2023 Saudi Cup Odds, Betting Pick & Preview

The biggest paycheck in racing awaits the winner of Saturday’s 2023 Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh, with a cool $10m the prize for the first horse across the line. A strong US challenge features barnmates Taiba and last year’s runner-up Country Grammer, while last year’s winner Emblem Road represents the host nation and there’s a powerful six-strong entry from Japan, headed by Champions Cup one-two Jun Light Bolt and Crown Pride.

Saudi Cup

G1, $20,000,000, 1m 1f dirt, 4yo+, 12.35pm ET

The Saudi Cup is out there on its own. Almost seven times as valuable as the Kentucky Derby and with more than three times the purse of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the big race in Riyadh on Saturday has changed the landscape and has drawn a fascinating international field, with leading contenders from the US, Japan, and Dubai as well as sturdy home defense.

Saturday’s contest features a rematch between last year’s one-two, the local champ Emblem Road and US raider Country Grammer, who were separated by just a half-length after 80-1 boilover Emblem Road finished off his race strongly, running down Country Grammer in the last 50 yards to spring a huge upset.

The winner’s odds betrayed a dismissive attitude to the local talent, whose previous experience on the very different dirt surface at King Abdulaziz racecourse shouldn’t be ignored. Emblem Road defends his crown off the back of a four-length win in a mile allowance here last month, a nothing race but one that should set him up perfectly for this test.

Country Grammer is six now and may not have scope for further improvement, but he held his form supremely well throughout last year. He went on from Riyadh to win the G1 Dubai World Cup – with Remorse a staying-on sixth, beaten four and three-quarter lengths – and was later runner-up in the G1 Pacific Classic (to Flightline) at Del Mar and the G1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita, before returning to the winner’s circle at the same track after devouring soft opposition in the G2 San Antonio.

He hasn’t been out of the first two since the 2020 Travers and looks certain to turn in another high-class performance, given his proven record overseas, but Country Grammer faces his greatest threat from his barnmate Taiba, last year’s second-best US three-year-old colt who should have more in the tank with just seven races on his record.

Three of those races were G1 wins, in the Santa Anita Derby, Pennsylvania Derby, and Malibu Stakes, but his best performance came in defeat when third behind Flightline in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, a half-length short of runner-up spot. That was a career-best made more impactful by the knowledge that Taiba barely gets home over ten furlongs, and he will be well suited by the mile-eighth here.

Given his G1-winning form over seven furlongs, Taiba should have the tactical speed to cope with what is expected to be a fast-run race and is likely to have strengthened up as he matures from three to four.

Emblem Road’s barnmate Scotland Yard also merits respect given that he is three-for-three here since New Year’s Eve, winning twice at a mile before taking down the recognized Saudi Cup prep – the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup over ten furlongs – with a barnstorming ten-length score in a fast time. The value of the form is impossible to quantify, but Scotland Yard is evidently in good order.

The local mares and barnmates Sunset Flash and Lagertha Rhyme, who filled the exacta in the Gulf Cup here over a mile last month, look some way below the required level but their track experience may move them up.

Saudi Cup Betting Odds

2023 Saudi Cup – Is Jun the one for Japan?

Twelve months ago Japanese-trained horses took the Saudi Cup meeting by storm, winning four of the major stakes on the day. Japan is mob-handed again in the Saudi Cup, furnishing almost 50 percent of the field and four of the first six in the betting market.

Their leading hope is Jun Light Bolt, who has improved markedly for the switch from turf to dirt, winning his last three races culminating in the G1 Champions Cup at Chukyo over a mile-eighth, when he came from nowhere with a sizzling late surge to run down Crown Pride and win by a neck. That was a career-best and Jun Light Bolt should continue to progress, and the likely fast pace will give him plenty to run at.

Crown Pride, 13th in last year’s Kentucky Derby after chasing a suicidal early pace, was running his best race since winning the G2 UAE Derby at Meydan in impressive fashion last March and could be returning to that fine form. He was comfortably second-best at Chukyo and should be a threat here.

This is something new for Panthalassa, whose six victories – including a dead heat in last year’s G1 Dubai Turf over a mile-eighth at Meydan – have all come on the lawn. On his sole start on dirt, he ran poorly, so there’s reason to believe that the surface switch won’t be ideal, but he certainly has the class to figure out if coping with the track. Vin De Garde was third in the Dubai Turf, beaten a nose in a hectic finish, but has only run once since then and is making his debut on dirt, two considerable question marks hanging over him.

Another getting off the weeds for the first time is Geoglyph, who has struggled at the top level since winning the G1 Satsuki Sho over ten furlongs at Nakayama in April. With only eight starts to his name, he is entitled to improve, and if the surface switch is what he wants then he could be in the mix.
The final Japanese contender is Cafe Pharoah, an inconsistent sort who has shown his best at a mile, although he does have G1-winning form on dirt.

2023 Saudi Cup Betting Prediction

The best of the Japanese could be the revitalized Crown Pride, but US no.1 TAIBA has a class edge and tactical speed and should be capable of further improvement.

TaibaMike Smith+200Bob Baffert
Country GrammerFrankie Dettori+400Bob Baffert
Jun Light Bolt (JPN)Ryan Moore+800Yasuo Tomomichi
Crown Pride (JPN)Damian Lane+1000Koichi Shintani
Cafe PharoahJoão Moreira+1200Noriyuko Hori
Emblem RoadAlexis Moreno+1200Mitab Almulawah
Panthalassa (JPN)Yutaka Yoshida+1200Yoshito Yahagi
Geoglyph (JPN)Christophe Lemaire+1500Tetsuya Kimura
Scotland RoadVictor Gutierrez+2000Mitab Almulawah
Remorse (IRE)Tadhg O’Shea+2500Bhupat Seemar
Vin De Garde (JPN)Mickael Barzalona+4000Hideaki Fujiwara
Lagertha Rhyme (IRE)Ricardo FerreiraTBDNaif Almandeel
Sunset Flash (IRE)Aseel AlsarhaniTBDNaif Almandeel

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