Benbatl (GB) – Godolphin’s representative arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday afternoon and went out to the training track for the first time on Thursday with Saeed bin Suroor’s assistant Ricardo Corona observing.
After 19 races in which the 125-rated star pupil clashed with and/or defeated some of the top turf horses in the world, he tried the dirt for the first time last out in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (Group 2) over 1900m at Meydan Racecourse. Quite impressive that day, he cuts back slightly in distance on Saturday, but steps up significantly in class.
“He is doing well,” Bin Suroor said from Dubai. “His work on Thursday went very well and I’m happy with him. The race is very tough, with coming from America, Europe and Japan and are all very good horses who are good dirt horses. Benbatl won one time on the dirt in Dubai in his last run in the Maktoum Challenge, which was a nice trial for him to see if he could handle it and he handled it well.
“So far, we are happy with him since and looking forward to a good run from him,” he continued. “The (1800m) distance is fine and the surface doesn’t matter when it comes to the distance. If you look at the last time he ran, he ran very well going (1900m), just like he has on turf, and we can even go a mile and a quarter with him.”
Chrysoberyl (JPN) – Posted his final breeze on the dirt track with jockey Christophe Soumillon in the irons.
“He was very relaxed and moved beautifully this morning,” said jockey Christophe Soumillon.
“My impression about the dirt here is similar to that of American dirt tracks, which has lots of cushion but from my feeling of riding him today, I think he will handle it well.
“I understand that American speed horses are on the inside of us, so I will decide my tactics once I start off the gate. Unlike the 2000m in the Dubai World Cup, we will have a long distance until the first turn. The tactics should depend on how he starts.”
Gold Dream (JPN) – Galloped over the dirt track on Thursday morning. “He is keeping his form well and is very fit,” said trainer Osamu Hirata. Everything has gone as planned. He has been eating well. I’m very happy with him.”
McKinzie (USA) and Mucho Gusto (USA) – The Bob Baffert-trained duo had another schooling session at the starting gate on Thursday morning to better acclimatise themselves with the different techniques employed by the starting team than in the United States.
“They both stood well yesterday,” said Jimmy Barnes, the longtime assistant to Baffert, who has been with the two horses since they arrived in Saudia Arabia more than a week ago. “We wanted to bring them up again today to get them used to not having a handler in the stall with them unlike in the US. After they stand they’ll gallop an easy mile and a quarter (2000m).”
The Baffert pair ended up with side-by-side stalls in the starting gate at Wednesday evening’s barrier draw with 4-year-old Pegasus World Cup winner Mucho Gusto getting stall eight and 5-year-old Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up McKinzie in post nine.
“I’m pretty blessed to have two nice horses and it’s pretty exciting,” Baffert said. “It’s one of the toughest group of horses. In dirt racing, the start of the race is really important. We’ve noticed here that the starting gate is from France so it’s very narrow and there’s no room for a guy to handle him in the gate where American horses are used to being handled.”
Maximum Security (USA) – (pictured) Came out on the dirt track and galloped for 1600m.
“He didn’t seem to be blowing much when he came off the track after going a mile in 1.59.73,” trainer Jason Servis said.
“Regarding the draw, it was great and we will decide how to handle the race in the paddock.”
Midnight Bisou (USA) – Stood in the starting gate at 7am on Thursday morning and did so without a hitch, after which she had an easy gallop around the dirt track.
“She’s all class,” said Jeff Bloom, who co-owns the 5-year-old mare in partnership with Allen Racing and Madaket Stables.
Bloom was frank when assessing the strength of the competition they will face on Saturday night: “We knew coming in that we were going to have to match up against a couple of Bob’s good horses,” Bloom said. “The important thing is the filly adapts to pretty much anything you throw at her. Travelling over here really took nothing out of her and she’s trained exceptionally well since she got here.
“The two biggest advantages for our filly is the track configuration – the one-turn mile and an eighth (1800m) really was intriguing to us and there’s very little kick back on (the dirt track) and that should be of value to our filly (speaking of her running style).”
The attraction of The Saudi Cup was intriguing enough to persuade the partnership to keep her in training after last year’s Breeders’ Cup, when the plan was initially to see her at auction immediately after.
“We’ve always felt she’d be up to the challenge of facing the boys and when we decided to keep her in training it was a no brainer,” Bloom said. “There’s a $20,000,000 ticket out there and let’s go ahead and take that chance.”
North America (GB) – A fan favourite in his home base of Dubai, 8-year-old stretched his legs on the dirt on Thursday morning after arriving from home late on Wednesday morning.
North America exits a somewhat disappointing result when third in a three-horse photo-finish last out while defending his title in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 on Jan. 9. After the race, it was found that he had injured a hoof.
“If he hadn’t had his issue where he stepped on something sharp and bled, there’s no way he would have lost the race,” Seemar said. “I guarantee that, but unfortunately, he was bleeding afterward. In the end, it was superficial enough that it could be fixed and he came out of that good and returned to training.
“My biggest attraction for this race is the distance,” Seemar continued. “This is his best trip. He has won at a mile, 1900m and 2000m and has a lot of speed, so 1800m around one turn is perfect for him. I have not had any luck with him on (Dubai World Cup day), so maybe a change of scenery could be what does it for him.”
Magic Wand (IRE) – Ahead of her sixth consecutive start outside of Ireland, she stepped out on to the dirt track for the first time on Thursday morning and cantered 1400m.
“Magic Wand seems to be in good form and she cantered on the track for the first time this morning,” trainer Aidan O’Brien said from Ireland. “Pat Keating, our travelling head man, and Yvonne (Zurcher) who rode Magic Wand, were very happy with her. She seems to love travelling and everything seems good.”
Tacitus (USA) – Had an easy gallop shortly after 7.am on Thursday morning according to Riley Mott, son of and assistant to trainer Bill. The elder Mott was on hand to supervise, having arrived in Saudi Arabia late Wednesday evening. Tacitus is expected to gallop again on Friday.
Capezzano (USA) and Gronkowski (USA) – Salem bin Ghadayer’s Saudi Cup duo arrived late on Wednesday and had their first experience of their new surroundings when visiting the dirt track just after 8am on Thursday morning.
“Both of the horses arrived in very excellent condition,” Bin Ghadayer said. “Capezzano and Gronkowski are both very talented horses and Gronkowski had a very good draw. Unfortunately, Capezzano is far out, but we must work with it now and prepare the horse for the race. It’s not a big deal. He has natural speed and can choose his position.”
Both Gronkowski and Capezzano competed in last year’s Dubai World Cup. While Gronkowski surprised many when losing by a scant nose to defending champ Thunder Snow, Capezzano was a disappointing performer, never getting to his accustomed spot on the pace and suffering from a rank run. This year, he exits a one-sided victory in the Firebreak at Meydan over 1600m in his first run since and returns on 16 days rest.