Shifman: An American will win the Saudi Cup, but which one?

February 25, 2020 01:15pm
Shifman: An American will win the Saudi Cup, but which one?
Photo: Neville Hopwood/Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia

The four top-ranked American horses in this week's NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll are all expected to meet in Saturday's inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup.

The formidable quartet of Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Mucho Gusto, Champion Three-Year-Old Male Maximum Security, Champion Older Female Midnight Bisou and four-time Grade 1 winner McKinzie took with them overseas a combined 14 Grade 1 victories and more than $11 million in earnings.

You can’t really argue with the statement that the best dirt racing in the world happens in the United States. Thus, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which one of them does not also win the richest race in the world considering it too runs over dirt.

RELATED: Saudi Cup post times, fields and how to watch

Let’s take a closer look at the American stars that are best suited for the race which is to be run around a one-turn mile and an eighth at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.

Mucho Gusto
sits in the No. 1 spot in the poll based on the fact that he has already run in 2020. But he will not be my top choice in the Saudi Cup. He beat a relatively weak field in the Pegasus World Cup -- remember, Omaha Beach and Spun to Run both scratched -- when he won his first and only Grade 1 race compared to the loaded international field he will face.


No. 2 Maximum Security was the best dirt horse in America last year with a record that included four Grade 1s in which he crossed the finish line first. He won those races with the ideal combination of speed and stamina over a mile, a mile and an eighth and the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. While the Saudi Cup is a new sort of test, his laid-back personality around the barn makes him well suited to international travel.

Midnight Bisou
, who received five first-place votes as the No. 3 horse in the consensus poll, is a fit for the Saudi Cup's one-turn configuration. Even though the Steve Asmussen runner found the winner’s circle in seven of her eight starts last year, it would take a remarkable performance to beat this field in her first try against males.

Then there is
McKinzie with his stellar record. From 14 starts, only once did he not finish in the exacta. Trainer Bob Baffert has been aiming the 5-year-old for this $20 million event since the Breeders’ Cup. The one-turn configuration and the nine-furlong distance suit him perfectly.

I just cannot imagine a scenario where Maximum Security or McKinzie don’t win the Saudi Cup, and those two are very likely exacta to complete the exacta. I'll side with Maximum Security on top of that 1-2 finish.



You can see from my NTRA Top Thoroughbred ballot below that Mucho Gusto got the No. 1 vote. He, simply, won the biggest race to date of 2020.

Clearly, the results of the Saudi Cup and then next month’s Dubai World Cup (G1) will newly determine the leaders.


 Consensus Top 10

 Matt Shifman's Top 10

 1. Mucho Gusto (16)

 1. Mucho Gusto

 2. Maximum Security (14)

 2. Maximum Security

 3. Midnight Bisou (5)

 3. McKinzie

 4. McKinzie

 4. Midnight Bisou

 5. Zulu Alpha

 5. Zulu Alpha

 6. Covfefe

 6. Code of Honor

 7. Code of Honor

 7. Tiz the Law

 8. Firenze Fire

 8. Mind Control

 9. Silver Dust

 9. Firenze Fire

 10. Hard Not to Love

 10. Hard Not to Love



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Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Recently, Matt helped launch Derby Day Racing, a new 2-year-old racing partnership, that just purchased a promising Lookin At Lucky filly named Sooner Schooner.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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