A field of 14 is officially set for the world's richest horse race, with America's Maximum Security the anticipated favorite in Saturday's $20 million Saudi Cup.
Post positions for the 1 1/8-mile feature at King Abdulaziz Racecourse were drawn Wednesday, and the assigned gates look like no hindrance to the U.S. contingent that also includes McKinzie, Mucho Gusto, Midnight Bisou and Tacitus.
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The Saudi Cup, which goes to post at 12:40 p.m. ET, will air on Fox Sports 1 with its undercard available on TVG. Major advanced deposit wagering services including TVG and NYRA Bets are expected to take bets.
Horse Racing Nation handicapper Reinier Macatangay analyzed the field with his odds serving as a projected morning line for American bettors. Keep in mind that this race goes around one turn, and its entrants will run free of race day medication such as Lasix.
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1. Gold Dream, 20-1 (Gold Allure – Osamu Hirata – 23: 9-7-2): If bettors like Chrysoberyl, they may want to consider the Champions Cup runner-up Gold Dream as well at a higher price. Again, though, stepping up from Japanese competition to this kind of international dirt race with an American presence is not easy. He also did not back up the Champions Cup effort when fourth more recently in the Tokyo Daishoten (G1). Toss.
2. Tacitus, 12-1 (Tapit – Bill Mott – 9: 3-3-2): After winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2) last spring, this once-promising colt developed second-itis with runner-up finishes in the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and Travers Stakes (G1). He then finished a flat third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) to go along with his third in the Kentucky Derby, resulting in a layoff of five months entering this spot. Unless he proves otherwise, expect the same board-hitting effort at best. Use underneath.
3. Benbatl, 10-1 (Dubawi – Saeed bin Suroor – 20: 10-3-1): This international star won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) with ease most recently in his dirt debut. But those Meydan prep races for the Dubai World Cup are typically filled with weaker competition or horses rounding into shape off significant layoffs. Now Benbatl steps up to face some top-quality American dirt stars. While Benbatl is a respected veteran on turf, the waters look too deep here to trust him. Toss.
4. North America, 30-1 (Dubawi – Satish Seemar – 19: 7-3-3): Similar to Benbatl, this speedy 8-year-old gelding looks like the kind of horse who wins in the Middle East when there are few international shippers and the good horses present are coming off layoffs. In the Saudi Cup, every runner is likely to by at 100% for the world’s largest purse. His pace-setting style will give him some problems, too, with Maximum Security and Capezzano present. Toss.
5. Gronkowski, 20-1 (Lonhro – Salem Bin Ghadayer – 14: 4-3-3): When this horse initially came to Dubai in 2019, he finished fifth in Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) before rebounding with a strong second in the Dubai World Cup (G1). This year, he ran a flat-looking third in both The Entisar and Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2). But, as with before, it’s possible he only needed those races to get back into the flow of a campaign. Supporters will get a good price because of the recent losses. Live longshot.
6. Midnight Bisou, 8-1 (Midnight Lute – Steven Asmussen – 19: 12-4-3): Knocking a mare who went 7-for-8 last year, all in graded stakes, is difficult. She ran a good second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff after a questionable ride to end her campaign. But in Midnight Bisou’s 2020 debut, she tackles males for the first time, including a sharp horse in Maximum Security, McKinzie and an improving Mucho Gusto, all while facing unfamiliar territory. She runs consistently nonetheless and can hit the board. Use underneath.
7. Maximum Security, 5/2 (New Year’s Day – Jason Servis – 9: 7-1-0): On paper, there is no reason to go against the top American dirt star. Last year, Maximum Security crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby before following up that effort with a Haskell (G1) victory in the summer. Back around one turn in the Cigar Mile (G1), he dominated older horses in December to cap off an impressive campaign. He prefers to set the pace, but has proven that sitting off other horses is not a problem. Rating may be necessary here. The pick.
8. Mucho Gusto, 10-1 (Mucho Macho Man – Bob Baffert – 11: 6-2-2): With the reduced purse, the Pegasus World Cup (G1) lacked the same punch as in previous years when City of Light, Gun Runner and Arrogate won. Mucho Gusto was hard-ridden in the stretch to beat Mr Freeze, and it will require more to beat his stablemate McKinzie, let alone Maximum Security, if those two stars transfer their form to Saudi Arabia. As with McKinzie, the big positive is that Baffert knows how to win in the Middle East. Plus, Mucho Gusto has room to improve as a 4-year-old. Win contender.
9. McKinzie, 7/2 (Street Sense – Bob Baffert – 14: 7-6-0): With 13 first or second-place finishes in 14 starts, it is hard to knock McKinzie’s consistency. In his most recent start, he ran a good second to Vino Rosso in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 1 1/4-mile distance proved a little too far, and now he cuts back to his favored nine furlongs. With Baffert in his corner, he also has an experienced trainer who knows how to ship to the Middle East to win. Win contender.
10. Chrysoberyl, 12-1 (Gold Allure – Hidetaka Otanashi – 6: 6-0-0): As an American who does not closely follow Japanese racing, this one is tougher to analyze. But here is one note about Chrysoberyl’s win in the Champions Cup (G1). He received an excellent, ground-saving trip and found a big opening when tipped out. Even with his perfect 6-for-6 record, you can count on his competition here to be much stiffer and the trip tougher. Toss.
11. Great Scot, 50-1 (Requinto – Trainer TBA – 11: 4-1-2): Most American handicappers will not recognize this horse. For what it is worth, he did take the Superior Mile (G3) at Haydock last September when in the care of Tom Dascombe. Saudi interests purchased him to run in this event, and the former trainer mentioned after the transaction that this horse improved with gelding, but would be fortunate to hit the board. He appears overmatched. Toss.
12. Magic Wand, 15-1 (Galileo – Aidan O’Brien – 23: 3-9-2): This mare’s ability to travel anywhere in the world and still run at a high level is admirable. In Magic Wand’s most recent start, she finished a good second after finding herself on the early lead in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1). Dirt is an unknown for Magic Wand, however,and her breeding spells grass on both sides. Toss.
13. Capezzano, 20-1 (Bernardini – Salem Bin Ghadayer – 16: 6-1-2): The same concern for Benbatl and North America applies to Capezzano. Against weaker horses in the Firebreak Stakes (G3) at Meydan, Capezzano set the pace and rolled home to an easy win. In this spot, though, there are dirt horses in another league than the ones he defeated. Capezzano does not enjoy rating off the pace, which means he will face a stressful first half with quality speedsters in the mix up front. Toss.
14. Mijack, 50-1 (Elzaam – Sami Alharabi – ?:?-?-?): This local contender won The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup (G1) earlier this month for horses imported to Saudi Arabia to secure his spot in the field. Race officials selected him over the winner of the other division on the same card for strictly local horses. Earlier in his career, he struggled in Europe, never amounting to more than a handicap horse. The presence of international stars will prove too much here. Toss.
With another perspective, Horse Racing Nation's Matt Shifman weighs in, saying he fully expects an American horse to win this race. It's just a matter of which one.
Shifman says Midnight Bisou is "a fit for the Saudi Cup's one-turn configuration," but he reminds that Mucho Gusto "beat a relatively weak field in the Pegasus World Cup."
"I just cannot imagine a scenario where Maximum Security or McKinzie don’t win the Saudi Cup," Shifman added, "and those two are very likely exacta to complete the exacta. I'll side with Maximum Security on top of that 1-2 finish.