It may have attracted some of the best dirt runners worldwide but ultimately it was Mishriff, owned by HRH Prince A A Faisal and trained in Newmarket by John Gosden, who came out on top in a thrilling renewal of the world’s richest horse race, the Saudi Cup at Riyadh on Saturday.
The son of Make Believe had run a fine second on the Riyadh dirt last year when overcoming a slow start in the inaugural Saudi Derby. Since then, he had made great strides back in Europe, notably by winning the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Guillaume d’Ornano, and as an 8/1 shot on his seasonal return in Saudi Arabia, was fancied to perform with credit on Saturday.
However, in Knicks Go and Charlatan, the race had also attracted two exceptional American runners, between them the winners of three Grade 1 races on dirt. They were expected to feature strongly and indeed that played out initially as the pair took each on through the opening exchanges.
Knicks Go, however, had cried enough by the time the field had turned into the straight, leaving Charlatan with a major advantage over the rest of the field. Yet lying in his slipstream was Mishriff and under strong urging from his 21-year-old jockey David Egan, the colt steadily wore down Charlatan for a hard-fought length victory.
The pair pulled six-and-a-half lengths clear of the former Tom Dascombe-trained Great Scot, a 66/1 shot, in third. Knicks Go faded into fourth.
The result was a momentous one for his owner-breeder Prince Faisal, who has cultivated Mishriff’s family for four decades and also raced his sire, Make Believe. It also provided his young jockey David Egan with his biggest success to date.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “He’s an absolute champion. It is just a privilege to be connected with such a class horse.
“I’d like to thank Prince Faisal, John Gosden and everyone connected with the yard – everyone connected with him have done a great job.
“He ran so well here last year and it’s redemption for him in Saudi, and in Prince Faisal’s back yard as well – it’s an honour.
“I spoke to a lot of people for advice on riding the dirt. We got a good break and I didn’t expect him to travel so well in behind the leaders. It took a little while for him to get going when they kicked but thank God, he ran them down.”
Now the winner of five races, Mishriff is from the first crop of Make Believe, who carried Prince Faisal’s colours to victory in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Prix de la Foret. A resident of Ballylinch Stud, the son of Makfi has made an excellent start to his stud career as the sire of five stakes winners out of his first crop. He stands for €15,000.
Mishriff is one of three stakes horses from as many runners bred by Prince Faisal out of the Raven’s Pass mare Contradict following the Listed winner Orbaan and the Group 3-placed Momkin. The highlight of Contradict’s own racing career came when successful in a Salisbury handicap but typically for a Prince Faisal homebred, she possesses excellent connections as a daughter of Group 3 winner Acts Of Grace, herself a Bahri half-sister to Invincible Spirit, Kodiac, Massarra and Sadian. In turn, she is out of the Prince’s Prix de Diane heroine Rafha, bred by the Prince out of his foundation mare Eljazzi.
In an interview with Owner Breeder last autumn, the Prince recalled how he came to purchase mare of such influence as Eljazzi on a bid of 92,000gns as a yearling in 1982.
“Racing was always my love,” he said. “I enjoyed visiting England but I don’t like travelling so I thought that if I had a stable there, it might encourage me to come over more and enjoy it.
“Nawara was the first horse that I bred horse and not long after, I bought Eljazzi as a yearling. I was at the sales looking at yearlings and I saw this nice filly. She was very strong, particularly behind the saddle, and correct. And I thought she had an interesting pedigree. She was a half-sister to Pitcairn, a very good miler, and I liked her sire line – I thought Artaius might make a good broodmare sire.”
Eljazzi went on to win a Leicester maiden for Sir Henry Cecil before embarking on an illustrious stud career. Rafha, by Kris, was her first foal.
“Eljazzi was very good behind the saddle, she had great strength,” says Prince Faisal. “Kris didn’t even though he was lovely in front and a very good walker. Kris was also working well with mares with Djebel in their pedigrees, so I felt they could complement each other.
“At that time, Kris was doing extremely well at stud [as the British and Irish champion sire of 1985], especially as a sire of fillies, and I had this idea that he might become a good broodmare sire.
“But all Eljazzi had done was win a maiden and Kris stood for £90,000 – Lord Howard de Walden had just raised his fee. Everyone thought I was crazy.”
The resulting foal was Rafha, a filly so small that she was famously described by her trainer Sir Henry Cecil as being ’knee high to a bumble bee’.
Rafha’s influence is today felt around the world, primarily via her excellent sire sons in Invincible Spirit and Kodiac. However, it’s very appropriate that her latest star, and the richest one at that, should carry the famous maroon and grey of Prince Faisal, the mastermind behind this family.
Contradict remains in his Nawara bloodstock fold but has suffered from bad breeding luck in recent years. However, she is currently in foal to Frankel.