With less than three weeks remaining, organizers report all systems are go for the second edition of the world’s richest race, the $20 million Saudi Cup, with Knicks Go among those expected to go although two top American trainers are staying home.
Tom Ryan, director of strategy and international racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, told a conference call with U.S. media Jan. 27 local health authorities are cooperating to make international participation in the Saudi Cup and its attendant races Feb. 19-20 as smooth as possible amid pandemic issues.
Ryan said international participants will find a “series of bubbles in place” to limit any spread of the COVID-19 virus without undue interference with operations.
“The intent is not to have any impediments to starting work—you could call them ‘functional bubbles,’ ” he said. “Our intent is to not have any impediments to starting work” as soon as they arrive in Riyadh.
Attendance at the races, he said, will be “greatly scaled back from last year—only a select few Royal court and sponsors and the media.”
On the same call, trainer Bob Baffert and Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bill Mott, both said they will be staying home this year, citing the need to watch over their U.S. runners.
“If for some reason they wouldn’t let me back in (to the United States), I need to be here to run the ship,” Baffert said.
Baffert said assistant Jimmy Barnes will accompany Runhappy Malibu Stakes (G1) winner Charlatan, set to contest the Saudi Cup. Mott said assistants also will handle Tacitus, who will try to improve on a fifth-place finish in the inaugural Cup, and Channel Maker, the 7-year-old multiple grade 1 winner who is taking on the $1 million Middle Distance Turf Cup.
Speightstown colt, is ready to face a field expected to include not only Tacitus but also Knicks Go, winner of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) and Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in his last two starts, and some top international names.
Noting Charlatan will be making just his fifth career start, Baffert said, “His talent makes up for his experience. To win these races, you need to be way the best…If I’m sending him over there, it means he’s doing really, really well.”
Baffert said he hangs his hopes for victory in a first-ever meeting between Charlatan and Knicks Go on the fact the 1 1/8-mile Saudi Cup is contested around one turn.
“They’ve never run against each other,” he said. “But Knicks Go, two turns, I think he likes that better. A mile and an eighth, one turn, that’s different.”
Mott said Tacitus, a Juddmonte Farms hombred by Tapit , ran well enough in last year’s Saudi Cup that the team was encouraged to keep him in training this year.
“The 2020 race was absolutely a top group of horses from the U.S.,” he said. “With Charlatan and Knicks Go, it looks as though there’s going to be equally as talented a group as last year.
“For him to be able to win one of these (big international races) would mean the world to him in his next career as a stallion,” Mott added.