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Saudi Cup Picks + Quigley Hits Prices in Beat the Host

by Johnny D

February 18, 2021

Santa Anita’s Tom Quigley hit on 2 of 10 Beat the Host picks Saturday but posted a strong $75.50 total based on payoffs for $5 Win wagers. In Santa Anita’s third race, Quigley correctly tabbed Capper ($9.80) and later added Merneith ($20.40) in the eighth race. It’s the fourth time in six weeks a host has posted a flat-bet profit.

The top three players from this week’s action are David Bernat ($177.50), Peter Grau ($175.50) and Kyle Newcomb ($156). They collect $1,000, $750 and $250, respectively.

Pacesetters in the race for seasonal cumulative earner honors shifted this week as Adam Haskins assumes command over Randy Bird $448.50 to $440. Maria Cimino is next with $434.50. Peter Grau ($426.50), Craig Yoshino ($425) and Andrew Ma ($400) round out the top six that are separated by a mere $48.50.

By comparison, hosts this season have compiled a respectable $349.50 in cumulative earnings. If eligible, that total would rank 16th overall in the race for seasonal cumulative earnings. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Gulfstream’s Ron Nicoletti leads all hosts with $82.50 in weekly earnings, just $2 better than the total produced by Santa Anita’s Millie Ball in week 2. Quigley’s Saturday total is third best, so far, at $75.50.

Two hosts remain in weekly Beat the Host play, with Gulfstream’s Acacia Courtney at the plate Saturday. NBC Sports analyst Eddie Olcyzk handles the anchor lap.

If you haven’t already played Beat the Host this season, what the heck are you waiting for? All it takes to play is a ‘live’ $5 Win wager on one horse in each of 10 competition races. If your earnings exceed the hosts, you qualify for the Beat the Host Championship Round. If your earnings are in the top 3 of all players that week, you earn a share of $2,000. And, here’s the best part, since Beat the Host competition wagers are ‘live,’ you get to keep what you win. Pick a few winners and you’re ahead for the day without winning a prize!

Saturday’s Gr. 2 Risen Star Stakes really didn’t deliver much Kentucky Derby insight except for enhancing the budding Brad Cox legend. His charge Mandaloun turned the tables on Midnight Bourbon and Proxy, the duo in front of him in the Gr. 3 Lecomte in January. Mandaloun wore blinkers for the first time in the Risen Star and a :59 4/5 workout over a ‘good’ track had him tight. All angles considered, there doesn’t seem to be too much between the trio. Therefore, none of these appear to be Derby winner’s circle threats at this time.

Originally, in this space, the idea was to provide horse-by-horse, in-depth handicapping analysis of all major Kentucky Derby prep races. However, Mother Nature has forced the folks in Hot Springs, Arkansas to postpone the Southwest Stakes until next Saturday. That leaves this weekend without a US-based major 3-year-old stakes race.

No worries. If we can adapt to a worldwide pandemic, we certainly can handle a spell of freezing temperatures in the southern states.

Saturday, conveniently, they just happen to be running what’s billed as the ‘World’s Most Valuable Horse Race’ at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It’s the $20 million Saudi Cup--center jewel of a desert evening card that includes 31 Group and Grade 1 winners chasing a total of $30.5 million. There’s also a Friday card that includes eight races--four as part of an International Jockey Challenge.

Saturday’s action begins at 4 pm local time, which is 8 a.m. Eastern. The Saudi Cup is scheduled for 12:40 pm ET. As we’ve experienced over decades of Dubai racing for breakfast, money won in the morning spends just as well as money won in the afternoon. Watch and wager on Saudi action with Xpressbet.

Below is one man’s horse-by-horse opinion of the $20 million Saudi Cup field and recommended play:

First, some things you should know:

  • This is a one-turn, about one mile and one-eighth dirt race.
  • Most European runners are not used to racing on dirt. They could shy from kickback, not be comfortable with the quicker pace and be a bit long-fused for a one-turn dirt race.
  • In last year's inaugural running of this race, US-based horses occupied four of the first five finishing positions. Godolphin's Dubai-based Benbatl was third.

Odds below are from William Hill as posted at oddschecker.com Thursday morning ET.

#1 CHUWA WIZARD (JPN) - Okubo/Tosaki - Japan - 10/1

This 6-year-old horse was the Japan Racing Association’s dirt champion of 2020 and won the 2020 Grade 1 Champions Cup last out. That’s a qualifying race for the Saudi Cup. To make an impression in this field he’ll need to run much better than he ever has. It is noteworthy that his price (10-1) at William Hill on Thursday morning (according to oddschecker.com) is way less than one would expect. Is this ‘smart’ money or just ‘fans’ of Japanese racing getting down on their favorite son? We’ll Pass.

