September 26, 2023

Mishriff wears down Charlatan in Saudi Cup slugfest

Mishriff edges out Charlatan to win the Saudi Cup (Coady Photography)

Charlatan won the early battle with Knicks Go in Saturday’s $20 million Saudi Cup, but the 4-5 favorite ultimately lost the war to Mishriff who outstayed him late to land the world’s richest race.

Trained by John Gosden for Saudi Prince A.A. Faisal, last year’s French Derby (G1) hero had dirt form as the runner-up in the inaugural Saudi Derby. The Saudi Cup was a much deeper race, leaving at least a question of whether he’d cope with the American speed on this surface.

Mishriff gave a rapid reply right out of the gate for jockey David Egan. The 19-1 shot put himself in the catbird’s seat as Charlatan and Knicks Go engaged early. Charlatan, traveling the better of the pair, got away from Knicks Go turning for home and set sail down the long stretch at King Abdulaziz Racetrack.

With most of the field strung out behind him, Charlatan had just one dogged pursuer to hold off – Mishriff. But the further they went, the stronger Mishriff became. Although Charlatan dug in bravely, he could not summon enough, and Mishriff’s stamina told at the end of a punishing race.

From the sire line of the late, great Dubai Millennium, via Dubawi, Makfi, and Make Believe, Mishriff edged away by one length. The homebred, named for Faisal’s late friend and a famed trainer, completed about 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.59 for a victory as meaningful as it was hard-fought.

“He was raised on the farm; Prince Faisal bred him,” said Ted Voute, the owner’s representative. “I bought the sire Make Believe as a foal for him. He’s bred the family all through the years and it means a lot to him. He was named after his best friend after he died. It’s amazing.”

“Unbelievable,” Egan said. “I’ve been dreaming all my life of winning a race like this. Obviously it is the highest thing I will win for a while now; the Saudi Cup is the richest race in the world. I’d like to thank Prince Faisal, Mr. Gosden, all of his team, Thady (Gosden’s son-cum-assistant) is here, Ted Voute – there are so many people to thank, and Mishriff most of all. He’s the champion.

“Last year Mishriff was always a horse who seemed to jump slow; maybe it was just through immaturity. Last year in the Saudi Derby he jumped slow behind the Japanese horse (Full Flat) to finish second – I thought to myself that if he had jumped on terms he nearly would have won last year. But he’s matured throughout the year and Mr. Gosden had him primed for today. He looks a million dollars – well, 10 million dollars!

“He jumped very well today – as good as the two American horses,” Egan added. “I squeezed him on for the first 50 yards and I was actually surprised how well he went, through the back straight I was on Mike Smith’s (rider of Charlatan) heels and he was really taking me into it. I got pressed on the rail when we started turning and that was the only worrying sign I had, when they started quickening whether I was going to get back rolling again, but once we turned into the straight he picked up.

Charlatan crossed the wire 6 1/2 lengths clear. Grabbing third was 99-1 longshot Great Scot, formerly an English Group 3 winner and now a local, who ground one length past Knicks Go. Another American Sleepy Eyes Todd, checked in fifth, followed by Dubai-based Military Law; American contender Tacitus, who was handy early before retreating; British invader Bangkok; Japan’s Chuwa Wizard; locally trained Derevo; U.S. shipper Max Player; Mishriff’s stablemate, Global Giant; fellow Brit Extra Elusive; and Bahrain’s Simsir.

Team Charlatan paid tribute to his performance, the first time he’s succumbed to a rival on the racetrack.

“He’s just so lightly raced this year,” Smith said, “and the way the racetrack was playing all day, I got a little concerned because speed wasn’t holding all day long. He’s only ran once and it was a seven-eighths race. He got really tired. If he’d had two races, I think he’d win.”

“I was very proud of his effort,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “Going in, we thought he would run his race. Turning for home, we knew they were going pretty fast early. He’s a fast horse, but that stretch – I’m glad we don’t have any stretches like that in America.”

“I think he ran a very brave race,” Tom Ryan of SF Bloodstock said. “It’s a very long stretch and he got ran down on the wire. After this, we’ll look to getting ourselves home and then talk to Bob and the team in the coming days and decide what we’ll do.”

Antonio Fresu, who rode sixth-placer Military Law, commented on how the Saudi track felt different from the Meydan dirt.

“He didn’t like the track and was acting different today than at Meydan,” Fresu noted. “It was too deep off the rail and the backstretch he wasn’t really happy. He traveled well for a couple furlongs, then he lost his rhythm and he changed leads a couple times in the wrong part of the race. He hit a flat spot going around the bend. I gave him a kick again in the stretch and when he changed his leads, he came back and got sixth. I want to see him back at Meydan on the big night.”

Mishriff will head back home as a conquering hero. Also successful in last summer’s Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2) and Newmarket S., he was last seen finishing eighth in the Oct. 17 Champion S. (G1) on ground that was riding too desperate even by his standards. Gosden had him primed off the layoff for this race, a prize obviously high on Prince Faisal’s agenda.

Speaking from Newmarket, Gosden was in no hurry to map out the next target.

“I think in the end he nailed them because he could go the pace and then see it out to the end, and that was a hard-run mile and an eighth. We’ll see. Thady will come back with his reports and we will discuss it all with Prince Faisal and take it a step at a time after a fight like that and training through the winter. We’ll see how he is when he gets back before we make any grand plans.”