(Updated Stats to Come After Today’s Races at the FG)

Got to pop up early on Saturday and find a place to watch and wager the Saudi Cup race card. Whenever you put together this many Stakes events and throw the kind of money at the purses as this event does? Got to play, too.

Not easy to handicap, granted.

Not easy to pick winners, for sure.

But that’s part of the fun here — looking at horses that are coming from all corners of the world to take on the fun in the sun.

Here’s our looks:

1st: 10-7-2/12-8/5-9-11-4…Neom Turf Cup…We will give the edge to Tilsit (10), who has not run a race since last September. Ran 4th that day in the Group 2 Shadwell Joel Stakes at Newmarket. Before that, though, this one had two wins in a row and broke the maiden by 19 lengths in a field of 14. That is something,. This 4YO son of Defense is a Kentucky-bred and is trained by a good one in Charlie Hills. Top rider takes the mount. Has won on this one before. Saltonstall (7) has not been out since last November, but finished up the 2020 campaign with three straight wins. Over the grass, this one has raced 30 times with a record of 6-2-3. First time at this distance, though. Channel Maker (2) is the USA hopeful. This one has not raced since finished 3rd in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Ran a huge one in that one and would be my top pick — except he has never shown to run that well coming off a layup. Works at Payson Park have been good enough. Has to figure in here. Has the speed to be a threat. I bet the 10-2 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the top 3 over/under the 12-8 in two smaller units. I will also key the 10-2 over/under the 7-12-8-5-9-11-4.

2nd: 9/3-5-10/2-8/7…Turf Sprint Stakes…The first Key Play of the Day comes here with Space Blues (9). This 5YO Irish-bred has raced over the grass 13 times going into this affair. Has compiled a record of 7-3-1. Finished up the 2020 season with four straight wins. Has not raced since Aug. 20. That’s a concern. Especially when you consider that he ran a well-beaten 7th in the 2020 debut. But? He looks much the best of this group. I bet the 9 to win/place/show and then key the 9 over/under the rest of the numbers listed. I also cover a bit with a 3-5-10-2-8 trifecta box and a 3-5-10 exacta box with lesser units.

3rd: 1-8-2/3/5/7-9/13-11-6/10…Red Sea Turf Handicap…This is about as close to a 2-mile race as you can find. It will be contested at 17/8-miles over the sod, so you will need to find some endurance types in this field of study. I will go to the rail entry, Call The Wind (1). This one has not raced since last October. Lot to ask to come off the bench and run a Stakes winning effort in the initial attempt back. But? This one has flashed some Group 2 and Group 3 class in France. Those were all marathons, too, and in 17 grass races to date, this one has a 5-4-5 record. Gets a classy rider up and comes in having hit the board in the last 8 tries — all major Stakes. One to beat. Spanish Mission (8) could be some solid and nice odds at post time. This one didn’t run well in the 2020 finale, running a well-beaten 7th. But before that, this one had two wins in a row — including a Group 2 event at Doncaster. Has hit the board in 7 of 10 lifetime starts over the sod, and gets a tp rider to take the assignment. Last time these two hooked up, they were 2nd in a G3 event. Prince of Arran (2) comes in a little more fit, to be sure. Nearly won the 2021 debut in February at Kempton Park. Was well-represented in a couple of Group 1 events last year. Still, only has 3 wins in 34 starts over the sod. Underneath for me. I bet the 1-8 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the top 3 over/under the 3-5 in two smaller units.

4th: 1-5/16-7-12-20/2-3-13…Jockey Club Local Handicap…This 11/8-mile test over the main track is — perhaps, maybe, could be — the most wide open affair on the card today. Hard to find this pin in the haystack. But I will go with another rail contender in Albathaly (1), who could be some nice odds, to boot. In 7 lifetime tries, has 5 wins and a second. Only miss was a 4th place finish here last year. Has never raced anywhere else and the competition may be a bit suspect. But this one knows the surroundings and has found a liking to them, as well. Alnajim Albaaher (5) is another local favorite. Has raced here 23 times. Has a record of 9-7-4. Before the 3rd place finish last time out on Jan. 15, this one had three wins in a row. Did win a Group 1 here last year, as well. I bet the 1-5 across the board and then box those two in the exacta. I key the 1-5 over/under the rest of the numbers listed in two smaller units.

