Saudi Cup 2023: Panthalassa pounces on huge prize

Japan continued its exceptional recent record in top-class international races when 16-1 chance Panthalassa sprang a surprise in the G1 Saudi Cup 2023 in Riyadh on Saturday, leading all the way and turning back the late rally of US raider Country Grammer to win for the first time on dirt and land the $10m first prize, the biggest payday in the racing world.

Saudi Cup, G1, $20,000,000, 1m 1f dirt, 4yo+

Panthalassa pounces on huge prize: If you are going to choose a time to win your first race on dirt, then you couldn’t pick a better time than the $20m Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh, the richest race in the world. On another big international day for Japan, the 16-1 shot Panthalassa went gate-to-wire to deny the evergreen US challenger Country Grammer, who finished runner-up in the dollarfest for the second year running and was followed in by three more Japanese horses.

Panthalassa is a known class act – he dead-heated for the G1 Dubai Turf at Meydan last March – but all his six victories had come on turf and he had only run once, and run poorly, on dirt. Yet here he looked as though he’d been running on it all his life, breaking on top under Yutaka Yoshida and making the best of his way home.

Yoshida kept a little up his sleeve for the final furlong and it was enough to withstand the late rally of Country Grammer, who lost position at a crucial stage off the home turn and was left with too much ground to make up.

Saudi Cup Race Video

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The six-year-old Panthalassa got home by three-quarters of a length, with another half-length back to Cafe Pharoah in third, with longshot Geoglyph – who chased the pace throughout – fourth and Crown Pride fifth. Last year’s winner Emblem Road was sixth and the favoured Taiba, barnmate of Country Grammer, was close up until emptying out at the top of the lane and trailed in eighth.

This was another major international triumph for trainer Yoshito Yahagi, resplendent as usual in a cerise trilby, who won two races at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar through Loves Only You and Marche Lorraine. Earlier in the day Yahagi had sent out Bathrat Leon to land the G3 1351 Turf Sprint from US raider Casa Creed.

“This is unbelievable, there are no words to describe it,” said an emotional Yahagi. “This is the highest point of my career.”

The defeat of Country Grammer continued a frustrating afternoon for trainer Bob Baffert, whose Havnameltdown was beaten a head in the G3 Saudi Derby by local longshot Commissioner King.

“I was outpaced all the way but he’s got so much heart and stayed on well,” said jockey Frankie Dettori of his willing partner, who has now bankrolled more than $14m in a remarkable career. “A mile and a quarter is his game.”

Panthalassa and Country Grammer may well renew rivalry in the $12m G1 Dubai World Cup at Meydan next month, a race the US horse won last year.

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