John Gosden poses at Kempton Park Racecourse on September 5, 2020 in Sunbury, England. File photo: GETTY IMAGESALAN CROWHURST
John Gosden poses at Kempton Park Racecourse on September 5, 2020 in Sunbury, England. File photo: GETTY IMAGESALAN CROWHURST

When it comes to racing headlines, they are usually hogged by a jockey or a horse. Not this time.      

In the world’s richest race in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, there is an enthralling clash between two of the sport’s most famous trainers: America’s Bob Baffert vs the UK’s John Gosden.

The two men — both in their late 60s — each send one of their top horses to King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh on a dollar-earning mission. The winning owner of the $20m Saudi Cup will receive a cheque for $10m.

The record prize money has put noses out of joint at nearby Dubai, whose World Cup race had previously been the richest in the world.

In a Zoom media conference, 68-year-old Baffert, who ran fourth in 2020’ s inaugural race with Mucho Gusto, declared himself confident that he had the winning horse in Charlatan.

“The Saudi Cup is perfect timing for Charlatan. It’s the perfect distance, we know he ships well and he’s a good gate horse. I think the Cup fits the bill perfectly for him.

“It’s very challenging to go somewhere like Saudi. You need a horse with a really great mind and he’s got that. To win these races, you need to be way the best when you are travelling that far. I won the Dubai World Cup because I had the best horse,” said Baffert.

Gosden, 69, runs the French Derby winner Mishriff and he is hoping to draw a wide barrier for his raider.

“This is nine furlongs and you remember what happened last year. American horses break, that’s their game, they are very fast over the first quarter and you really don’t want to be getting in behind that.

“If you get a basin full of dirt in your face, that’s what stops the turf horses when they switch. They are just not used to taking all that kickback. They start to climb, tend to hold their breath. It puts them off completely, which is why a wide draw would be very advantageous,” said Gosden.

The hosts have no doubt that racing fans are in for a treat. “A battle between Charlatan, Knicks Go, Mishriff and Japan champion Chuwa Wizard should be a huge thrill,” enthused Tom Ryan, director of international racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.

The local bookmakers, World Sports Betting, make Charlatan the 13-10 favourite followed by Knicks Go at 3-1. In the UK, Bet365 have Baffert’s horse at 17-10.

Knicks Go, a Maryland-bred son of Paynter trained by Brad Cox, brings impressive form into the race and is the Keeneland record-holder for 1.7km on dirt. He is likely to be ridden by his usual pilot, Joel Rosario.

The grey has excelled for his owners — the Korean Racing Authority (KRA) — who were considering retiring the horse after his latest grade 1 win in November.

“His pedigree is what we are looking for as far as a stallion prospect is concerned. We have a good selection system which is created by the team at KRA and that’s why we are buying colts in the US,” said the authority’s Jun Park.

“I believe Knicks Go’s latest win will make the Korean horse racing industry more forward, more globalised and improve the Korean homebred as well,” he added.


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