Saudi Cup Runners Arrive In Riyadh From Japan, U.S.

Lemon Pop | JRA photo

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The plane carrying the Japanese contingent to Riyadh for next Saturday's Saudi Cup meeting touched down at King Khalid International Airport, and each of the nation's four entrants for the $20-million G1 Saudi Cup appear to have taken the flight in good order.

Looking to make it back-to-back successes in the world's richest horse race following the stunning all-the-way victory by Panthalassa (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) last February are Japan's champion dirt horse Lemon Pop (Lemon Drop Kid); reigning G1 Dubai World Cup winner Ushba Tesoro (Jpn) (Orfevre {Jpn}); Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits), last year's G2 UAE Derby hero and runner-up to White Abarrio (Race Day) in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic; and the MGSW/MG1SP Meisho Hario (Jpn) (Pyro).

Lightly raced for a 6-year-old, with just 14 starts under his belt, Lemon Pop won last year's G1 February S. and ventured overseas for the first time for the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen. An outpaced 10th behind Sibelius (Not This Time), the chestnut successfully stepped up in trip and wired the G1 Champions Cup in his first try over nine furlongs last December. Connections have opted for the path of greater resistance for his seasonal debut a week from Saturday.

“There's going to be plenty of competition there and that nine furlongs will test him now because we're not absolutely sure that's his best distance,” Godolphin Japan President Harry Sweeney told the TDN's Emma Berry in a recent interview. “But anyway, the option really is either to stay at home in Japan and run in the February S….or to go abroad and run in the Saudi Cup. So that's what we're doing.”

 

 

 

A field of 16 will be drawn Friday for Sunday's February S., a 'Win and You're In' challenge race that offers a berth in the field for the 2024 Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar. But while the February does not lack for quantity, the racing calendar dictates that the country's stars are elsewhere.

“In truth, [the Saudi Cup] hurts the February S. a little bit, which is only one of two Grade 1 races in the JRA calendar on dirt,” Sweeney opined. So you have horses like Lemon Pop, Ushba Tesoro, Derma Sotogake all going to Saudi. Whereas in a different era they would all run in the February S.”

The Japanese have been major players in the brief history of the Saudi Cup races, and their other main chances include defending champion Bathrat Leon (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}) in the G2 1351 Turf Sprint; Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) in the G3 Saudi Derby; and Remake (Jpn) (Lani), who will try to improve on his third-place effort in the G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint.

The American representatives also touched down in Riyadh late Wednesday evening, including the Saudi Cup-bound White Abarrio, National Treasure (Quality Road) and Saudi Crown (Always Dreaming).

 

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