2024 News

February 26, 2024


Saudi Cup day - Team of 21 scores two from six in Saudi Arabia
Forever Young wins Saudi Derby

Remake wins Riyadh Dirt Sprint

Saudi Cup eludes, but Saudi Derby, Riyadh Dirt Sprint fall under Japanese onslaught

Buoyed by last year’s victory in the $20-million Grade 1 Saudi Cup, Japan’s horsemen returned to Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse with their biggest team yet, a total of 22 horses. After the withdrawal of Saudi Cup hopeful Meisho Hario earlier in the week, Sunday, Feb. 24 saw at least three runners compete in each of the six graded events of the 2024 Saudi Cup Day events open to Thoroughbreds. Twenty-one horses went to the gates and, though the day’s headliner, the fifth running of the Saudi Cup, slipped from their grasp, Japanese horsemen went home with two victories, three seconds and a total of nine finishers on the board.

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The day got under way swimmingly with the first two races falling to the Japanese. Of a trio of entrants in Saturday’s fourth race, the Grade 3 Saudi Derby, it was the unbeaten Forever Young who scored the day’s first win for Japan and the country’s third win of the race. The Real Steel colt, out of the Congrats mare Forever Darling bagged the 1,600-meter dirt event for 3-year-olds after a slow start, but a strong finish, that saw him enter the straight with two American runners 3 lengths out in front. He prevailed over the Bucchero gelding Book’em Danno in the final stride to win by a head. Forever Young’s time of 1:36.17 smashed the track record for the mile.

A Northern Racing-bred colt based at the Ritto stable of Yoshito Yahagi, Forever Young made it a perfect four for four in his yet young career. He had leapt from his debut victory in a JRA event at Kyoto to wins in NAR (Racing by Local Governments) principal races at Mombetsu and Kawasaki. The step up to the international stage and the race’s $1.5 million-purse was a huge one and his victory elicited high praise from rider Ryusei Sakai.“I took on this race with confidence. The eventual runnerup was a lot stronger than I’d expected, but this horse really gave it his all. I believed he would make it home a winner and he did.”

Sakai, who has ridden all four of the colt’s races, continued with his praise and voiced his big dreams for the colt. “He had a lot of experience back in Japan so he could be competitive overseas and he was able to use that experience here. I think he’ll go on to win big races in a number of other countries. I’ll do my best to grow and develop along with him.”

Trainer Yahagi, who has his sights set on the Kentucky Derby, said, “He’s not great out of the gate, so I had anticipated he may be slow away, but I was worried that he was quite a ways back.

“I’m hoping that he’ll be able to do well in the UAE Derby next month and be able to go on to Kentucky.”

Japan’s two other runners crossed the line with only one other horse behind them. Satono Phoenix, piloted by Joao Moreira, finished 10th of the 12-strong field. “He didn’t travel well for me. He was never on the bit and it made it so hard for himself.” Moreira conceded that the Henny Hughes colt “probably didn’t appreciate the kickback in his face.” Moreira was riding the two-win Satono Phoenix (yet to win over the mile) for the first time. “I know he has handled it before but he couldn’t handle it here. It was very disappointing.”

Set Up, a Declaration of War colt who has won at the G3 level, was taking on his first dirt test and only able to manage 11th place. “I was able to get a forward position as planned,” said jockey Takeshi Yokoyama, “but he was tired out in the final 500 meters. I had thought the dirt would suit him, but I may have been wrong. He was in good condition.”

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Japan continued to roll with a victory next up in the $1.5-million Riyadh Dirt Sprint, its third win of the race in five bids. A Grade 3 event over 1,200 meters open to 3-year-olds and up, the race once again saw the appearance of Remake, who had bested Japan’s four entrants last year with a third-place finish and gone on to win the Grade 3 Korea Sprint at Seoul in September. This year, the Lani 5-year-old found the competition in Riyadh more to his liking and was able to run down America’s Skelly, who had been dueling with Jasper Krone, another of Japan’s three entrants in the race and racing on dirt for the first time. Yuga Kawada was able to move Remake to the outside for a clear run and top the field of 11 by a length and a half. His time over the 6 furlongs was 1:10.42.

Owner Koji Maeda swooned over the victory. "I have won the Japanese Derby three times, but this means even more. When he came into the final bend he was travelling so well, I was pretty certain he was going to win.

"Physically, he has improved since last year. The trainer and his staff put it all together and brought the horse here for a brilliant result, which makes it so very special,” Maeda said. “I had no background in racing, but now have 30 G1 wins as an owner and breeder and it means a lot. I’m going to bring the trophy back to the hotel tonight and sleep with it!"

Training Remake was the Ritto-based Koichi Shintani. “He gave a great performance, I was pretty sure he was going to make it home in first, but he had been beaten last year. That had been very disappointing, so I’d discussed it with my staff how we could better his performance. His strength is that he can race from any position."

