Early Look at the 2023 Saudi Cup: Contenders & Predictions

The middle leg of the early-season big-money ‘Triple Crown’ – although don’t call it that! – is the Saudi Cup, the newest and most valuable of the series that begins with the Pegasus and ends with the Dubai World Cup. This year’s edition, staged in Riyadh at the end of the month, features the one-two from last year in Emblem Road and Country Grammer, while Breeders’ Cup Classic third Taiba is another heavyweight contender and the Japanese contingent is expected to be strong on quantity and quality. Here our Early look at the 2023 Saudi Cup

Saudi Cup

G1, $20,000,000, 1m 1f dirt, 4yo+, Riyadh, February 25

Money, money, money. That’s what the Saudi Cup is all about, the richest race in the world, $20 million on offer in Riyadh at the end of the month and a quality field of international stars out to grab their share of the loot.

Twelve months ago there was a huge shock as local 80-1 poke Emblem Road came late and fast to nail Country Grammer in the dying strides and win by a half-length, and the pair are booked for a rematch, although there’s no 80-1 available this time.

Emblem Road returns in good order, having made a successful start to 2023 when signing for a straightforward four-length score in a mile allowance at Riyadh last month. That was his first start since July, when he finished off the board in a French G3 on turf, and the perfect tune-up for a defence of his crown. That victory wasn’t a fluke, and he may yet be underestimated at current odds.

Last year’s Saudi Cup was Country Grammer’s first start for nine months, and he did supremely well in the circumstances. He went on to win the G1 Dubai World Cup at Meydan and maintained his consistency throughout the campaign, finishing second-best to Flightline in the G1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar and to barnmate Defunded in the G1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita before beating outclassed opposition in the G2 San Antonio back at the LA circuit.

He has reportedly been working well in preparation for this and will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, in the saddle for the Dubai World Cup and the San Antonio, but may not be the best of the US challenge given the presence of barnmate Taiba in the field.

Taiba was the second-best three-year-old in the country last year and won three G1s – the Santa Anita Derby, the Pennsylvania Derby and the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita, when he showed his speed over seven furlongs with a cantering defeat of inferior rivals.

He arguably showed his best form in defeat when third behind Flightline in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, beaten out of second spot by a half-length by Olympiad, and considering that ten-furlong route stretches his stamina to the limit he will be well suited by the cutback to a mile-eighth. ‘Big Money’ Mike Smith takes the ride and never was a jockey better named for this job.

It would be slightly disappointing were the progressive four-year-old Taiba unable to see off the seasoned six-year-old Country Grammer, given that he has had just seven races and should be open to further improvement as he matures from three to four.

Their fellow Americans Art Collector (G1 Pegasus World Cup) and Rich Strike (G1 Kentucky Derby) will not be joining them. Rich Strike is being aimed at the Dubai World Cup, as is the British-trained Algiers, who has romped in two G2s at Meydan this year and is reportedly very unlikely for the Saudi Cup. His compatriot Rebel’s Romance, winner of the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, is expected to stay on the weeds, although he is the only entrant from his powerful barn and does have winning form on a synthetic strip.

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Eastern threat led by Bolt

Last year’s Saudi Cup meeting was remarkable for the domination of Japanese-trained horses, who won four of the major stakes. There will be a strong presence from Japan in the Saudi Cup, which could be spearheaded by Jun Light Bolt, who rounded off his 2022 campaign with victory in the G1 Champions Cup at Chukyo, run over a mile-eighth on dirt.

The mile-eighth seems the ideal distance for Jun Light Bolt, who has thrived since switching from turf to dirt and prevailed after a stirring battle by a neck from Crown Pride, who a US audience will remember for being part of the lunatic early pace in last year’s Kentucky Derby. That was by some way the biggest victory of Jun Light Bolt’s career and this late-bloomer appears to be peaking at the age of six.

Crown Pride hasn’t won since taking the G2 UAE Derby last March, but showed with that narrow defeat that he might be returning to something near his best.

Geoglyph is another leading hope from Japan, although he is on a retrieval mission after missing the board in three G1s since his victory in the G1 Satsuki Sho over ten furlongs at Nakayama in April. He won at this distance as a two-year-old and has only run eight times, all on turf, so shouldn’t be written off yet as a change of surface could rekindle the spark.

Then there’s Cafe Pharoah, whose best form on dirt – success in the G1 February Stakes over a mile at Tokyo – would put him in contention, although he is an in-and-out performer who relishes a sloppy surface, conditions that are unlikely in Riyadh.

The last of the likely Japanese contenders is Panthalassa, who has only run once on dirt during a long career and ran poorly. He won the G1 Dubai Turf at Meydan last year but is zero-for-four since then and the surface switch makes him hard to like.

Saudi Cup Odds & Betting Prediction

Horse TrainerOdds by JazzSports
TaibaBob Baffert+250
Country GrammerBob Baffert+350
AlgiersSimon & Ed Crisford+800
Art CollectorBill Mott+1000
Jun Light BoltYasuo Tomomichi+1000
Emblem RoadMitab Almulawah+1200
Cafe PharoahNoriyuko Hori+1400
Crown PrideKoichi Shintani+1500
Rebel’s RomanceCharlie Appleby+1500
GeoglyphTetsuya Kimura+1500
PanthalassaYoshito Yahagi+1600
Others+2000 – plus

Last year’s one-two should be on the scene again, while Jun Light Bolt is a potent threat from Japan, but this looks the ideal spot for triple G1 winner TAIBA to embark on what could be a very successful campaign at home and abroad.

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