comes to trip, ground or form but Lucinda Russell’s Bialco is rock solid and is worth a punt for sure.
This beautiful nine-year-old grey loves it round here, winning over the course and distance last March before doing so again in December very comfortably indeed.
He is improving overall but perhaps didn’t like the slight step back in trip last time, but with his overall progression taken into account in conditions he is proven to thrive in, he looks to be still the best handicapped horse in this race and could well go off at a value price.
Kalaharry and Milvale are next on the list while the others all have just too many doubts surrounding them, although Lucinda Russell’s recruit from Ireland Sutton Manor was once rated 142 over hurdles and it’ll be fascinating to see how quickly, if at all, she can get him back to his best.
5.40 Riyadh (Saudi Cup) – BENBATL
Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor have spoken about their need to find a replacement for the underrated dual Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow and, whether by luck or by design, they may well have done so.
In fact, strictly speaking I think Benbatl is developing into a better horse than the winner of the former richest horse race in the world and he could prove it by winning the new richest race, the Saudi Cup over 1m1f for an amazing £7.5million.
Fifth in the Derby and a Royal Ascot winner as a three-year-old, he became a Group 1 winner in the 2018 Dubai Turf and returned to Britain last season with a stunning win in the Joel Stakes.
This year Benbatl has already won another Group 2 race easily on turf before making a taking dirt debut at Meydan, winning another Group 2 so easily and his new career best looks like it’s on its way. If that materialises for the six-year-old son of Dubawi, he should prove to be too good even for some of America’s very best dirt horses.
Maximum Security is the best of them for me; probably the rightful winner of the Kentucky Derby as well as being Haskell Invitational and Cigar Mile champ, beating Mucho Gusto in the former race who has since gone on to win the Pegasus World Cup easily although that race cut up badly due to runners being aimed here.
McKinzie represents Bob Baffert as well as Mucho Gusto and they’d be very close on form with this trip suiting more than the 1m2f of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while the weight Midnight Bisou receives could prove crucial and Tacitus is bound to come to himself and start seeing his races out better at some point which would make him a serious horse.