By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Mucho Gusto, who landed his first G1 win in runaway fashion in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup, is set to run next in the world’s richest race, the Saudi Cup on February 29.
The Bob Baffert-trained four-year-old scored by 4½ lengths at Gulfstream Park under reigning champion jockey Irad Ortiz.
Now Saudi-owned, he is now set to join a plethora of US-based horses in the $20 million Saudi Cup on the dirt at King Abdulaziz racecourse on the outskirts of Riyadh, where last year’s champion three-year-old Maximum Security, brilliant racemare Midnight Bisou and Mucho Gusto’s stablemate McKinzie are expected to lead the American contingent.
Baffert stayed at home in Santa Anita rather than travelling to Florida for the $3m Pegasus – where, like in Saudi, raceday medication was prohibited. “Irad Ortiz did a pretty masterful job,” said the trainer, speaking to XBTV at Santa Anita.
“He had me a little worried the way he was down inside like that, but he knew what he was doing. When he tilted out at the quarter pole, all I could say was ‘Damn, I wish I would have flown down there.’
“I am really happy – I was really surprised because it was a last-minute thing. “I gave him a good work and I was going to run him next week in the San Pasqual and I thought, ‘You know what, he worked so well today, I think I’ll take a shot at it and he hadn’t gotten an invite from the Saudi Cup. So I thought maybe if he runs well [in the Pegasus], he’ll get an invitation.”
With huge purses, no entry fees and free travel, nearly 1,000 initial nominations have been made for the eight-race Saudi Cup card.
Closer to home, Baffert is readying Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster for the G2 San Pasqual as a prep race for the Santa Anita Handicap. Rivals are likely to include last year’s Big ’Cap winner Gift Box.
>>According to trainer Mike Maker, Pegasus Turf winner Zulu Alpha is likely to run once more this winter in either the Mac Diarmida on February 29 or the Pan American on March 28. Both races are staged at Pegasus venue Gulfstream Park.