True Self Catches Channel Maker in Neom Turf Cup

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Channel Maker, the United States’ champion male turf horse of 2020, took his talents abroad to King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Saudi Arabia Feb. 20 to race in the $1 million Neom Turf Cup, only to fall victim to some girl power.

Though Channel Maker had a midstretch lead of several lengths in the 2,100-meter (about 1 5/16-mile) turf race, it wasn’t enough. Closing down the grass course was the 8-year-old globetrotting mare True Self, ridden by British star Hollie Doyle, and the daughter of Oscar rallied past in the race’s final 50 meters to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

Even before the race, Doyle made history by becoming the first female jockey to ride on Saudi Cup Day and then added to it by piloting True Self to a come-from-behind victory. She had competed at King Abdulaziz the day before as part of the stc International Jockeys Challenge, though without the success she wanted.

“It means the world, you know. I rode here yesterday and didn’t have any luck,” she said. “It’s part of being a jockey—picking yourself up when you’re down.”

True Self, trained by Willie Mullins for owner Three Mile House and OTI Partnership, paid $14.60 in comingled North American pari-mutuel betting. Along with Four White Socks, she was one of two female runners and received a weight break of five pounds from her male rivals. The winning time was 2:10.57.

“I was really hopeful. I watched her runs and I thought, you know this is probably my best chance to ride a winner today,” Doyle said in a post-race interview on horseback. “It’s great for the owners and Willie Mullins to give me an opportunity like this.”

Channel Maker finished 4 3/4 lengths ahead of third-place Emirates Knight, who finished a half-length ahead of fourth-place Saltonstall in the field of 12.

A bit slow into stride toward the inside, Channel Maker was hustled by jockey Joel Rosario to obtain a forward position but did not hit the front early, as he had in victories last year in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) and Sword Dancer Stakes (G1T).

Instead, For the Top set the pace, chased two wide by Channel Maker, who took command leaving the second turn.

“Well, he didn’t make the lead like we were hoping. He had go to plan B,” said Neil Poznansky, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “He ran a good race. He made his move. He was just caught at the end.”

Citing his high-head carriage, commentators in Saudi Arabia speculated that Channel Maker may not have cared for light rain that was falling during the race or for the good-to-firm ground, but Channel Maker’s way of running was typical for him. 

The 7-year-old English Channel  gelding gave a good account without the treatment of the diuretic Lasix and in his first race since a third-place finish in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T) at Keeneland Nov. 7.

Poznansky said Channel Maker would remain pointed for another race in the Middle East, the $5 million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) at Meydan Racecourse on the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) undercard March 27. The Dubai Sheema Classic is over 2,410 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), the approximate distance over which he won the Joe Hirsch and Sword Dancer.

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