By Ed McNamara
In the days leading up to the world’s richest horse race on Feb. 29, USracing.com/news will be profiling the horses – and connections — competing in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The 1 1/8-mile race over a dirt track is worth $10 million, with the remaining $10 million dispersed to the second-10th-place finishers. As we begin our profiles, Saudi Cup officials are listing 14 horses – a full field – as probables. Official entries will be announced on Feb. 25, so changes are possible.
The race for 4-year-olds and up features two female horses, Eclipse Award winner Midnight Bisou and Magic Wand, taking on the boys. Five U.S-based horses are set to compete, along with four UAE-based horses, two Japan-based horses, two Saudi-based horses and one Ireland-based horse.
Our first installment features Midnight Bisou.
If you had started a show parlay on Midnight Bisou in her debut on Oct. 27, 2017, you would have cashed every time. The 5-year-old Amazon queen is 19-for-19 in the money, although the toughest challenge of her career will put that remarkable streak in jeopardy.
The Saudi Cup will be her first race against males, including fellow Eclipse Award winner Maximum Security, the presumptive favorite. Yet if any female can overcome this field of international stars, it may be Midnight Bisou.
She went 7-for-8 last year, finishing second by 1½ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in her most recent start. If she’d won that day at Santa Anita, she would have earned some votes for Horse of the Year. She was a no-brainer in the balloting for champion older dirt female.
Midnight Bisou – bisou means kiss in French — was going to be put up for auction three days after the Distaff, but her connections had a change of heart. On the morning of the race, lead owner Jeff Bloom announced she had been withdrawn from the Fasig-Tipton sale. He has no regrets.
“She had a remarkable 4-year-old campaign, and if it’s possible, right now she’s training better than she did last year,” Bloom said in an interview with usracing.com/news. “Coming into last year she was doing very well, but one couldn’t have imagined how good she would become.”
Steve Asmussen is a Hall of Famer who has trained four Horses of the Year – Curlin (2007, 2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Gun Runner (2017). He’s second all-time with 8,765 wins, behind only the late Dale Baird’s 9,445.
“She’s an amazingly consistent mare who has maintained a high level for an extended period of time,” Asmussen said. “She’s a tremendous horse.”
Jockey: Mike Smith
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Owners: Bloom Racing Stable LLC, Madaket Stable and Allen Racing
Pedigree: Midnight Lute-Diva Delite, by Repent
Running style: Stalker
“Midnight Bisou’s ability to stalk or to rally from midpack gives her rider valuable options in a 14-horse field.” – Ed McNamara
“Champion mare making 5-year-old debut after runner-up finish in Breeders’ Cup Distaff ended seven-race win streak … main question is whether she can take on the world’s best older males, so it’s questionable if she will be up to the task against a field this good.” – Noel Michaels
Notes: “It’s a $20 million race, so you are going to have to face the best of the best horses. It’s a showcase event, and every one of the participants is going to have to be on their ‘A’ game. We’re excited, and we hope our mare is the best that day.” – co-owner Jeff Bloom … Arrived in Riyadh on Feb. 19, along with other U.S.-based horses … Worked 5 furlongs in 59.60 on Feb. 16 at the Fair Grounds.
|TBD||Benbatl||UAE||TBD||Saeed Bin Suroor||Darley||Godolphin||$420,000|
|TBD||Capezzano||UAE||TBD||Salem bin Ghadayer||Darley||Sultan Ali||$120,248|
|TBD||Chrysoberyl||UAE||TBD||Hidetaka Otonashi||Northern Farm||U Carrot Farm||$2,050,691|
|TBD||Gold Dream||JAP||TBD||O. Hirata||Northern Farm||Katsumi Yoshida||$5,955,854|
|TBD||Great Scot||KSA||TBD||Abdullah Mishrif||Clyne, Mound, Thompson||Empire State Racing Partnership||$0|
|TBD||Gronkowski||UAE||TBD||S. Ghadayer||Epic Thoroughbreds LLC||Phoenix Thoroughbred III & Khalid Bin Mishref||$2,897,360|
|TBD||Magic Wand||IRE||TBD||A. O’Brien||Ecurie Des Monceaux & Skymarc Farm Inc||Tabor, Michael B., Magnier, Mrs. John, and Smith, Derrick||$177,000|
|TBD||Maximum Security||USA||TBD||J. Servis||Gary & Mary West Stables, Inc.||Gary & Mary West||$1,801,900|
|TBD||McKinzie||USA||TBD||B. Baffert||Summer Wind Farm||Watson, Karl, Pegram, Michael E. and Weitman, Paul||$3,318,560|
|TBD||Midnight Bisou||USA||TBD||S. Asmussen||Woodford Thoroughbreds||Jeffrey Bloom||$3,750,000|
|TBD||Mjjack||KSA||TBD||Sami Alharabi||Derrymore House Syndicate||Mrs Maura Gittins||$0|
|TBD||Mucho Gusto||USA||TBD||B. Baffert||Teneri Farm Inc. & Bernardo Alvarez Calderon||HRH Prince Faisal Bin Khaled||$1,662,000|
|TBD||North America||USA||TBD||W. Mott||Qatar Bloodstock Ltd.||Ramzan Kadyrov||$35,000|
|TBD||Tacitus||USA||TBD||W. Mott||Juddmonte Farms Inc.||Juddmonte Farms Inc.||$1,677,500|
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.