Friday, 19 February 2021

Saturday February 20th 2021: Knicks Ready to Go Again in the Middle East

There are a number of crucial National Hunt prep races on Saturday, not least the Kingwell, the Rendlesham and the Grand National Trial.

On the flat, there are tens of millions of pounds up for grabs over in Saudi Arabia for Saudi Cup day and we have four solid selection from there as well as two more over the jumps.

1.00 Riyadh (Neom Turf Cup) – TILSIT

This is a fascinating conditions race over the extended mile-and-a-quarter, worth some £437,000 to the winner. The each-way value may be in the UAE-trained For The Top, however the class acts are Bill Mott’s Channel Maker and Charlie Hills’ Tilsit.

There is a lot to like about the latter, despite the wide draw. We successfully tipped him here at big odds in Group 3 company at Glorious Goodwood last summer, and personally I’ve thought he was heading to the top since I saw him demolish his field at Newcastle on his second start last June.

He is potentially top class for sure and he should be good enough to win this, Channel Maker being the big danger although the American horse tends to need the full mile-and-a-half to be seen to best effect.

1.35 Riyadh (stc 1351 Turf Sprint) – SPACE BLUES

Run over the seven furlongs, this race once again hands out more than £400k to the winning horse. There are some crack six and seven-furlong performers here, two of them trained by Charlie Appleby who could be in for a very successful day.

His Glorious Journey is rock-solid, a Group 2 winner and is match fit after a solid third in Dubai. His teammate however, Space Blues, is unsurprisingly the choice of William Buick and is the selection.

Space Blues can be brilliant on his day, his only negative being that he has often needed his first run of the year. There is no guarantee he will be undercooked though and, even being a few pounds under-par, he’d still be in with a big chance and the Group 1 winner can prove his class.

3.18 Wincanton (Kingwell Hurdle – Grade 2) – GOSHEN

We’re playing the numbers just a little bit here with potential superstar Goshen. He had famously taken apart his Triumph Hurdle field at the Cheltenham Festival last year before falling at the last, and hasn’t been seen to best effect since.

A beaten favourite twice on the flat before completely bombing out on his National Hunt seasonal reappearance, it is understandable at a glance that he has been overlooked by the layers for favouritism.

However, his flat form was solid and all horses are allowed one proper off day. Assuming there is not something a miss then, at these weights and somewhere near his best he would have plenty in hand and so even without knowing that for sure, at the odds published he is worth taking a chance on.

Goshen could still be the best in his division, while likely short-priced favourite Song For Someone is solid if unspectacular and Navajo Pass is the other one who makes the shortlist for place purposes.

4.10 Riyadh (Saudi Derby) – REBEL’S ROMANCE

Back to Riyadh we go, this time for the Saudi Derby. This is a one-mile race for the three-year-olds on the dirt and is worth a mental £656,000 to the winner.

We mentioned Charlie Appleby might have a great day and he was in among the winners at Meydan again on Thursday. This could be another winner for him in the shape of the impressive-looking Rebel’s Romance.

Three from three now, Rebel’s Romance looked great in winning at Newcastle and Kempton before opening his account at Meydan in January. He beat Mouheeb that day who has since gone on to beat Meshakel, in opposition here, and he did that much easier than the margin alone would demonstrate.

He is a better horse than the numbers suggest and, as a son of Dubawi, could stay further so a win here may put him in line for the UAE Derby – would they think about Kentucky thereafter?

I hope he can land this, with American-trained Cowan probably next best while Godolphin’s other runner, Soft Whisper, has a handy weight concession and can also land a blow for Saeed bin Suroor and excellent jockey Mike Smith.

4.25 Haydock (Prestige Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – ALAPHILIPPE

It’s tight at the top of the market here, as it is at the top of the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle for which this is a trial, but one horse may just prove to be good value at this three-mile trip.

Alaphilippe, trained by Fergal O’Brien, was on a fine winning streak before being turned over at Taunton last time but he ran as though the 2m3f trip did not suit him at all. He can improve plenty from that, enough perhaps to beat Mint Condition while Young Buck was the other horse under consideration.

5.40 Riyadh (Saudi Cup) – KNICKS GO

Although this race isn’t graded yet, it’s a Group 1 in all but name despite the glaring omissions especially from the States.

Now the richest race in the world at £7.3million to the winner, it is very classy and while John Gosden’s Mishriff can get competitive, this could come down to the American runners.

The solid but perennially underperforming Tacitus can put up a decent each-way show once again, while most of the money across the pond is going the way of Bob Baffert’s Charlatan.

Last year’s Arkansas Derby winner (since disqualified) was at the head of the Kentucky Derby market at one stage, and while he could reach the same level as the likes of Maximum Security it has not been proven yet which makes his odds too short.

Step forward Knicks Go for the value. Five years old now and improving nicely, Knicks Go is trained by the brilliant Brad Cox and he landed a gamble to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November. He followed that up with a rather easy Pegasus World Cup win over this 1m1f trip, and to my eye he is the best of this bunch.

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