Bigger, Stronger Mishriff Ready To Defend His Saudi Cup Title

Mishriff is reported to be bigger and stronger by joint-trainer Thady Gosden as the star 5-year-old prepares to defend his $20 million Saudi Cup crown. Gosden oversaw his preparation for the world’s most valuable race 12 months ago and he officially joined his father John on the training license soon after the historic defeat of top-class American hope Charlatan.

Mishriff, owned by His Royal Highness Prince A A Faisal, went on to win the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York last summer by an impressive six lengths.

If he wins the G1 Saudi Cup – run at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Saturday, Feb. 26 – he will become the highest-earning horse of all time.

Gosden said: “He’s a year older, he’s done a bit of growing so he’s a little bigger. He’s got a great athletic physique and he’s definitely strengthened a bit from last year.

“He’s a little flamboyant on occasions but he’s very tough. He’s incredibly versatile and he travels very well, he makes it all look quite easy. He’s been training well.”

The defending champion is likely to face another strong American challenge in the shape of Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon, but Gosden believes the track is well suited to the European raiders.

He said: “The one turn makes a big difference, the longer straight is especially an advantage to the European horses.

“The American horses are used to using a lot of speed to get forward and then having a short straight to get home in.

“The surface is also a bit kinder – the kickback is not as bad. It rides a bit softer, a bit fluffier – it’s a brilliant track.

“The Saudi Cup has obviously become a huge meeting on the international racing circuit. Everything runs very smoothly – the quarantine facilities are top class, the track is top class and we have no concerns with taking any horse out there.

“It’s definitely something that will become a fixture for us if we have the right horses.”

The Gosden father-and-son training partnership could also be represented by Lord North in the Neom Turf Cup presented by Jahez. He could line up for the $1.5 million Group 3 contest on his first run since landing the Dubai Turf at Meydan in March.

Gosden added: “He had a bit of an issue so, being a horse of his caliber, we gave him all the time he needed. He’s bouncing around the place now and I think he’s pretty determined to get out there.”

Fellow British joint-trainers William Muir and Chris Grassick have opted for the Neom Turf Cup presented by Jahez for their stable star Pyledriver. They had also received an invitation to run in The Saudi Cup.

After watching Pyledriver work around Kempton on Tuesday morning, Muir revealed he thought the 2100m contest would suit the G1 Hong Kong Vase runner-up better.

He said: “We brought Pyledriver to Kempton to let him have a blow over the surface, so he’s covering the distance.

“It was just getting him away from home for something different, a change of scenery to perk him up and keep him in good shape.

“Martin (Dwyer) got off him and said he’s been riding horses all winter and to get on one like Pyledriver around there it felt like they broke the track record.

“I’ve got the others in the family and they all get stronger and stronger. He looks a monster now.

“He’s strong and where he should be. I think this horse has everything in front of him – he’s now at his peak so you’ll see him at his best this year.”

The Lambourn-based trainer is expecting last year’s Group 1 Coronation Cup hero to have improved for his Hong Kong experience last December and regular rider Dwyer will fly out to partner him again.

Muir added: “It was his first time out of this country. He never worried about anything but everyone said once he’s done it once he’ll thrive on it.

“It was just a few things we picked up from the boys that do it all the time, the little tips that help.”

Yorkshire-based trainer Mark Johnston and his son Charlie have had runners at The Saudi Cup meeting in each of the last two years. They will send Nayef Road to contest the G3 Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap this time.

The six-year-old warmed up for the $2.5 million race, run over 3000m, by finishing fourth at Kempton on Saturday.

Joint-trainer Charlie Johnston said: “Perhaps things weren’t really run to suit – he was boxed-in in a slowly-run race.

“We gave him a break through November and December. It probably showed at Kempton as he was a little bit ring rusty and we’d be hopeful he’d come forward for that.

“I think the trip, fast ground and quite positive, verging on aggressive, riding leads to his best performances, as we saw when he won the Rose Bowl at Newmarket at the back end of last year.

“He’s a relentless galloper and there should be no excuses regarding the conditions he’s going to face over there.

“Given the money on offer in Saudi this is the priority for him – if you finish anywhere in the first six you can pick up significant prize money and we’ll be looking to pick up some of it.”

Johnston already has one eye on a return to The Saudi Cup meeting in 2023 with Subjectivist. He was the impressive winner of the G1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last season before injury struck ruling him out until next year.

Johnston added: “It was a very tough decision we had to make – biting the bullet and leaving our best horse on the sidelines for this season, but we felt to give him the best chance of standing training going forward we would rule this season out.

“He’ll come back into training in September with The Saudi Cup meeting of 2023 his primary target.”

There is also likely to be a strong challenge from France at the meeting.

Sealiway, winner of the G1 Champion Stakes at Ascot in October, is on course for The Saudi Cup. It will be his first race since joining trainer Francis-Henri Graffard.

He said: “He’s very classy and he has a lot of personality. The first morning he came to me he was like ‘I am the boss’.

“He’s a tough horse and he can adapt very easily – adapt to the pace of the race and the ground. He’s a nice horse to be around and it seems like he does everything very easily. My worry is, will he be ready as he does everything so easily?

“He was not over-raced last year and he came to me in very good shape. I’m very, very happy with the way he looks, the way he behaves and the way he works, so I’m keen to go.”

Ebaiyra will also be having her first run for Graffard, who is now combining running his own Chantilly yard with overseeing the private stables of the Aga Khan, if she makes it to The Neom Turf Cup presented by Jahez.

Graffard said: “She looks really well – so far everything is going right. She’s due to work on Saturday morning and a decision will be made after that.”

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