WE are smack bang in the middle of jumps season but surely the potentially biggest racing story of the weekend will come from Riyadh where three Irish horses take on Red Sea Turf Handicap at 2.05.
Princess Zoe has garnered most of the headlines this week and understandably so given her incredible journey from a 64-rated handicapper to Group 1 winner to a USD$ 2.5 million race. The first prize of over €1 million is surely a life-changing amount for her owners Paddy Kehoe and Philomena Crampton.
But the journeys of both Baron Samedi and Sonnboyliston aren’t any less remarkable. Baron Samedi is owned by a syndicate in Lech Racing Limited, and he was rated just 65 when he ran in a Gowran Park handicap in July 2020. A month earlier at the same track, Sonnyboyliston won his first race competing off a mark of 68.
Johnny Murtagh’s horse went on to win the Irish St Leger last season with Baron Samedi just behind him in third. It’s been a remarkable trajectory of progress for both.
On a wider point, it’s worth aligning today’s meeting, which comes less than three weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, with the current plight of top notch contenders in the Champion Hurdle field.
The increased gravitation towards the point-to-point fields as a source for National Hunt horses, which will usually end up chasing, is one factor but surely the ever increasing prize money levels for flat races internationally is having the biggest effect. A large proportion of potentially smart hurdlers coming off the flat are now not allowed to go down that avenue given the increased demand from foreign buyers.
A positive result for Ireland today, which would be incredible in its own right for the individuals involved, may well place more emphasis on others to keep their horses for the flat, with a view to selling on or indeed a dream journey to today’s mega-rich meeting.
Princess Zoe was initially bought as a prospective jumper and even after she won the Prix du Cadran, her connections talked about a possible bid for the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham. That was quickly shelved when it became apparent that it was seriously more lucrative to take in races like today’s, not to mention a safer option for a mare.
As Tony Mullins told me last week: “We could be running against 20 other mares for €90,000 at Cheltenham or running in Riyadh for US$ 2.5 million - it’s no decision really.”
Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon takes on the 1351 Turf Sprint (1.25), while the other main Irish interest of the day comes in the main event itself, where David Egan goes for back-to-back wins in the USD$20m Saudi Cup on Mishriff. If the John and Thady Gosden-trained horse wins today, he’ll become the highest earning horse of all time.
The five-year-old son of Make Believe is a 5/2 favourite to do so, having won the Juddmonte International by six lengths on his penultimate start. A conventional decision would have been to retire him to stud after that, but meetings like the Saudi Cup and the Dubai World Cup have thrown convention out the window. The money is there on the track now.
THERE are three Grade 2 contests at Kempton today but recent history shows it’s probably wise not to get too excited Cheltenham-wise if an impressive winner comes from any of the three races particularly in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle (1.50).
This contest, confined to juvenile hurdlers, is littered with impressive winners that were hyped up as serious Triumph Hurdle contenders before running well below expectations at Cheltenham. That includes horses like Tritonic, Solo, Zubayr, Redicean and Activial. It makes sense really when you compare the nature of both tracks and given the proximity of both meetings.
Nevertheless, the last Adonis-Triumph double winner was Zarkandar in 2011, the second of Paul Nicholls’s five wins in the race.
Zarkandar made his hurdles debut for Nicholls here which prompted his trainer to do the same a couple of times since, notably with impressive winner Solo two seasons ago. He has two hurdles debutants today in Pleasant Man, who carries the colours of last year’s winner Tritonic and Rubaud, who carries the same colours as Zarkandar did for owner Chris Giles.
The last Pendil Novice Chase winner to score at Cheltenham was Captain Chris, also in 2011, but not many have even attempted to run at the Festival since and today’s race again looks like a trial for Aintree with Pic D’Orhy and Minella Drama topping the market.
You have to go back to 1992 to find the last horse to do the Dovecote-Supreme Novices’ Hurdle double, Flown, and that duck looks unlikely to be broken this season as well.
The best betting race and probably the most likely to provide a Cheltenham Festival winner today is the Coral Trophy Handicap Chase (3.37). The majority of this field is among the entries in the Cheltenham handicaps released this week but the today’s pot of £80,000 is a fine prize in itself.
The top of the market is dominated by Welsh runners: Evan Williams’s Annsam and the Christian Williams-trained pair Cap Du Nord and Five Star Getaway.
Colin Tizzard has sent out two winners and two third in this contest in the last six years. His runner The Big Breakaway, hyped as an exciting chase rercuit last season, looks an intriguing contender.