#2 BANGKOK (IRE) - Balding/Moore - England - 33/1

This 5-year-old is fit—having just won the mile and one-quarter Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield Feb. 6. Fitness is a critical handicapping factor to yours truly and his recency may help but he’s not close to being of this quality. This will be his first start on dirt, but he has handled synthetics at Lingfield and Wolverhampton. Jockey Ryan Moore is world class, but he’ll need to be a Houdini-level magician to pull off an upset here. Pass.

#3 GREAT SCOT (GB) - Mushrif/Alfouraidi - Saudi Arabia - 50/1

This 5-year-old returns to the scene of the crime—he finished 12th of 14 in this race last year—and may be victimized again. The good news is that he doesn’t have to travel. He’s playing a ‘home’ game while the rest of the field is ‘away.’ That could be the only edge he has and that just isn’t enough. Pass.

#4 MAX PLAYER (USA) - Asmussen/Rispoli - United States - 25/1

Winning the Saudi Cup would be a great way to snap a drought. 4-year-old Max Player hasn’t won a race since the 2020 Gr. 3 Withers, when trained by Linda Rice. He has two wins in 7 starts and was third in the Gr. 1 Belmont and Gr. 1 Travers, as well as fifth in the Gr. 1 Kentucky Derby and Gr. 1 Preakness. The Saudi Cup will be his first race since Old Hilltop. Trainer Asmussen just missed winning this race last year when mare Midnight Bisou’s late charge fell just short of a resilient Maximum Security. FYI…Asmussen actually may end up ‘winning’ the inaugural Saudi Cup because the first-place purse is still withheld pending the conclusion of a trial for Jason Servis Maximum Security’s former trainer. Strangely, Midnight Bisou’s odds of ‘winning’ the Saudi Cup actually may be better than Max Player’s. Bottom of Exotics Only.

#5 KNICKS GO (USA) - Cox/Rosario - United States - 3/1

Owned by Korea Racing Authority, this 5-year-old grey son of Paynter won the Gr. 1 Pegasus Cup last out in wire-to-wire fashion and is expected to go the lead again in here. He’s drawn inside #9 Charlatan, the other speed horse in the race. Jockey Rosario will want to have the lead and to save ground inside. At some point, #9 Charlatan will come calling and that will be when the 2021 Saudi Cup will be decided. Can Knicks Go turn back the challenge and register his fifth consecutive victory and seventh overall, or will he succumb to #9 Charlatan’s bid? Among other Knicks Go successes are two record-setting runs at Keeneland and the BC Dirt Mile. He’s won 6 of 18 races and over $3 million. Trainer Brad Cox currently is the hottest conditioner in the nation. Can he extend that domination to Saudi Arabia? Win Contender.

#6 GLOBAL GIANT (GB) - Gosden/Dettori - England - 25/1

If you like #11 Simsir, then you’ve got to give this 6-year-old a gander. He finished second to #11 Simsir in the Bahrain Trophy after breaking slowly and finishing well late. He’s got the world-famous combination of trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori on his side, but he might need a bit more than that. He’ll be switching from Bahrain turf to Saudi dirt and backing up from a mile and one-quarter to one mile and one-eighth. He’s won 4 of 17 overall with 6 more in the money finishes.

#7 TACITUS (USA) - Mott/Velazquez - United States - 12/1

Some call him a disappointment. We all should be so lucky as to own an equine ‘disappointment’ that earns more than $3.2 million. Winless at the Grade 1 level in 7 tries, he’s also never been worse than fourth in those races. At age 5 it would be a surprise to see him jump up and win one now, but it’s not impossible. Fourth (what else?) in the BC Classic in November, he was fifth in the Saudi Cup last year—his worst finish ever. The good news for those who haven’t given up on him winning a Grade 1 race is that he will get the kind of early pace he needs to be successful. The bad news is that one mile and one-eighth may be bit short for his best. Another piece of good news for Tacitus backers is that he will not be favored in here. Last year, he lost five consecutive times as the public choice. Exotics Only.

#8 SLEEPY EYES TODD (USA) - Silva/Moreno - United States - 25/1

Purchased for a mere $9k as a weanling, 5-year-old Sleepy Eyes Todd has banked nearly $900k! Now, that’s a success story. ‘Todd not only has money in the bank, he’s also collected an abundance of frequent flyer miles, too. This will be his 12th start out of 17 at a different racetrack. And, of course, it comes halfway around the world from his US base. He’s a multiple Gr. 3 winner and was fourth last out in the Gr. 1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream. He’ll need to turn the tables on that race’s winner #5 Knicks Go to be successful here and that’s a tall order. He is a closer and ought to have enough pace to run at, but he’s never won a race of this magnitude. Exotics Only.

