The first running of the world’s richest horse race — the $20 million Saudi Cup — will take place Saturday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. It’s a race I won’t want to miss as a fan, but one I don’t expect to invest in as a bettor — with one or two possible exceptions.
There are a few problems coming up with a workable betting strategy on a brand new race like the Saudi Cup, a 1⅛th-mile race for 4-year-olds and up that will be run at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack.
Chief among them is that the five U.S.-based horses in the 14-horse field are certain to be heavily bet in the domestic betting pool, given that most bettors in North America have little familiarity with the overseas competitors and there apparently aren’t any past performances available giving more than cursory data on their records.
As a result, the Stars and Stripes contingent, led by Maximum Security, the disqualified winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby, probably will be underlays. The other U.S.-based runners are the Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last out; Mucho Gusto, another Baffert runner who won the Pegasus World Cup in January; the Eclipse Award-winning mare Midnight Bisou; and Triple Crown-tested Tacitus. Gronkowski, bred in Kentucky and campaigned in the U.S. and Europe before being shifted to the Mideast last year, also is in the field.
There’s also the matter of the racing surface, which appears to be much less speed-favoring than typical at North American tracks. Track superintendent Bob Turman told the Daily Racing Form this week that the surface is softer and slower than U.S. tracks, with a higher percentage of fine sand and a deeper 3½-inch cushion, which is more conducive to closers than your typical North American oval.
Throw in the possible aftereffects of overseas travel, warm weather (a high of 88 is forecast for Saturday) and the sundry things that can go wrong in any race and this begins to look more and more like a race to enjoy while sitting on your wallet.
There are two situations in which I might make an exception:
— If one of the U.S. runners drifts up to a range that makes him playable, I could make a small win bet.
— I’ll also be checking overseas odds as the race draws closer to see if any of the runners based in the Middle East are taking significant action in Europe or elsewhere. If that happens, I also might make a small win bet if that runner is being overlooked in the U.S. pool.
Other than that, I expect to stretch out on the couch and enjoy what figures to be an interesting race, which will be shown live on Fox Sports 1 from 9-10 a.m. Pacific Time. Many advance deposit wagering sites and Nevada racebooks also will show the race live.
#RJHorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers are staying stateside and tackling two Grade 2 stakes races on a stakes-packed Gulfstream Park card: the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Mile for 4-year-olds and up and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a 1 1/16th-mile race for 3-year-olds.
In the former, the crew is narrowly backing lukewarm 7-2 morning line favorite Mr. Freeze to break through after three straight near misses. They have Phat Man (4-1) to place and Haikal (10-1) to show.
I think Haikal has a much better chance of winning than his odds suggest and will make him my top pick. I have the always underestimated Hog Creek Hustle (12-1) to place and Mr. Freeze for the show.
In the Fountain of Youth, the crowd ’cappers are going to try to beat 2-1 morning line favorite Dennis’ Moment with Chance It (7-2) despite that colt being marooned in the 12 post. They have Dennis’ Moment to place and Ete Indien (8-1) to show.
I think Dennis’ Moment is the most talented colt in the field, but coming off a four-month layoff, I going to try to beat him. I’m going to give Liam’s Lucky Charm (15-1) another chance after his pop-and-stop effort in the Risen Star two weeks ago. As Seen On TV (9-2) is my place horse, with Dennis’ Moment in third.
Ellis Starr’s Fountain of Youth Stakes analysis
Ete Indien comes into the Fountain of Youth out of the fastest race of any Road to the Derby event this year. After setting the early pace for the first 7 furlongs in the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 1, Ete Indien was no match for winner Tiz the Law but was clearly second by 11 lengths over the next horse. The winner earned a 117 Equibase Speed Figure, which to my recollection is unheard of at this time of year for a 3-year-old, and Ete Indien earned a 113 figure which towers over this field. It’s a legitimate figure and his effort was legitimate as he was responsible for the fast early fractions. Since the race, trainer Patrick Biancone put Ete Indien through his paces in the morning with an extremely sharp 7 furlong workout on grass in 123.2 followed by another strong workout, getting a half mile in 48 seconds over the deep Palm Meadows surface. Although his sire, Summer Front, was a millionaire and multiple stakes winner, those races were on grass and his progeny have few dirt starts. Just the same, Ete Indien has proven he can run on dirt and unless another horse takes a huge step forward, he should win the Fountain of Youth Stakes.
As Seen on TV and Chance It can also run well enough to win the Fountain of Youth particularly if Ete Indien doesn’t run as expected. As Seen on TV was beaten a head by Chance It in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes and, in my estimation, has the same probability to win as his foe. However, its highly likely As Seen on TV will offer higher odds for win bets. In the Mucho Macho Man, As Seen on TV stalked in second for the first half-mile then battled head-and-head for the entire rest of the race, barely giving an inch until the late stages. The Mucho Macho Man has turned out to be a “key race” since the horse which was two and one-quarter lengths behind As Seen on TV in third place, Sole Volante, returned to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes in easy fashion three weeks ago and the sixth place finisher won his next start. Additionally, the fourth place finisher, South Bend lost in a stakes race by a neck and a head on the wire earlier this month. In the Mucho Macho Man, Chance It earned a 102 figure while As Seen on TV earned a 101. Considering Sole Volante improved from a 98 figure to 108 in his next start, if either colt makes a 10 point improvement they could give Ete Indien all he can handle in this race.
Dennis’ Moment can’t go without mentioning, not only because of his two wins but also because of his two defeats, both unfortunate races where the start cost him everything. In his debut last June, Dennis’ Moment clipped the heels of another horse and lost his jockey and in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall he stumbled so badly at the start there was nothing his jockey could do to get him into the race. Prior to that, Dennis’ Moment won the Iroquois Stakes by a deceptive one and three-quarter length margin, earning a 99 figure. His workouts off the layoff have been very fast, but returning from almost four months off and running two-turns against horses which ran well in stakes race this year is asking a lot in my opinion. As such, I will be taking a stand against Dennis’ Moment as a win contender in this race.
Shotski deserves honorable mention, having earned back-to-back 98 figures when winning the Remsen Stakes in December and when second earlier this month in the Withers Stakes. In both races, the only two-turn races of his career, Shotski led early which could be problematic here as there are many horses drawn inside of him which have early speed as well. Just the same, after leading from the start in the Withers, Shotski was very game in holding second to the wire and he is a horse I think we must consider for any exacta or trifecta tickets we play in this race as he could be in the top three at the finish.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Candy Tycoon (95), Country Grammer (95), Gear Jockey (97), Liam’s Lucky Charm (104), Makabim (77), Masterday (72) and The Falcon (69).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.