Charlie Appleby has high hopes his star stayer Cross Counter can get back on the winning trail in the Longines Turf Handicap in Riyadh.
The 2018 Melbourne Cup hero has failed to get his head in front since landing the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan in March, but has run some fine races in defeat – placing fourth in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, third in the Goodwood Cup and fourth in the Irish St Leger.
He was not disgraced in finishing eighth when defending his Melbourne Cup crown at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November and makes his first appearance since in the most valuable event on the undercard of the inaugural Saudi Cup.
“Cross Counter seems in really good form, he goes well fresh and he’s a very consistent horse,” said Appleby.
“I know he was beaten in the Melbourne Cup, but I thought it was still a very good performance. He met a few traffic problems, but did some great work in the last couple of furlongs.
“The track shouldn’t be any problem for him and I think he’s the one to beat.”
Cross Counter is set to face 13 rivals in a one-mile-seven-furlong contest, worth $2,500,000.
British hopes are also carried by Mark Johnson’s King’s Advice, Jamie Osborne’s Mekong and the Charlie Fellowes-trained Prince Of Arran, while Joseph O’Brien’s pair of Twilight Payment and Downdraft and Willie Mullins’ mare True Self fly the flag for Ireland.
Prince Of Arran has finished third and second in the last two renewals of the Melbourne Cup, but was down the field on his latest appearance in the Hong Kong Vase.
Fellowes said: “He has travelled as well as expected for an old pro like him – he has taken well to his new surroundings.
“This has been the plan for a long time. We’ve got a great draw (stall two) and I am delighted with that.
“The track is much tighter than I realised and tighter than Meydan, so we are in a perfect position.”
True Self was four places ahead of Prince Of Arran when seventh in the Hong Kong Vase, having previously won an Australian Group Three.
“My people over with True Self have been very happy with the horse since they arrived. She has travelled well and they have been very pleased with her progress every day since arriving,” said Mullins.
“We’re very much looking forward to being a part of the day.”
There is also plenty of European interest in the 1351 Cup.
Appleby runs both Glorious Journey and Mubtasim, who were split by less than two lengths when first and third respectively in a Group Two in Dubai last month.
“Glorious Journey was impressive on his last start in the Al Fahidi Fort. He’s travelled to Saudi well and everyone is very happy with him,” said the Newmarket-based trainer.
“I think the trip (six and a half furlongs) is perfect for him. We’d love to have a lower draw than stall 12, but at the same time he is a hold up horse, so I don’t think it’s the be all and end all for him.
“Mubtasim ran well behind Glorious Journey and from the horses in that race he’s probably entitled to improve most, as he had been off the track the longest.
“He has a nice draw (stall six) and is a horse who likes to go forward. Glorious Journey is probably going to need a bit of luck in running, whereas Mubtasim might be out in the clear.
“It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Veteran trainer David Elsworth has seen it all both on the Flat and over jumps – and is looking forward to saddling his first runner in Saudi Arabia with the high-class Sir Dancealot.
He said: “We’re very privileged and lucky to have this horse. He’s been great fun for the ownership and looking at form and logic, I suppose we’e got a sporting chance.
“He’s a star. He’s a five-year-old gelding now and a great horse to work with. He’s always got a smile on his face and gets on with the job. He’s given us some great moments.
“His best distance is seven furlongs and this is damn near seven furlongs. I fear with the American contingent there’s going to be plenty of pace on and he’s a horse who likes to do his running in the second half of the race.
“We’ve endeavoured to get him thinking a bit quicker and get him on his toes. It’s a bit of a transformation for him.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’ll give it our best shot.”
George Baker’s Graignes, the William Haggas-trained Momkin, David O’Meara’s Suedois and Ed Walker’s Royal Intervention also feature, along with O’Brien’s Speak In Colours.
Japanese ace Deirdre will be a hot favourite to see off the challenge of a pair of Irish raiders in the Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup.
Mitsuru Hashida’s star enjoyed a profitable European campaign last season, highlighted by a Group One win in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, and was last seen finishing fourth in the Hong Kong Vase.
“She likes warmer weather, so I am happy with her condition at the moment,” said Hashida.
“She is based in Newmarket and is travelling a lot, so I do not have any concern about her travelling overseas at all.
“She had a bit of a break since her last start and we have decided not to go to Dubai afterwards.”
Aidan O’Brien’s Mount Everest and Ken Condon’s Trais Fluors are two of Deirdre’s eight opponents.
The only other race featuring European challengers, barring the Saudi Cup itself, is the Samba Saudi Derby.
John Gosden fires a twin assault, with Cherokee Trail and Mishriff both declared, while Saeed bin Suroor runs consistent filly Final Song.
He said: “She’s come back well from her last race. She’s in good form and I think she’s doing well for this race. A mile will suit her.”