As the Saudi Cup field takes shape, the Saudi Arabian government announced connections for the $20 million race participants will be exempt from the country’s ban on entering Saudi Arabia.

Knicks Go
Knicks Go brings a four-race winning streak into the $20 million Saudi Cup. (Image: Coady Photography/Keeneland)

Citing COVID-19 concerns, the country banned entry to residents of 20 nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Al Jazeera reported Saudi citizens, medical practitioners, diplomats and their families are not included in the ban.

Saudi Cup spokeswoman Sarah Tregoning told Horse Racing Nation the Saudi Cup is also exempt from the ban. She said all international attendees will enter a bubble from the moment they arrive in Riyadh for the Feb. 20 race.

From there, all attendees must submit a negative COVID test at least 72 hours before traveling to Saudi Arabia. They will need a negative test before entering King Abdulaziz Racecourse for Friday and Saturday’s cards.

Popular Saudi Cup Promises Speed and More Speed

As the richest race in the world, the Saudi Cup received more than 100 nominations. Heading that list are four confirmed American runners, including Knicks Go, Charlatan, Tacitus, and Max Player.

Brad Cox, Knicks Go’s trainer, told reporters earlier this week that Knicks Go came out of the Pegasus World Cup “in great shape and in good order.” He told Thoroughbred Daily News that the horse’s owners, the Korean Racing Authority, “made it clear” they want Knicks Go in the Saudi Cup starting gate.

Cox did not rule out running Knicks Go a month later in the $12 million Dubai World Cup. That 1-¼-mile race takes place on March 27 and Cox basically left the decision on the hooves of Knicks Go. Should he run well and come out of the Saudi Cup in good shape, the 2020 Champion Trainer said Dubai is in play for the 5-year-old son of Paynter.

Following the Money to the Middle East

Knicks Go already has more than $3 million in earnings in his 15 career starts. Dominant, or even decent, showings in those two races could vault his career earnings north of $12 million; more, should he win both races. The winner’s share of the Saudi Cup purse is $10 million.

To do that, however, Knicks Go has to survive a likely speed duel with one of the fastest horses on the current landscape, Bob Baffert’s Charlatan. The 4-year-old son of Speightstown returns after his dominant win in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26. Like Knicks Go, Charlatan likes taking charge out of the gate.

This could set up a wild speed duel between the two early pacesetters, although both horses easily displayed the ability to dominate over nine furlongs.

Tacitus Back for More, Max Player Back for 2021 Debut

Meanwhile, Tacitus returns to the scene of his fifth-place finish last year. He returns to complete his persistent – and heretofore unfulfilled – quest for his first Grade 1 title.

Max Player, the only horse to run in all three 2020 Triple Crown races, returns to action for the first time since finishing fifth in the Preakness Stakes last Oct. 3. Earlier, Max Player finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont Stakes. He also finished third in the Travers Stakes. The son of Honor Code ran five times in 2020, but the Saudi Cup would be his 2021 debut.

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