Ten days ahead of their clash in the $20 million Saudi Cup, Grade 1 stars Charlatan and Knicks Go arrived in Riyadh Wednesday along with fellow American shippers set for the Feb. 20 festivities. Tacitus, Max Player, and Sleepy Eyes Todd are also in the Saudi Cup, while newly crowned champion Channel Maker goes for the $1 million Neom Turf Cup, Mirinaque targets the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf H., and Cowan tries the $1.5 million Saudi Derby.
Here come the Americans! 🇺🇸
🦄 KNICKS GO
🐴 MAX PLAYER
🦄 SLEEPY EYES TODD
🐴 CHANNEL MAKER
— The Saudi Cup (@thesaudicup) February 10, 2021
The Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan completed his major preparations by drilling seven furlongs in 1:24.60 at Santa Anita Sunday. A brilliant winner of the Dec. 26 Malibu (G1) in his comeback, the Speightstown colt is in peak form, according to Tom Ryan of SF Racing and SF Bloodstock.
“He’s in beast mode right now,” Ryan told Tamarkuz Media. “He’s happy and healthy. As Speightstowns often do, he’s getting better with age. I personally believe he’s an enormous talent. 2021 will hopefully be a career-defining year for him. Speed and versatility is what separates the good from the great horses and when you see him, you will understand why we reached for him (going to $700,000 at Keeneland September) as a yearling.
“This colt was raised on one of the world’s finest nurseries, Stonestreet Farm, which in my estimation is one of the leading breeders of the modern era – a trend we’re likely to see continue. He is without question the most spectacular of his breed. He moved with incredible efficiency and everything was effortless for him.”
But Ryan has considerable respect for Saudi Cup rival Knicks Go as well.
“Knicks Go is a sensational racehorse,” Ryan added. “He also seems to be improving with time. Two very fast animals with the ability to cruise through very fast fractions will make for a very interesting race.”
Perfect since transferring to Brad Cox, Knicks Go comes off front-running conquests of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and Jan. 23 Pegasus World Cup (G1). The son of Paynter worked Saturday at Fair Grounds, covering five-eighths in 1:01.20.
“Knicks Go breezed very well on Saturday and he looked good on Sunday morning,” Cox told the Saudi Cup media team. “I was very pleased with the work and, more importantly, how he looked after the work.
“Everything is going in the right direction. He’s carrying his weight well and I’m happy with the way he’s moving.
“He proved in the Pegasus he can get 1800 meters (about nine furlongs) at Grade 1 level against some very, very good horses, so now we have to transfer that to a one-turn 1800 meters in Saudi. We’re looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity.
“He’s got a lot of speed and he can carry that speed over a mile or further. We’re not going to take away anything that comes easy to him. His weapon is his speed but once the gate opens that’s Joel’s (Rosario) decision of where to place him, but you’d have to think he’ll be in a very forward position in the race.”
“It’s the first time we’ve run a horse on the other side of the world,” Cox noted, “so there’s always a little bit of a concern, but I don’t really feel it will be with him.
“He’s got a great mind on him and he ships well. He obviously shipped to Gulfstream in good order and he doesn’t get worked up – he knows when to shut it off and when to turn it on. He’s got a lot of class so I really don’t think it will be something that affects him at all.”
Also exiting the Pegasus is fourth-placer Sleepy Eyes Todd. Multiple Argentine Group 1 winner Mirinaque ran on the Pegasus undercard, finishing ninth in the W.L. McKnight (G3).
Tacitus, who was fifth in last year’s inaugural Saudi Cup off the bench, again enters fresh from a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). His Bill Mott stablemate, Channel Maker, was likewise last seen at the Breeders’ Cup, placing a close third in the Turf (G1).
Max Player resumes from a little longer layoff, unraced since his fifth in the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1) for Steve Asmussen. Sophomore stablemate Cowan was most recently best of the rest behind Caddo River in the Jan. 22 Smarty Jones.
Final declarations for Saudi Cup day will be made Tuesday, with the post position draw to follow next Wednesday.
On Friday, Feb. 19, Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be the American representative in the International Jockeys Challenge. Others in the 14-strong competition include William Buick, Hollie Doyle, Shane Foley, Cristian Demuro, and the prolific Jorge Ricardo.