Strength In Numbers For Japan In Saudi Cup

Jun Light Bolt is one of six Japanese entrants for this year's Saudi Cup | Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia

by Brian Sheerin in Riyadh, Heather Anderson & Alan Carasso

Wherever and whenever horses from Japan show up on the world stage, recent history dictates that they are to be taken very seriously.

As recently as 12 months ago at the Saudi Cup meeting, horses representing the island nation accounted for four of the evening's six big races, and a month later in yet another desert destination, they somehow managed to one-up themselves with a spectacular five-timer on Dubai World Cup night. The nation has yet–repeat, yet–to break through in either of the world's eight-figure races on the dirt, but they will have every chance to rewrite history just past 8:30 local time Saturday when a half-dozen accomplished Japanese runners take on seven others in the $20-million G1 Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

The most accomplished of the group at Saturday's nine-furlong distance on the dirt is Jun Light Bolt (Jpn) (King Kamehameha {Jpn}), who earned an automatic berth in the Cup via his last-gasp defeat of 2022 G2 UAE Derby hero Crown Pride (Jpn) (Reach the Crown {Jpn}) in the G1 Champions Cup at Chukyo last December (see below). Purchased for better than $1 million as a yearling at the JRHA Select Sale, the bay won four of 21 starts on the grass, but has been reborn with the surface switch; the Champions Cup was his third win from four runs on the main track. He'll carry saddle towel six from barrier number six.

“Several front-runners drew inside so there is going to be plenty of early speed,” said trainer Yasuo Tomomichi. “I believe he can settle anywhere the jockey wants to be.”


WATCH: Jun Light Bolt up late in the Champions Cup


Panthalassa (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) is expected to be part of the early pace, as he drew the inside stall Wednesday. Having dead-heated for the victory in last year's G1 Dubai Turf, he ran a couple of blinders in defeat in the G2 Sapporo Kinen and particularly in the G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn), where he dared them to catch him after opening a monstrous lead and was only run down in the final yards. He makes a second start on dirt for the charismatic Yoshito Yahagi, who was matter of fact as relates to the draw.

“I never think about the numbers but number one should be a good number,” he said. “There's only one instruction–gotta go!”

Cafe Pharoah (American Pharoah) is the most prolific Japanese Group 1 dirt horse and passed up an opportunity for a third straight February S. in favour of Saudi riches. He'll have to negotiate a trip from gate 13 with Joao Moreira up.

“Cafe Pharoah has won the [February S.], and if you're able to win that race, you have to have a lot of ability,” the 'Magic Man' said. “I'd be very surprised if he runs a poor race. He's solid, strong, big, and apparently he knows what his job is. I'll be very surprised if he's not finishing in the top four.”

Though it would be no shock to see them run well, G1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) hero Geoglyph (Jpn), a son of American dirt sprint champion Drefong, and the well-traveled Vin de Garde (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), right there in last year's Dubai Turf, would be nevertheless be considered upset winners, all things considered.

Don't Sleep On The Locals…

Emblem Road (Quality Road) gave the home team its first win with a stunning victory over Country Grammer (Tonalist) in the big race last year and is back to defend his title. Fifth as the surprising favourite in the G3 Grand Prix de Vichy–a lone start on the turf–last July, the 5-year-old resumed with a smooth four-length conditions success in strong time Jan. 13 (video, SC 4).

“I'm so happy with the number eight, he's a late horse from the gate, so I can be outside easily,” said jockey Alexis Moreno. “He's doing very well, he's run well and I hope he can do it again.”

The commonly owned Scotland Yard (Quality Road), a graduate of the Fasig-Tipton Horses of Racing Age Sale, has earned his way into the Saudi Cup with three wins on the trot, including a 10 1/4-length romp over Electability (Quality Road)–winner of a $500,000 handicap Friday–in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup Jan. 28 (video, SC 16).

Saudi Arabia is also represented by the two females in the race, former Polish champion Lagertha Rhyme (Ire) (Gutaifan {Ire}) and Sunset Flash (Ire) (Mayson {GB}).

Remorse (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) ships over from Dubai for Bhupat Seemar, having run a distant third to the G1 Dubai World Cup-bound Algiers (Ire) (Shamardal) in the G2 Al Maktoum Challenge R2 at Meydan three weeks ago. —Alan Carasso

Will Waters Part For Subjectivist In Red Sea Turf?

A baker's dozen line up in the G3 Longines Red Sea Turf H. over 3000 metres on grass, and the $2.5-million dollar question is if multiple Group 1 winner Subjectivist (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}) has returned to his formidable best after overcoming a tendon injury and 600-plus days away from the races.

Trainer Charlie Johnston was still an assistant to his father, Mark, when the bay stormed to victories in the G1 Prix Royal-Oak in October of 2020, the G2 Dubai Gold Cup in March of 2021 and the G1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot later that June. It is a big ask for the 6-year-old, but Johnston is happy with his star's progress.

“It is a feeling of the unknown,” said Johnston. “We wouldn't be here if we didn't feel we would be competitive. Can I have the same confidence I had two years ago? No. This horse is coming back from a serious tendon injury, a tendon injury that in a lot of cases is career-ending. It is not like a bone injury that you know would have repaired to 100%.

“Stall 13 wouldn't have been my first choice of where to jump from, but it is what we've got and we just have to make the best of the situation.

“The horse seems in good fettle with himself and it's all systems go. I think he is showing the signs of a horse who has spent 20 months away from the track and he was always quite a difficult horse to lead up, particularly on a raceday going back a couple of years, so it doesn't concern me to see him full of himself.”




John and Thady Gosden won the second running of the Saudi Cup with Mishriff (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}), and are back in Riyadh with Trawlerman (Ire) (Golden Horn {GB}) for this marathon affair. The 2022 Ebor H. winner carries the Godolphin blue, and was third after briefly leading in the G2 British Champions Long Distance Cup in October.

“He's an Ebor winner who was able to make the step-up to group class when he was third in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day at Ascot, so you would like to think he will continue to develop into a good stayer,” the younger Gosden said. “But this is a very good race, not least with the return of Subjectivist, and he faces very tough competition in a very competitive handicap.”

Japan's Silver Sonic (Jpn) (Orfevre {Jpn}) will be cutting back in trip on Saturday, after running out an 3/4-length winner of the 3600-metre G2 Sports Nippon Sho Stayers S. first off a seven-month hiatus on Dec. 3. The Shadai colourbearer is slotted into post one, near Darius Racing and Michael Motschmann's 2021 G1 Deutsches Derby victor Sisfahan (Fr) (Isfahan {Ger}), who leaves from stall three for trainer Henk Grewe. In between them is the outstandingly well-bred Enemy (GB) (Muhaarar {GB}), third in the G3 Sagaro S. for owners Tracey Bell and Caroline Lyons, from the yard of Ian Williams. If the last-named were to triumph, he would be the fourth group winner for his stakes-winning dam Prudenzia (Ire) (Dansili {GB}). –Heather Anderson

Missed The Cut A Warm Order For Neom Turf Cup

Can George Boughey and Oisin Murphy get off to the best possible start together with Missed The Cut (Quality Road) in the G3 Neom Turf Cup?

Murphy has committed to riding Boughey's Royal Ascot winner this season and they will be bidding to get off to the best possible start in the $1.5-million contest.

Missed The Cut is a short-priced favourite to get his campaign off with a bang and Boughey says that he is happy from what he is seeing from the 4-year-old in the build-up to the race.

“We're happy with him,” Boughey said. “He beat the Dubai World Cup favourite [Algiers {Ire} (Shamardal)] on the all-weather at Lingfield back in November and he comes here in super shape so we are looking forward to it.

