Japanese Horses Shine in Saudi Cup Races

The Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race, and its undercard races saw impressive performances from Japanese thoroughbreds on Saturday, February 24, at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The highlight of the day was the $20 million USD (¥3 billion JPY) Saudi Cup, a 1,800-meter Grade 1 competition on dirt, featuring 14 of the world’s best flat racers. Among them were five Japanese horses, led by Ushba Tesoro, the winner of the 2023 Dubai World Cup.

Ushba Tesoro, ridden by Yuga Kawada and trained by Hideyuki Mori, ran a gallant race, chasing the pace-setters from the middle of the pack. He unleashed a powerful burst of speed in the final stretch, but fell just short of catching the winner, Senor Buscador, by a head. The Venezuelan jockey Junior Alvarado steered the American horse to a thrilling victory, coming from the back of the field with a sweeping move on the outside.

Senor Buscador completed the race in 1 minute, 49.494 seconds, earning a $10 million USD prize for his owner. Ushba Tesoro settled for second place, but still collected a hefty $3.5 million USD. Saudi Crown, another American contender, finished third, followed by National Treasure and Derma Sotogake, both from Japan.

Kawada praised Ushba Tesoro’s effort after the race, saying, “He was in good form and traveled nicely. He showed his run. The only thing he didn’t do is win.”

Forever Young and Remake Claim G3 Titles

Earlier in the day, Japanese horses notched back-to-back victories in two Group 3 races, the Saudi Derby and the Riyadh Dirt Sprint.

In the Saudi Derby, a 1,600-meter race on dirt for 3-year-olds, Forever Young, ridden by Ryusei Sakai and trained by Yoshito Yahagi, edged out the American challenger Book ‘Em Danno by a head, winning in 1:36.170. Forever Young, a son of Deep Impact, remained unbeaten in four starts, and became the third Japanese winner of the Saudi Derby in five editions.

Sakai expressed his confidence in Forever Young, saying, “I was very confident coming into the race. But it was a tougher race because the runner-up was tough and running really well. I was worried but we finished very strongly. He hasn’t fully matured but he is improving now.”

In the Riyadh Dirt Sprint, a 1,200-meter dash on dirt, Remake, ridden by Christophe Lemaire and trained by Takayuki Yasuda, prevailed in a tight finish, beating the Irish horse Speak In Colours by a neck, clocking 1:10.570. Remake, a 5-year-old son of Daiwa Major, bounced back from a disappointing ninth place in the 2023 Dubai Golden Shaheen, and gave Japan its first win in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint.

Lemaire was delighted with Remake’s performance, saying, “He broke well and travelled smoothly. He showed a good turn of foot and fought well to the line. He is a very honest horse and he deserved this win.”

Japan’s Horse Racing Becomes More International

The Saudi Cup races showcased the strength and depth of Japan’s horse racing, which has become more international in recent years. Japan has produced several champions in prestigious races around the world, such as Almond Eye, Contrail, and Gran Alegria.

Last year, Japan dominated the Saudi Cup card, winning four races, including the main event with Panthalassa. This year, Japan added three more victories, and came close to winning the Saudi Cup again with Ushba Tesoro.

Yahagi, the trainer of Panthalassa and Forever Young, commented on Japan’s success in Saudi Arabia, saying, “You know this is not easy. Japanese racing tries everything to improve and develop. Japanese horse racing has become more international.”

The Saudi Cup races also attracted global attention, with a total of 77 horses from 11 countries competing in eight races. The event was broadcast live in more than 150 countries, reaching an estimated audience of 500 million viewers.

The Saudi Cup, which was first held in 2020, has established itself as one of the most prestigious and lucrative events in the horse racing calendar, offering a total of $30.5 million USD in prize money. The event is part of the Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to diversify the country’s economy and promote its culture and tourism.

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