5th: Skip this race.

6th: 2-13-8/6/4-5-1/11/12-7/9-10…Al Rahji Bank Saudi Derby…This is a 1-mile contest for the 3YOs and I will go with the USA contender in here — Cowan (2). This son on Kantharos ships over for HOF trainer Steve Asmussen, and is coming off a well-beaten 2nd behind what may be a super nice colt in Caddo River. This one was bothered at the 7/8ths pole, but it probably didn’t matter much. The winner was going to be the winner. Margin only question. Yet, Cowan has credentials in his own right. In 7 starts, has just one win. But has 4 seconds and 1 third. Has also run second in the Springboard Mile, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and the Indian Summer Stakes at KEE. Look for this one to show a little more spunk at the end this time around. Soft Whisper (13) didn’t get any breaks with the far outside post, but this Irish home-bred for Godolphin Stables just may be the PT favorite. Has won four in a row and never been worse than 2nd in the career. Gets a HOF rider in Mike Smith for the first time, too. Let’s see how he rates up with an American runner. Rebel’s Romance (8) is an Irish-bred who is nominated to the Triple Crown series in the U.S. And, why not. Has raced three times so far. Won them all. Has a top conditioner and should be an interesting try against these. Class check time. I bet the 2-13 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the top 3 over/under the 6 in two smaller units.

7th: 6-9-5/4-2-1-13/8-14-3…Saudi Arabian Airlines Riyadh Dirt Sprint Stakes…Another challenging event for the handicapper in me. But I will go with the Kentucky-bred son of Speightstown (I’m of my most favorite sires in the stallion game today), who has been running over in Japan — Matera Sky (6). Granted the purses in Japan will tilt this one’s earning power, but over the last five tries, this one has a win and three seconds. Didn’t fare too well in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, won by Mitole. But the fact that the connections thought enough of this one to give that race a try? Respect. Oxted (9) has not raced since October and has never been on the main dirt track in the afternoons, either. Two big obstacles to overcome. But does have some serious sprinting class. And, has run very well off a layup before, too. Can’t dismiss. Justin (5) is another Japn shipper and is coming in off a win last December. Chance. I bet the 6-9 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the 6-9 over/under the 5-4-2-1-13-8 in two smaller units.

8th: 3-8/14/4-9/11-2-10/12-6-7…The $20,000,000 Saudi Cup…Well, well, well. What a race we have spun up half-way around the world. But that’s what happens when you put a $20,000,000 purse on a Stakes. People will come. And, this could be a true showdown between two of the game’s best horses in racing today; and who both could turn out to go down as two of the best to ever turn a foot on the racetracks of the world ever. As in? Ever. I will give the edge to Charlatan (3), who has never been beaten at the wire. In 4 career starts, this son of Speightstown has been many in front at the finish. Was DQ’d for a bad test in last year’s G1 Arkansas Derby. Other than that, though? Spotless. Amazing specimen. Amazing speed. Amazing physical strength and stride. Can he go this 11/18-mile distance? Did so impressively in last year’s Arkansas Derby, but he didn’t face the likes of Knicks Go (8) in that one. He will today. Knicks Go is a perfect 4-for-4 since joining the barn of Brad Cox. Has been a running machine. Won the Pegasus World Cup Invitational for fun. Has speed, as well. Can the two of them burn up the front fractions and hold on at the wire? It will be a test and a race fun to watch. Stay tuned. I bet the 3 to win/place and I will box the 3-8 in one stern exacta. I will key the 3 over/under all the numbers listed above, too. More with the 14. Less with the 4-9. Lesser with the 11-2-10. Even less with the 12-6-7

Good Luck & All the Best / Gene