#9 CHARLATAN (USA) - Baffert/Smith - United States - 11/8

If 4-year-old Charlatan crosses the Saudi Cup finish behind another horse, it will be a new experience for the son of Speightstown. He’s finished first in all four starts, including the Gr. 1 Malibu last out at Santa Anita Dec. 26, but previously was disqualified from victory in the Gr. 1 Arkansas Derby because of a failed drug test. His last two works are solid—including one at seven panels in 1:24 3/5--both capped by strong Baffert-style gallop outs. He’s got enough speed to sit comfortably off whatever pace is determined by #5 Knicks Go. Does Charlatan have the quality and stamina to catch and dispose of that foe while holding off closing charges from other talented foes? We believe he does. The next time Bob Baffert sends a ‘short’ horse postward, it will be the first time. Charlatan will be ready and, we believe, good enough. The Pick to Win.

#10 MILITARY LAW (GB) - Al Mheriri/Fresu - United Arab Emirates - 10/1

This 6-year-old son of Dubawi ships in from his UAE base. Last out he won the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 at about one mile. He has a couple of in the money finishes against Group 1 and Group 2 competition. He comes from off the pace, so that style should be effective in here. He’s won 5 of 11 with 3 seconds and has done well on dirt since moving to Dubai from the barn of John Gosden in England where he raced on grass and all-weather surfaces. He may be the kind of ‘local’ runner with a chance to hit the board. Exotics Only.

#11 SIMSIR (IRE) - Nass/de Vries - Bahrain - 33/1

This 5-year-old gelding’s claim to fame came in November when he won the $673,000 Bahrain International Trophy. He bested a few Group 1 winners in that race. He’s earned over $509k in 4 wins and 3 seconds from 11 starts. He’s basically a front-runner, but he’ll find those positions spoken for in the Saudi Cup. He’s got a grinding style, so he probably won’t be able to make up a bunch of ground late. He finished fourth in a recent prep race at a mile and one-quarter. Pass.

#12 MISHRIFF (IRE) - Gosden/Egan - England - 7/1

He finished second last year in the Saudi Derby over this track, so you know he can handle dirt and, in particular, this dirt. He’s won 4 of 8 races, including the Group 1 French Derby. He’s probably better at 10 furlongs than at 9 and has tactical turf speed. However, he also has habit of breaking slowly…and that’s against fellow European runners. With 5 US-based runners in this field, if Mishriff breaks slowly Saturday, he’s going to find himself well back in the field and eating a lot of kickback. The distance, along with the pace picture are concerns for trainer John Gosden, one of the world’s best at his craft. Exotics Only.

#13 DEREVO (GB) - Al Katahni/Demuro - Saudi Arabia - 50/1

This 5-year-old gelding has a bit of a home field advantage. He won by a nose last Saturday in the King’s Cup over this track. That was at a mile and one-quarter and he used the entire distance to make his wide closing charge count. He has won 4 of 12 starts and has two wins over synthetic surfaces and one on turf. He will have hands full in this race. Pass.

#14 EXTRA ELUSIVE (GB) - Charlton/H. Doyle - England - 33/1

There are a few things to note about this Roger Charlton-trained, dual Group 3 winner. He’s usually a front runner but won’t be there in here. Too many others have early pace. He’s got to stay wide and out of the kickback. That’s the job of jockey Hollie Doyle, who’s ridden him in his last four starts. She’s a rising riding star and this wide draw in post 14 will help her and Extra Exclusive avoid getting hit with too much dirt. Like with most turf horses, racing on the dirt can be…excuse the pun…an ‘eye-closing’ experience. A piece of the pie would be this one’s major goal. Pass.


The Choice: #9 Charlatan - He’s unbeaten, fresh and is trained by Bob Baffert. What else would you like?

Second Best: #5 Knicks Go - Comes off victory in the Pegasus World Cup and this may be too much, too soon in an attempt to complete a challenging worldwide parlay.

Could Run Well:

#7 Tacitus - We know, we know, you’re tired of betting Tacitus to win. OK. How do you feel about using him in exotics? That seems his most likely fate.

#12 Mishriff - He’s handled the track before and is trained by one of our favorites of all time. Worth exotic consideration.

#10 Military Law - Has finished in the money with top competition and didn’t have to ship around the world for this. Maybe…in exotics at a price?


$0.50 Superfecta ($16.50)

First: #9 Charlatan
Second: #5 Knicks Go
Third: #7 Tacitus, #12 Mishriff, #10 Military Law
Fourth: All Runners

Race On!