An international field of 14 horses has been entered for the $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, led, in part, by five American runners, including Maximum Security and McKinzie, who both landed in the relative center of the starting gate.
Gary and Mary West's Maximum Security, last year's champion 3-year-old male in North America, drew post 7, alongside most of his American counterparts. The champion older dirt female of last year, Midnight Bisou, is just inside him in post 6, and Bob Baffert-trained Grade 1 winners Mucho Gusto and McKinzie are just outside Maximum Security in posts 8, and 9, respectively. The other American, Tacitus, last year's Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner, starts from post 2.
Post positions may prove of relatively little consequence in the Saudi Cup, which has its inaugural running Feb. 29. The race, the richest in the world, is contested on dirt around one turn at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) on a racetrack that some observers compare in layout and scope to Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. The lengthy run to the lone turn may give the field time to sort out positioning.
As of midday Feb. 26, Maximum Security, coming off a victory in the Cigar Mile Handicap, was slightly favored with British bookmakers in the early wagering, offered at odds of about 5-2. McKinzie, the runner-up in the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic in his previous start, was next at about 3-1.
"I thought 'Max' shipped really well," said Maximum Security's trainer, Jason Servis, in a release distributed by the Saudi Cup. "I weighed him before he left and when he got here, and he lost 27 pounds. We weighed him yesterday and he had gained back 11 pounds. So we are feeling OK."
World-traveling Group 1 winner Benbatl, owned by Godolphin and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, is among a cluster of horses pegged at 6-1, along with Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy winner Mucho Gusto and Dubai invader Capezzano.
The remaining American horses, Midnight Bisou and Tacitus, are offered at odds as high as 10-1 and 20-1, respectively.
Baffert was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to observe the training of the Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz-owned Mucho Gusto and Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman's McKinzie, who schooled from the gate. The Hall of Fame trainer has a record of success with shippers to the Middle East, having won the Dubai World Cup with Silver Charm (1998), Captain Steve (2001), and Arrogate (2017). He also won the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News in 2015 with Secret Circle .
McKinzie "worked great before he left," Baffert said. "We just let him open up through the lane (Tuesday)—Mucho Gusto did the same thing. Just to get their blood flowing.
"Mucho Gusto has really changed a lot. These last three months I've seen a big change in him. He's filled out. He's just changed for the better. You could tell from that last work right before the Pegasus Cup Invitational a light went on in him."
Midnight Bisou—one of two mares in the race, along with Magic Wand—will face males for the first time in the Saudi Cup. Midnight Bisou rallied to be second in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff in her most recent race Nov. 2, and globe-trotting Magic Wand shifts to try dirt for the first time after a runner-up finish in the Jan. 25 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy at Gulfstream Park.
Tacitus is the American with the most rest. He hasn't started since a third in the Sept. 28 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes at Belmont Park.
The Saudi Cup will be shown live on a special broadcast of "America's Day at the Races" from noon-1 p.m. ET on FS1. Post time is scheduled for approximately 12:40 p.m., and a simulcast telecast and wagering on the card is available in the U.S. via NYRA Bets. TVG will televise the undercard, according to a tweet from television commentator Nick Luck.
The next-richest race there Saturday is the $2.5 million Longines Turf Handicap at 3,000 meters (about 1 7/8 miles). It also drew a field of 14, though there are no American horses. The inside-drawn Cross Counter is the anticipated favorite.
U.S. horses are contenders in other undercard events, particularly in the $1.5 million Saudia Sprint, where four-time grade 1 winner Imperial Hint is the headliner in a dash over 1,200 meters (about six furlongs).