Yuga Kawada said, "I expected a fast pace in the early stages and that’s how it panned out, so I was able to remain nice and calm while waiting for the straight. Last year, Remake took on this race and riding him was Yuichi Fukunaga, for whom I have the utmost respect. It was his last race before retiring and it was a frustrating finish for him. For me to have taken the reins this year and won for a sole owner means a lot to me and I am extremely grateful.”

Japan’s two other runners, the 5-year-old Jasper Krone (under Taisei Danno) and the 7-year-old Keiai Dorie (with Christophe Lemaire up), both made the board and crossed the line in fourth and sixth place, respectively.

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The day’s next two races were the start of what would be a three-race roll of second-place frustration for Japan. The day’s No. 6 race was the 1351 Turf Sprint, a Grade 2 event over the distance of its name and a race Japan has won twice in three bids. Two of Japan’s four runners succeeded in making the board, with the 6-year-old Mikki Isle mare La La Christine having to settle for second place under Cristian Demuro, 3/4 length behind Irish-bred winner Annaf.

“She put in a good race,” said Shoma Shimozawa, an assistant to trainer Takashi Saito, “She’d been worked up in the temporary stall but had calmed down in the preparade ring, She gave it a good run with a good finish, so it was frustrating. This was her last race and she was the first horse under my care since I started at the training center. She won a graded stakes race and has run in Grade 1s and in the end she raced abroad. She didn’t win but I’m full of gratitude to her and to so many people.”

The 7-year-old Win Greatest finished fourth under Masami Matsuoka. “I thought I could take the lead but the two horses on our outside were too fast. This horse got the position he needed, but the others were just too strong.”

Trainer Yoshihiro Hatakeyama agreed the competition was a rank above, at least on the day. “The jockey was already asking for more as they rounded into the stretch. I don’t know if it was the horse’s condition or just a lack of power, but he was overtaken. We won’t go to Dubai but will return directly to Japan.”

Christophe Lemaire piloted Aguri to a sixth-place finish. “He was even-keeled and level-headed under way, and I was able to easily bring him far out in the straight,” the Frenchman said. “He responded a bit, but then quickly stopped. It’s unfortunate because I had thought he would give us some better results.”

Last year’s winner Bathrat Leon was only able to manage a 10th-place finish this year under Ryusei Sakai. He seemed to be feeling good,” Sakai commented, “but the others around him were very quick away and he wasn’t able to get a good position. If he doesn’t get a forward position, he’s the kind of horse that won’t be able to run his best race. So, the start was everything.”

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The seventh race of the day was the $2-million Neom Turf Cup, a Grade 2 turf event over 2,100 meters. Won in 2022 by Authority and uncontested the following year, three horses from Japan competed alongside 10 others this year and it was the 5-year-old Killer Ability who bested the trio with a second-place finish 1 length behind the Richard Fahey-trained winner Spirit Dancer. Piloting Killer Ability was Cristian Demuro, who said, “He didn’t win but he ran the perfect race. He was on the rail and he quickened. He just found one other horse too good."

Trainer Takashi Saito said, “The jockey praised the horse saying he was really cooperative and easy to ride. He did get a little excited at the first turn but was well in hand in the stretch and the rider thought if he could just get ahead of Luxembourg (eventual fourth-place finisher) he just might do it, but….it wasn’t enough. I had hoped we could win, so it’s quite frustrating.”

The 6-year-old Studley, eighth in last year’s Japan Cup, finished in ninth place. "He ran a good race. I was too far behind,” said jockey William Buick. “But he did stay on."

Joao Moreira crossed the line in 11th place aboard last year’s Japanese Derby third-place finisher Hearts Concerto. “He started OK but found himself a bit wide and I had to take him back to get some cover,” said Moreira. “I started to pick it up early, but it’s only in the last 100 meters that he builds, which wasn’t enough to be competitive here."

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Aidan O’Brien’s Tower of London claimed the eighth race of the day -- the Red Sea Turf Handicap, a $2.5-million G3 over 3,000 meters and the last event before the Saudi Cup. Of four runners fielded by Japan, the two-time G3 winner Echt, a 7-year-old whose best distance tends to be 2,000 meters, turned in the best results. He also topped his finishing order of last year (seventh) by making fifth place this year amid 14 runners, with Japan’s other three -- Breakup, Libyan Glass and Iron Barows – crossing the line in ninth, 10th and 12th place, respectively.

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Last year, from being an open-class winner on the JRA circuit, to double top-class wins in NAR competition, Ushba Tesoro shocked the world when he sprang to the dizzying heights -- a win of the Dubai World Cup. This year, taking on his first Saudi Cup, it was no longer a shock but a disappointment to see him miss the first-place prize of $10 million in Saturday’s big event, the Saudi Cup.

Hoping for back-to-back victories in the race following Japan’s first win of the race, by Panthalassa last year, Japanese fans moaned in unison after the decision on the photo finish Saturday was finally announced – Senor Buscador by a head. The stands at King Abdulaziz, on the other hand, erupted in cheers, in part because Senor Buscador had, just in time for this race, become part of deal with joint-owner Joe Peacock Jr. and local owner Sharaf Mohammed Al Hairi.

The American racer had rallied from way off the front, as the early pace collapsed. Yuga Kawada, who had anticipated the scene, had bided his time but made his run before Senor Buscador and, with only 50 meters left in the race, it looked likely that Japan was poised for two huge victories in a row. But, grit and determination by both Senor Buscador and rider Junior Alvarado saw the duo at the line just in time.

Yuga Kawada had nothing but praise for all involved with Ushba Tesoro. “The trainer and staff brought the horse along in fantastic shape right up to the race and he was able to give it his best. He really, really raced well. The only thing he didn’t do was win, but it was truly a stupendous run,” gushed the usually ultra-cool Kawada.

Trainer Noboru Takagi said, “ ‘Frustrating’ is it in one word! I thought the rider had moved him out at exactly the right moment. The horse had been as he usually is before the race and while racing he was able to keep up better than I thought he would. He was obviously in very good shape. I think 2,000 meters will be easier so this should tie in well to Dubai.”

Japan’s other three hopefuls, Derma Sotogake, Crown Pride and Lemon Pop, finished in fifth, ninth and 12th place, respectively.

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Eon on top, as women dominate Int’l Jockeys Challenge; Japan’s Sakai notches one win to finish sixth

Kicking off the 2-day Saudi Cup gala on Friday, Feb. 23 was the International Jockeys Challenge. A total of 14 top-level jockeys (seven men and seven women) from around the world participated in the series of four races, two turf and two dirt ranging from 1,200 meters to 2,100 meters.

Jockeys competed for prize money from each race, each boasting a $400,000 purse, and the top five finishers in each event received points that would decide their share of the overall challenge purse of $100,000.

Big names dotted the lineup – Damien Oliver, Ryan Moore, Maxime Guyon, Luis Saez – with eight countries in addition to the host country fielding riders — Australia, New Zealand, the United States, England, Brazil, South Africa, France, and Japan, represented by Ryusei Sakai.

But it was the lesser-known names of the female riders that figured largest in the end. The overall win (worth $30,000) went to French jockey Maryline Eon, with a top score of 25 points from a second in the first leg and a win of the second leg.

Colombian Camillo Ospina bagged the first race for and early lift to his final score 17 points, landing him second place and $20,000. Brazilian Victoria Mota, also with 17 points but no wins, was awarded $10,000 for third place. Last year’s champion Luis Saez scored the third race and finished in fourth place for a $5,000 prize. Rachel Venniker, South Africa’s only female jockey finished fifth, bringing her the $3,500 awarded all remaining riders.

Japan’s Sakai started off with a 12th-place finish in the first race, but scored a second next out aboard the 3-year-old filly Mostakmelah. “I knew in the pre-race warmup that I had a chance,” he said. But a fifth in the third race, and a seventh in the fourth and final leg translated to only a meager 12 points and an overall sixth place for the 26-year-old Sakai, who belongs to the Yoshito Yahagi stable.

“I am very grateful to those people who gave me this fabulous opportunity.” Sakai said. “It’s too bad I couldn’t win the second race, but the winner was strong. They are all Thoroughbreds, but just like the people, the horses felt like foreigners, and it was hard to communicate at times.”

Looking ahead to Saturday and the four races he’d be riding in, Sakai, said, “It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t win the jockey challenge, but it’s great to have been able to ride on the day before the Saudi Cup. I know it’ll be late back in Japan, but I’d like to take all the support from the fans and use it to win tomorrow where I couldn’t win today. So, please send me your support!”


SAUDI CUP (G1, 1,800m Dirt, US$ 20 million, 20:40)
Ushba Tesoro 2nd
Derma Sotogake 5th
Crown Pride  9th
Lemon Pop 12th
Note: Meisho Hario has been scratched from the race.

RED SEA TURF HANDICAP (G3, 3,000m Turf, US$ 2.5 million, 19:50)
Echt 5th
Breakup 9th
Libyan Glass 10th
- Iron Barows 12th

NEOM TURF CUP (G2, 2,100m Turf, US$ 2 million, 19:10)
Killer Ability 2nd
Studley 9th
Hearts Concerto 11th

1351 TURF SPRINT (G2, 1,351m Turf, US$ 2 million, 18:25)
La La Christine 2nd
Win Greatest 4th
Aguri 6th
Bathrat Leon 10th

RIYADH DIRT SPRINT (G3, 1,200m Dirt, US$ 1.5 million, 17:40)
Remake 1st
Jasper Krone 4th
Keiai Dorie 6th

SAUDI DERBY (G3, 1,600m Dirt, US$ 1.5 million, 17:00)
Forever Young 1st
Satono Phoenix 10th
Set Up 11th

Click here for the results

Please visit the following websites for more information.

Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Cup