By Nicholas Godfrey
UAE: Sheikh Mohammed will make the decision about whether Benbatl takes his chance in the inaugural Saudi Cup before running in the Dubai World Cup after the Godolphin star’s exemplary dirt debut at Meydan last week in the second round of the Maktoum Challenge.
The six-year-old is a best-priced 4-1 favourite with British bookmakers for the Dubai World Cup on March 28, a race won for the last two seasons by his former Saeed Bin Suroor-trained stablemate Thunder Snow.
However, while his hometown feature is the primary target, the Saudi Cup may also come into play – and Benbatl is now rated only a 5-1 chance for what will become the world’s richest-ever race with a $20 million purse at King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh on February 29.
Bin Suroor said he is waiting to hear about where Benbatl will run next after the son of Dubawi was partnered by Christophe Soumillon to a comfortable two-length victory. Back in third was last year’s Dubai World Cup runner-up Gronkowski, never able to land a blow in the 1m1f contest.
“It was really great to see Benbatl win that easily,” commented Bin Suroor. “We know he is a special horse from what he has done on the turf. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed made the decision to run him on the dirt tonight, just to see how he would handle it. It was a good decision from the boss.
“Sometimes you have to give these horses a chance on the dirt,” the trainer went on. “Thunder Snow won two G1s on the turf in France, then he raced on the dirt and is the only horse in Dubai World Cup history to win it twice. Some horses handle both surfaces and luckily Benbatl does.
“We wanted to see him to do what he did tonight, as it is important for the future with a view to the Dubai World Cup and other races. Sheikh Mohammed will make a decision about where he runs next.”
Soumillon added: “Benbatl was the best horse in the field by far on the ratings. It was his first time on the dirt but when horses are really good, they can handle both surfaces. He has good gate speed, which is important for dirt racing, and he cruised the whole way.”
Benbatl and Gronkowski featured among 11 horses to have made the cut for the Saudi Cup after officials released putative fields for the eight-race card at King Abdulaziz. Fellow Dubai trainee North America accepted an invitation soon after, while Saudi-trained horses had a chance to earn a spot at Sunday’s meeting in Riyadh where former Karl Burke-trained Mjjack won the nation’s most prestigious domestic feature, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup.
Six of the invited horses for the Saudi Cup will be coming from America, headed by ante-post favourite Maximum Security, McKinzie, star racemare Midnight Bisou and Pegasus hero Mucho Gusto.
As well as the Dubai trio, they will be joined by Ballydoyle’s globe-trotting mare Magic Wand – set for her dirt debut – plus Chrysoberyl and Gold Dream from Japan.
Prize-money totalling $29.2m will be up for grabs on an eight-race card, for which a total of 66 overseas horses from eight different countries have been accepted, among them Japan’s popular racemare Deirdre and the 2018 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter.
They will run in the $1m Neom Turf Cup over 2,100 metres and the $2.5m Longines Turf Handicap over 3,000 metres respectively. The latter race was originally called the Red Sea Handicap; the Riyadh Dirt Sprint is now being called the Saudia Sprint. Top US sprinters Imperial Hint and Shancealot are expected.
Saudi Cup betting
Coral: 2 Maximum Security, 11-4 McKinzie, 5 Benbatl, 11-2 Mucho Gusto, 8 Midnight Bisou, 16 Chrysoberyl, Gift Box, North America, Tacitus, 20 Gronkowski, 25 Gold Dream, 33 Magic Wand.