The rich Saudi Cup (G1) program includes three turf stakes, all upgraded to international Group 3 status for Saturday. The 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) caters to the speed brigade, the 2,100-meter (about 1 5/16-mile) Neom Turf Cup (G3) suits the middle-distance types, and the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf H. (G3) is a prize for stayers at 3,000 meters (about 1 7/8 miles).
Neom Turf Cup (G3) – Race 1 (7:45 a.m. ET)
Coronation Cup (G1) hero Pyledriver, most recently runner-up to Glory Vase in the Hong Kong Vase (G1), takes on another Japanese representative in Authority. A two-time winner of Tokyo’s Copa Repubblica Argentina (G2), Authority exits a second to now-retired Contrail in the Japan Cup (G1). Both are therefore turning back in trip in this $1.5 million affair. Authority has the more advantageous draw in post 2, but Pyledriver will break from the far outside post 14.
Joining Pyledriver in the British contingent are multiple Group 3 scorer Solid Stone, in career form for Sir Michael Stoute when last seen five months ago; German veteran Grocer Jack, sold for a sales-topping 700,000 guineas at Tattersalls last October and now with William Haggas; and the Gosdens’ Harrovian, who got within a length of a ring-rusty Pyledriver at Lingfield in November. Godolphin’s Passion and Glory has been below form in his two starts at the Dubai Carnival, but the Saeed bin Suroor pupil had been progressive over the British summer.
Multiple French Group 2 vixen Ebaiyra has been knocking on the Group 1 door, with a third in the Hong Kong Vase in her latest. Compatriot Eudaimonia doesn’t have her resume, but she was third in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) two starts back on Arc Day.
The lone American hope, Channel Cat, wired last summer’s Man o’ War (G1) as an 8.20-1 shot. Just caught in the Red Smith (G3) two back, the Jack Sisterson charge didn’t get close to the front when ninth in the Jan. 29 Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1).
“Unfortunately, he was wide due to his post position (10),” Sisterson said, “and Joel (Rosario) had no other option. On paper, it doesn’t look pretty, but we diagnosed the form, pulled the numbers and after we felt it was time to give him another shot. I like to pull the Ragozin numbers and he was the second-fastest in the race behind (the winner) Colonel Liam. That’s when we decided to give him another try. He’s an old boy, but hasn’t lost a step.
“His best running is when he’s on the lead, so I’d expect him to make the running on Saturday. If he doesn’t, they’re going too quick.”
The Saudi-based entrants are German import Kaspar, who’d beaten Grocer Jack in last year’s Grosser Preis der Badischen Wirtschaft (G2); Flying Visit and Arctic Sound, Group 3 victors in Ireland and England, respectively, in their prior careers; La Casa Tarifa, whose better form is on the Saudi dirt; and Zuran Zuran, a Group 1 winner on the Argentine dirt.
1351 Turf Sprint (G3) – Race 2 (8:25 a.m. ET)
Jaipur (G1) hero Casa Creed represents Team USA in the $1.5 million turf dash whose name reveals its idiosyncratic distance – 1,351 meters (about 6 3/4 furlongs). Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) would have been too short at five furlongs, so trainer Bill Mott opted to try the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) again. Casa Creed was unplaced for the second straight year, but not disgraced when 3 1/2 lengths behind Space Blues at Del Mar. Although post 12 isn’t ideal, he figures to settle off the pace.
Mott assistant Neil Poznansky guided Casa Creed through a spin on the dirt Wednesday morning.
“He’s a turf horse, but he seemed to handle the dirt track well,” Poznansky said. “His work was very similar to that of (Saudi Cup [G1] contender) Art Collector, putting in a nice three-furlong move. I didn’t let him gallop out as long as I did with the other horse, I wanted to keep him short and sharp, get him on his toes.”
Space Blues justified odds-on favoritism in this race last February, and Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby is back with his possible successor in Naval Crown. The Dubawi colt kicked off his four-year-old campaign in style in the Jan. 29 Al Fahidi Fort (G2), setting a short-lived Meydan course record in 1:22.02 for about seven furlongs. But he’ll be covering more ground here from post 14.
Japan takes aim with three contenders. The filly Songline defeated older males in the Fuji (G2) prior to flopping in the Hanshin Cup (G2), but the only two poor efforts of her life have come at that right-handed track. Grade 1 mile veteran Lauda Sion was unplaced in both those races, while Entscheiden’s claims rest on his third to Space Blues in the Prix de la Foret (G1) on Arc Day.
Although Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon hasn’t won since the 2020 Vincent O’Brien National (G1), he was second in his recent Dundalk prep and could find these conditions congenial. British Group 2 winners Happy Power and Rohaan; the filly Happy Romance, who beat elders in last July’s Hackwood (G3); and Group bridesmaid Pogo round out the European interests.
The home team embraces Cold Front, Masaabeeh, Third Kingdom, and the ex-Ballydoyle Horoscope, who was a Group 2-placed listed winner at a mile in Ireland.
Red Sea Turf H. (G3) – Race 3 (9:05 a.m. ET)
Sonnyboyliston shoulders top weight of 137 pounds, an impost reflecting his victories in York’s coveted Ebor H. and the Irish St. Leger (G1) to conclude 2021. Also toward the upper end of the weight scale is 2020 Prix du Cadran (G1) heroine Princess Zoe, runner-up in last summer’s Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, who totes 134 pounds versus males. They also drew outside posts, with Sonnyboyliston in 12 and Princess Zoe in 13.
Next at 133 pounds comes multiple French Group 2 winner Skazino, likely to benefit from his comeback fifth at Cagnes-sur-Mer. The same point applies to Nayef Road, the 2020 Gold Cup runner-up, after a pleasing fourth in his Kempton tune-up.
Godolphin has three chances. Appleby’s Siskany left bin Suroor’s Dubai Future back in fourth in the Jan. 28 Al Khail Trophy at Meydan, but must deal with the fellow son of Dubawi on less favorable terms here. Bin Suroor also has last-out Al Rashidiya (G2) winner Desert Fire taking a substantial step up in trip.
Belmont Gold Cup (G2) star Baron Samedi, third in the Irish St. Leger at level weights, now receives a five-pound concession from Sonnyboyliston. The Joseph O’Brien charge is widest of all in post 14. Grand Prix de Deauville (G2) victor Glycon gets in with only 130 pounds for Jean-Claude Rouget.
Furthering the international interest are contenders from Japan and Argentina. Breeders’ Cup groundbreaker Yoshito Yahagi sends out Stay Foolish, fifth in the Hong Kong Vase in his latest, and former Argentine Horse of the Year Mirinaque was second in the Dec. 11 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (G1).
The Saudi hopes are Derevo, Louganini, and Fabilis (initially an also-eligible who drew in Wednesday after Step by Step bowed out). Derevo has plied his trade on the dirt, most recently placing second in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup.