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The 2023 Saudi Cup meeting has attracted over 1,400 entries, of which 600 are from overseas, with horses from 22 countries seeking glory and a share of the $35.35 million prize money at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on February 24 and 25.
Five Group 3 races feature at the two-day meeting, alongside the world’s most valuable race, the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup (1800m), as well as the newly upgraded Group 1 Obaiya Arabian Classic and the Group 2 Al Mneefah Cup for Purebred Arabians (2100m).
Emblem Road (US), the locally-owned and trained winner of the 2022 Saudi Cup, is set to defend his title and a second victory would make the son of Quality Road (US) the highest earning thoroughbred in history with $20.2 million, ahead of Australian wondermare Winx who totalled $18.3 million by the end of her career.
Horses from Japan, US and UAE dominate the entries across the two days while there is strong representation once again from the UK, Ireland, Argentina, France and Germany.
A total of 47 Group 1 winners could be set to take part. Among the US entries are two strong Saudi-owned contenders for the world’s most valuable race. The 2022 Saudi Cup runner-up and 2022 Dubai World Cup winner, Country Grammer (US), and Taiba (US), a three-time Grade 1 winner.
The 2022 Kentucky Derby winner, Rich Strike (US) could also make the trip to King Abdulaziz Racecourse for a Saudi Cup showdown.
The UAE has the second-highest rated entry for The Saudi Cup in the shape of Charlie Appleby’s Rebel’s Romance (IRE), an impressive winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf when last seen.
Japan may have won four of the six international Thoroughbred races on Saudi Cup day last year, but the country’s bid for a first Saudi Cup could be led by the Yoshito Yahagi-trained Panthalassa (JPN) and Tetsuya Kimura’s Geoglyph (JPN), while Jun Light Bolt (JPN) holds an automatic entry after winning the Group 1 Champions Cup at Chukyo in December.
Group 1 winner Laws of Indeces (IRE) becomes the first Australian horse to enter The Saudi Cup, after being nominated by Sydney-based trainer Annabel Neasham.
There’s also a strong entry from Europe and South America, with potential runners including Group 1 winners Saffron Beach (IRE), Order Of Australia (IRE) and the Maria Muñoz-trained Niño Guapo (ARG).
Last year’s Obaiya Arabian Classic winner, Hadi De Carrere (FR), is set to return to defend his crown, while RB Rich Lyke Me (USA), who finished third 12 months ago, is another notable entry for the $2 million Purebred Arabian contest that has been promoted to Group 1 status.
The Group 3 Red Sea Turf Cup (3000m) is the most valuable race on the undercard, with a purse of $2.5 million, and could see the long-awaited return to action of 2021 Ascot Gold Cup winner Subjectivist (GB). Fellow UK-trained duo Quickthorn (GB) and Trawlerman (IRE) are other notable entries.
The $1.5 million Neom Turf Handicap (2100m) has attracted over 90 international entries, including Godolphin’s Real World (IRE), Japan Cup fourth Daring Tact (JPN) and Dubai Turf winner and Tenno Sho runner up, Panthalassa (JPN).
Japanese horses took last year’s Saudi Cup meeting by storm when winning four of the six Group races for thoroughbreds, and in the $1.5 million Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint, Songline (JPN) could again meet Casa Creed (US), the horse she got the better of by only a head 12 months ago. Happy Romance (IRE) and Pogo (IRE) are others that could return for the 1351m contest.
Japan have won the last two renewals of the $1.5 million Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint, with the 2023 nominated Dancing Prince (JPN) an impressive five-length winner last year.
Keisuke Miyata’s seven-year-old tops the list of entries for this year’s renewal, but could face stiff competition from the impressive Remake (JPN) who gained an automatic entry when winning last month’s Group 3 Capella Stakes.
Bill Mott’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, Elite Power (US) and Steven Asmussen’s Gunite (US) are other stand out entries.
The Saudi Derby, worth $1.5 million and run over 1600m, has been won by Japan and the US in its three runnings but this year Uruguay has a strong entry, with Es-Unico (BRZ) and Loreley (BRZ) near the top of the international ratings, which are headed by the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained Mawj (IRE).
Karl Burke’s Holloway Boy (GB), the first debutant to win at Royal Ascot since 1996, is another possible runner.
International Jockeys Challenge
Many of the world’s top international riders are set to light up Friday’s card, with 14 riders – seven female and seven male – from around the world, including Saudi Arabia, invited to ride in the International Jockeys Challenge.
Another feature on the first day of the meeting is the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap, a race designed for horses trained in countries that are not in Part I of the IFHA’s Blue Book, which has once again attracted a diverse entry.
Possible entries include horses from 11 countries: Czech Republic, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as a potential first Portuguese-trained runner in the form of Gaspar Vaz’s Media Storm (GB).
The Al Mneefah Cup, a Group 2 race for Purebred Arabians over 2100m, brings the first day to a close and the $1 million contest is set to be run as a Group 2 for the first time after being upgraded from Listed status last year.
Tom Ryan, Racing Advisor to the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, said: “Last year’s meeting could not have been more successful, with Emblem Road making history by becoming the first Saudi Arabian-trained winner of The Saudi Cup. There was also the remarkable success of Japanese horses, who took home four Group races, and the strength of the Japanese entry has continued to grow this year.
“These were results that resonated throughout the racing world and we are confident that many more memorable stories will be created again this year showcasing the highest level of horse racing.
“Once again, we’re delighted with the depth of the international entries, from 22 different countries across five continents, which goes to show the reputation and global standing The Saudi Cup meeting has quickly established after just three years.
“With The Obaiya Arabian Classic being promoted to Group 1 status and the Al Mneefah to Group 2 this year, we now have a Group 1 for Thoroughbreds and another for Purebred Arabians. This is a hugely proud moment for everyone at the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
“We look forward to welcoming horsemen and women, and horse racing fans from all over the world to Riyadh next month for what promises to be another unforgettable Saudi Cup meeting.”
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