“The Algiers form is obviously good form. Algiers has taken his form to a different level on the dirt in Meydan and this is a whole different kettle of fish for Missed The Cut. It is a tight 10 and a bit furlongs [2100m] around the turf here. He has got plenty of pace and I'm hoping he should go well.”

Missed The Cut could face stiffest opposition from fellow British raiders Sir Busker (Ire) (Sir Prancealot {Ire}), trained by William Knight, and John and Thady Gosden's Mostahdaf (Ire) (Frankel {GB}).

John Gosden said, “Mostahdaf is training well having had a nice break after the Arc when he didn't handle the very heavy conditions.

“He looks great and seems to be enjoying the warmer climate. He is a lightly raced colt, still with plenty of potential and he has Group-winning form between 10 and 12 furlongs [2000m to 2400m].”

The trainer added, “We don't have any campaign mapped out for him yet, we would like to take it step-by-step, but I'd be hopeful of a good showing tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Sir Busker comes into the Neom Cup off the back of a blowout under Ryan Moore on the all-weather, and the leading jockey remains loyal in Saturday's contest.

Knight said, “He's been in good order here and he arrives on the back of career-best form last year with a Group 2 win and a Group 1 place.

“He has come out of his prep a few weeks ago at Lingfield very well and Ryan Moore is back on him. We're hopeful of a big run.”

Bahrain-based veteran trainer Allan Smith will be hoping to grab the headlines with Byline (GB) (Muhaarar {GB}). Consistent throughout his career, the six-year-old comes into the contest after finishing third in the Listed Crown Prince Cup over 2000m on Feb. 3.

Speaking after morning track work on Friday, Smith said, “He breezed very well today. He galloped out good and was clean-winded. I'm very pleased with him.”

In 2021, Al Adiyat and Smith were a close second in the 1351 Turf Sprint on Saudi Cup day with Dark Power (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}). This year, they bring a similarly overlooked type into the meeting. Veteran jockey Gerald Mosse takes the reins from post three.

“He's taken everything in stride since he arrived and is a happy horse,” Smith continued. “There wasn't much to do with him since he got over here from Bahrain. He's had a nice busy season and ran just a couple weeks ago. He ran a good race, but was a bit unlucky with a high draw and being wide throughout the entire race. He's better than that.

“He ran 10 furlongs [2000m] last time and this race is a little farther than that, but Bahrain has a big, sweeping track and this is a tighter track, which makes me think the distance won't be a problem. He's doing very well and we're hopeful for a good run.” —Brian Sheerin




Lemaire Bids To Call The Tune Again On Songline

While Richard Hannon is doubly represented in the following G3 1351 Turf Sprint by Happy Romance (Ire) (Dandy Man {Ire}) and Lusail (Ire) (Mehmas {Ire}), the race appears to be dominated by Japanese-trained runners, including last year's winner Songline (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}).

Trained by Toru Hayashi, Songline will again be partnered by Christophe Lemaire, who rode four winners on this card 12 months ago.

Lemaire said of Songline's chances of a repeat win aboard the Japanese raider, “I think she is in better condition than last year. If I remember correctly last year, when I rode her in the morning, she was a little bit stiff. Today, I felt she was very smooth and her footwork was very good so I am more confident than last year.”

He added, “She will have to show that she is a Group 1 horse. She had some issues last autumn but this morning she looked brilliant. All the staff did their best to bring the mare at her best for Saturday. She can stay the mile so it means that, if the pace is strong, you will need stamina in the last furlong. She has got that stamina.”

Lauda Sion (Jpn) (Real Impact {Jpn}), winner of the G1 NHK Mile Cup in Japan, returns to the race he finished fourth in last year. He had a breeze on the dirt track under jockey Bauyrzhan Murzabayev on Friday and was reported by connections to be in good form.

Shigeki Todo, assistant to trainer Takashi Saito, said, “We prefer giving just a stretching-out breeze rather than fast gallop on the week of the race–it is our stable's routine. He looked under control this morning with the jockey which I always want to see.”

