2023 Saudi Cup Preview: The World’s Richest Race

February 14, 2023

Country Grammer and Frankie Dettori take the San Antonio (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

~ Baffert Takes Two to Saudi Cup, Dettori to ride Country Grammer

~ Japan Brings Substantial Contingent

~ Emblem Road Aims To Make History… Again

By Amber Joyce

Likely fields for the two-day USD$35.35M Saudi Cup program have been revealed. 16 races will be contested over the turf and dirt surfaces at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The prestigious Feb. 24-25 meeting will feature runners from 15 different nations. 

Highlighting the action is the world’s richest horse race, the 1800M (9 furlongs), $20M Saudi Cup (G1), which will go off as the nightcap on an eight-race card on the second day of the meeting. 

Last year’s 99-1 winner, Moutaib Almulawah-trained Emblem Road (USA) will aim to be the first horse in the Saudi Cup’s short history to win the race twice. Last out on Jan 13., the son of Quality Road was an impressive four-length winner of an allowance at King Abdulaziz. That was his second start since his stunning score in the Saudi Cup; he hadn’t run since a fifth-place effort in the Grand Prix de Vichy (G3) in July at Vichy Racecourse in Vichy, France. 

Watch Emblem Road’s (post position #4) recent impressive allowance score:

Another one in the Saudi Cup with big credentials is 2022 Dubai World Cup (G1) champion Country Grammer (USA), who is one of two in the race for USA-based trainer Bob Baffert. Country Grammer most recently was victorious in the San Antonio (G2) Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park and was G1-placed twice leading up to that affair. Frankie Dettori, who was aboard for the colt’s Dubai World Cup and San Antonio wins, retains the mount in the Saudi Cup. 

The other Bob Baffert trainee hunting the riches in the Saudi Cup is three-time G1 winner and Eclipse Award finalist, Taiba (USA). Like his stablemate, Taiba enters this contest off the back of a victory at Santa Anita Park on Dec. 26. In his case, he was a dominant victor of the RUNHAPPY Malibu (G1), his first start since a gallant third place run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) behind the sensational Flightline. 

Country Grammer and Taiba are the only two American runners in this year’s edition of the Saudi Cup. Both horses are owned by Amr Zedan of Zedan Racing LLC. 

Representing the racing powerhouse of Japan are six horses, all hailing from the barns of different trainers. G1-winning Cafe Pharoah (USA) for Noriyuki Hori tops the list. A well-bred son of Triple Crown hero American Pharoah, Cafe Pharoah makes his first start since a narrow score in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai (G1) at Morioka Racecourse in Morioka, Japan. That early October victory made it three G1 wins on the resume of Cafe Pharoah. The other two are back-to-back scores in the February Stakes (G1) in 2021 and 2022.

Next on the list of Japanese contenders is Koichi Shintani’s Crown Pride (JPN), notably one of two international horses to contest the Kentucky Derby (G1) last year. Crown Pride has returned to better form since that 13th-place effort in the Derby, having been runner-up in three stakes races in his home country, most recently on Dec. 4 in the Champions Cup (G1), one of Japan’s most prestigious horse races. Last year, Crown Pride won the U.A.E. Derby (G2) at Meydan.

Tetsuya Kimura’s Geoglyph (JPN) will also give the Saudi Cup a go. This son of Drefong hasn’t shown much in his last three efforts, all at the G1 level, but was victorious in April of 2022 in the Satsuki Sho Japanese Two Thousand Guineas (G1) as the fifth betting choice. 

The fourth Japanese challenger comes in the form of Jun Light Bolt (JPN), conditioned by Yasuo Tomomichi. Jun Light Bolt streaks into this race, having won his last three starts, including the Champions Cup (G1) and Sirius Stakes (G3), in which he defeated Crown Pride both times. 

Watch Jun Light Bolt defeat Crown Pride in the Champions Cup:

Also shipping in from Japan is last year’s Dubai Turf (G1) champion Panthalassa (JPN) for trainer Yoshito Yahagi. Panthalassa has yet to win a race since his Dubai Turf victory but was second in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) and Sapporo Kinen (G2) last fall. In the money in half of his 24 starts, he will look to improve off a 10th-place finish in the Hong Kong Cup (G1).

Vin de Garde (JPN), who has yet to win a race since the Fuji Stakes (G2) in October of 2020, rounds out the Japanese contingent. Most recently fifteenth in the Yasuda Kinen (G1) in June, this Hideaki Fujiwara trainee looks to have his work cut out for him. 

In addition to Emblem Road, four locally based horses are likely for the Saudi Cup. Naif Almandeel trains Lagertha Rhyme (IRE) and Sunset Flash (IRE), the lone mares entered in the race. 

A five-year-old daughter of Gutaifan, Lagertha Rhyme enters the race off a runner-up finish in the Gulf Cup at King Abdulaziz on Jan. 27. Prior to that effort, she had strung together six consecutive victories, two of them at the Saudi Cup distance. 

Sunset Flash boasts a stellar record and is the winningest horse in the field with a whopping 16 victories from 39 career starts. Last out, she defeated Lagertha Rhyme by three and a half lengths in the Gulf Cup. Overall, in 2022, she finished worse than second only once, a fifth-place effort in the Saudia Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) during the Saudi Cup meeting. From 12 starts last year, Sunset Flash won nine and was runner-up twice. She streaks into this with four consecutive wins, all at King Abdulaziz. 

Should Lagertha Rhyme or Sunset Flash win this year’s running of the Saudi Cup, they would stamp themselves as the first female winner of the race. Midnight Bisou (USA) came close in 2020, finishing second in the inaugural running behind Maximum Security. 

Watch Sunset Flash (post position #1) take the Gulf Cup in her latest start:

The final locally based horse is Scotland Yard (USA), who looks to remain undefeated in Saudi Arabia, having won all three of his races there since moving from the USA. Since breaking his maiden in his first local start, Scotland Yard has won two stakes events, the King Faisal Cup (local G1) and the Custodian Of The Two Holy Mosques Cup, a listed qualifier for the Saudi Cup. Moutaib Almulawah handles the conditioning of this former Steve Asmussen trainee. 

Watch Scotland Yard (post position #18) win the Custodian Of The Two Holy Mosques Cup:

The fourth and final nation represented in this year’s Saudi Cup is the United Arab Emirates. Remorse (IRE) will aim to make the grade for trainer Bhupat Seemar. Remorse kicked off his 2023 campaign with a third-place effort in Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge (G2) behind the talented Algiers. Prior to that, he captured The Entisar, a listed event traveling 2000M on the dirt. Last year, Remorse was sixth in the Dubai World Cup (G1) and second in both Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge (G1) and Jebel Ali Mile (G3), respectively. 

Likely fields for the rest of the two-day Saudi Cup racing festival can be accessed here.

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It was recently announced that the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia will partner with Equine MediRecord for this year’s Saudi Cup to ensure equine welfare protocols are followed at the event. This will help all of the trainers at this year’s event more easily keep track of all of their trainee’s needs and care. 

For more on Equine MediRecord, visit www.equinemedirecord.com.

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Contributing Authors

Amber Joyce, Editor

Amber Joyce grew up with a practically innate love for racehorses, her mom being a former exercise rider and trainer of off-the-track thoroughbreds. For the...

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