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American stars Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon are set to renew their rivalry at the $20million Saudi Cup in Riyadh later this month.
The pair faced off last month in the Louisiana Grade 3 Stakes at Fair Grounds when Mandaloun came out on top by three-quarter lengths.
Now they will face off again in the world’s most valuable race, run over 1,800 meters on the dirt track at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Saturday, February 26.
The Louisiana Stakes were Mandaloun’s first race since winning the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park in July, when Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified for interfering with Midnight Bourbon after going past the post earning a nose in front.
A setback ended the Kentucky Derby runner-up’s three-year season prematurely, and his coach Brad Cox believes he is still improving ahead of his trip to Saudi Arabia for the world’s most valuable game.
“Mandaloun ran a really big race at Fair Grounds in the Louisiana Stakes. It was his first race in a while and he seems to have come out of it in very good order. He practiced well on Sunday morning,” Cox said.
“It seems to have gone from three to four. If he advances again, he will be tough in the Saudi Cup.
“I always thought he was a Grade 1 horse, so it was important for us and for Juddmonte to try to earn a Grade 1 with him and add him to the stallion list,” he said. -he adds.
“Obviously he was given Grade 1 in the Haskell Stakes. Outside of the Haskell he just wasn’t quite right behind, and we just gave him the time he needed.
Cox said Mandaloun had come back “bigger and stronger”, a view backed by Florent Geroux, who ridden him and said he mentally found him a “more polished” horse.
Cox said, “I think the track will be fine. He is a horse that is able to be where he is needed in a race. He knows how to adapt to the rhythm. If it’s slow, he can be close, if it’s fast, he can abstain.
He added: “A mile and an eighth of a turn (1,800 metres) is not something we get a lot in America, Belmont is the only place, but I’m confident he’ll be able to handle it.
“The Saudi Arabian Cup hasn’t been around for a long time, but it definitely caught the attention of the whole world.
“It’s becoming a race on everyone’s calendar, and if we were able to win it for Juddmonte it would obviously mean a huge sum.”
Although he finished behind Mandaloun in last year’s Louisiana Stakes and Kentucky Derby, when he endured a tough spell, Midnight Bourbon coach Steve Asmussen has high hopes that his stable star will finally win his big win.
He hasn’t had much luck during his career. He knocked down Paco Lopez when he got embarrassed while completing his challenge in the Haskell Stakes, and his trainer thinks the ability is there to be a champion.
“He has an elite level of talent without finishing it at this stage. He hasn’t had the success that his ability would allow, but that also leaves us plenty to go forward,” Asmussen said.
“He is still in the physical and mental development that I think will allow him to be the best horse in training in the world this year,” he added.
“The only time he missed the break in his life was in the Kentucky Derby, which was won by a horse (Medina Spirit) that he broke next to in the Preakness and went down. sunk into the ground.
“It’s one thing after another but it’s there, it just needs to fall into place. I hope beyond hope and expect him to wait until the Saudi Arabian Cup stage to set everything up perfectly.
Jockey Joel Rosario rode Midnight Bourbon in the Louisiana Stakes, and he will keep racing in the Group 1 Saudi Cup.
He will have to reverse that form with Mandaloun, but Asmussen believes last month’s run will put his big race hope to an advantage.
“His numbers are very competitive with any horse in the world, the numbers being the speed he has reached. We just have to finish him,” he said.
“He is considerably more mature in his approach to training than he has been in the past. He had a great job on Sunday at Fair Grounds,” he added.
“He came out of it in great shape and got back on track very well on Tuesday morning.”
The American pair will be looking to snatch the Saudi Cup crown from last year’s winner Mishriff.
He was reported to be in good shape ahead of the world’s most valuable race by co-trainer Thady Gosden on Tuesday.