Hannon's Happy Romance was third to Songline in this race last year and, along with Lusail, makes up a strong challenge for the trainer.

Hector Tournier, representing Hannon, said, “Both horses have done the work they needed at home. They travelled well and are easy horses.” —Brian Sheerin

My Map Looks To Stay Unbeaten in Derby

Locally based My Map (Liam's Map) looks to run his unbeaten mark to five-from-five as he takes on an international group in the $1.5-million G3 Saudi Derby Cup Saturday evening.

Winner of a pair of starts over the summer season at Ta'if, he returned from a three-month freshening to take a local allowance over 1400 metres and made it four in a row in the Saudi Derby Qualifier Jan. 27, defeating Almulhem (More Than Ready) by 2 1/4 lengths, with Atta Alghali (Karakontie {Jpn}) a further half-length adrift in third. My Map drew 13 of 13.

Japan took the first two runnings of the Derby and will have a strong chance to add to that total here. Continuar (Jpn) (Drefong) makes his 3-year-old debut Saturday, having won two of his three trips to the post at home, including the Cattleya S. conditions race that serves as the first leg on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby at Tokyo Nov. 26. His lone defeat came in his second career start at the hooves of Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits), who would go on to annex the second leg of the Kentucky Derby series, the Dec. 14 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun. Third that day was Perriere (Jpn) (Henny Hughes), recent winner of the Listed Hyacinth S. to climb to the top of the Derby leaderboard. From Dusk (Bolt d'Oro), Group 2-placed on turf, and Ecoro Ares (Unified) look like fringe players from the barn of Hideyuki Mori, who saddled Full Flat (Speightstown) in 2020 and the late Pink Kamehameha (Jpn) (Leontes {Jpn}) the following year.

Bob Baffert won last year's renewal with Pinehurst (Twirling Candy) and is represented here by Havnameltdown (Uncaptured). Campaigned exclusively over six and seven furlongs to date, the Florida-bred won the GIII Bob Hope S. in November and tacked on a 1 1/2-length success in the GII San Vicente S. Jan. 29. He tries to see out the mile here with Frankie Dettori in the irons. —Alan Carasso


WATCH: My Map makes it four out of four in the Saudi Derby Qualifier


From 'Prince' To King In Dirt Sprint?

Like many of the Saudi Cup night races, there is a high class Japanese presence in one form or another, and in the $1.5-million G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint Presented By Sports Boulevard, three runners from the Land of the Rising Sun have signed on.

Chizu Yoshida's Dancing Prince (Jpn) (Pas de Trois {Jpn}) is back to defend his title in the 1200-metre dirt feature, and will leave from stall seven in the nine-horse race under Damian Lane.

More likely to wind up in the winner's circle than not, the Chizu Yoshida runner has only lost once since his victory here, and defeated the re-opposing Ryuno Yukina (Jpn) (Vermilion {Jpn}) going this trip at Morioka in the Listed JBC Sprint on Nov. 3.

However, there is also a strong American contingent headed by Juddmonte's Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Elite Power (Curlin), who has won his last five starts for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Frankie Dettori is booked for the entire, who splits the nine-horse field in gate five. A 1 1/4-length victor in the GI Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint in November, the 5-year-old is not the only Breeders' Cup participant, as GI Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile fourth and GI Hopeful S. scorer Gunite (Gun Runner) enters fresh off a victory in the Jan. 28 Listed King Cotton S. at Oaklawn Park. The Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred leaves from stall two with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons for trainer Steve Asmussen, who recently celebrated his 10,000th career victory.

Gunite has been training really well and as evidenced by his first performance as a 4-year-old, he's doing quite well,” said David Fiske, who manages owner/breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds' racing and bloodstock. “I get videos almost every day of him since arriving in Saudi Arabia and he seems to be doing great there. The race has been in the back of our minds as an early goal since the Breeders' Cup. His race in the King Cotton increased our confidence that he could be effective in a race that, on paper, might appear to be a little short for him, distance-wise.” –Heather Anderson

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