Despite the gargantuan payday of $10 million awaiting this afternoon’s victor in the third running of the Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz in Riyadh, race day anywhere, for any amount of money, has a way of heaving the questions each equine athlete has to face into much sharper relief. Basically, Mishriff is a talented colt and is the only-somewhat heavy favorite in London over these very richly valued almost-nine-furlongs, and specifically, in London at the moment, he’s priced twice as low as second-favorite Mandaloun.
First, the British know Mishriff better than they know Mandaloun, but that only accounts for a bit of it. Mandaloun has not shipped to the Peninsula before. Mishriff has a much shorter trip (from Europe) than Mandaloun by some six hours or more in the air, which matters, and Mishriff has proven that the Abdulaziz track is one that he likes, at least well enough to have eked out a fine, very remunerative win in this same race last year.
At the same time, Mishriff is, also, a resolutely European journeyman who has triumphed over (primarily) European talent. Not to put it too bluntly, but if we may diplomatically generalize, the Continent, Britain and Ireland just do not produce flat-racing horses of the quality of Justify, American Pharoah, Seattle Slew, A.P. Indy, or Tapit. Otherwise, those horses would be shipping to the States to run in the Triple Crown races. Kentucky, and the United States in general, do produce those horses. The point is that — if this afternoon’s rivals both get off to a decent start — today’s race will be a much harder contest for Mishriff than last year’s victory was. And last year’s victory was close.
Mandaloun, who is looking hard for a big payday in the Kingdom this evening, was the eventual 2021 Derby winner who ran Medina Spirit a close second before the Baffert trainee was disqualified for a banned anti-inflammatory. And, Mandaloun may not be a Tapit or an American Pharoah. But he is certainly a big Triple Crown talent, and a couple of years younger than his rival Mishriff. For his part, Mishriff may well triumph as the British money seems to expect, but he is definitely going to have to get around the stiff competition that Mandaloun will bring him as well as thread his way through twelve other horses keen to slow him down.
Before we bring in the Bluegrass Wise Man to work us through the forest of questions presented by this hapahazard field, a refresher on the odds, which we’ll update regularly as post time nears.
Note: Riyadh runs 8 hours in front of New York, and post time is at 8:30 p.m. Middle East Time, or 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
Post Postion, Horse, Odds
1) Country Grammer, 12-1
2) Aero Trem, 33-1
3) Midnight Bourbon, 8-1
4) Real World, 10-1
5) Emblem Road, 66-1
6) Mandaloun, 4-1
7) Magny Cours, 10-1
8) T O Keynes, 6-1
9) Art Collector, 7-1
10) Making Miracles, 66-1
11) Sealiway, 14-1
12) Secret Ambition, 16-1
13) Marche Lorraine, 12-1
14) Mishriff, 2-1
(Source: BoyleSports, 26 February 2022)
Herewith, the Bluegrass Wise Man, who has shared his wit and wisdom with us for many big horse races in past years.
You’re about to tell me how Mishriff is gonna mop up in a few hours, right?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Not really. What I’m going to tell you is that he has a ton of questions that stand a good chance of edging him out of the running. First, that was a good win last year, but as you note, a close one. Mishriff is vulnerable. He’s breaking from the far outside, the field is big — it’s not Derby sized, but big for Europe and certainly for the kingdom. Money does that, right. But this is about the melee. Some of these horses haven’t been caught in Derby-sized traffic at the break. They will be today. Second, this is a one-turn race. Which is amazing for this amount of money, but there you are.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: One turn means that the crush at the break will be more intense rather than less. You have to be in position going into that one turn, or if not, you had better be ready to use your best tactical speed to get into position in it or shortly out of it. If you get messed up at the break, or boxed in going into the turn, there’s just that much less time and less race in front of you to get anything done. Less than nine furlongs, period. Bit better than a mile sprint. So, to get a picture of how difficult this race can be — even if you have won it like Mishriff — you have to put those hurdles together. Less time also means more of a risk at the break, and finally, there’s a bigger talent facing Mishriff in Mandaloun. Even if Mandaloun doesn’t take the purse, he can certainly screw it up for Mishriff, or exhaust him. Mishriff has done a lot in his career in Europe, but he hasn’t faced anything like that array. Ever. The British are betting him because they think know him better. That’s why we’re seeing the odds we’re seeing.
It’s a bigger horse race than those two by a long shot, so let’s move on down to Midnight Bourbon and Art Collector.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: I’ve always liked Midnight Bourbon, and not because I’m from the Bluegrass. It’s this: He shows up but he simply does not win a lot. He is going to win one of these races and this could be the one. He has tactical speed so he can sit wherever he wants and then move. A lot of his run today will depend on whether he likes the track, whether he shipped well, which I believe he did, and how the works have been, which I think have been good. He may really like the track, we just don’t know. He will be more or less ignored on whatever tote, so I think he will bring a price. Could win, but I’d look for him a bit further down on the board. I’m definitely going to use him in some exotics.
Along with Art Collector?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Never been a big fan of Art Collector, though, having said that, I believe he’s a darn sight better than some of the others in there. I won’t name names, but, appropriately, they are higher in the odds. By contrast, the Japanese horses are emerging, as is Japan generally as a source of horsemen that you increasingly have to take seriously.
How’s the race look to you now? Don’t be afraid to scare us.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: The top American horses all have speed, but, depending on this break, it’s going to be tough to say which one of them will be up front. Watch Mishriff from the far outside try to shoulder in. Midnight Bourbon and Mandaloun will have to look sharp to get out in front of the crush, which is going to be coming down on them, as far inside as they are. Then, assuming everybody can get comfortable, it’s going to be tactical, rather a jockey’s race to insure a good trip. Slotting into lanes, trying to see who you can get around, how much horse you have under you, those sorts of things. If the fractions are, you know, white hot, look for Mishriff to be in trouble in the stretch.
Really? In trouble?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Depends on how much he’s tempted by speed in a race this short, but yeah, he could — repeat could — run outta gas. I know that Mandaloun has the patience and the tactical speed to deal with stuff like that. I do not know that Mishriff has it. He’s never faced this many Americans in his life.