The Jockeys Challenge will give me the last chance to ride with some great jockeys from around the world. It will be great fun Dubai: Frankie Dettori will team up with last year’s runner-up Country Grammer in the $20 million Saudi Cup on what he considers is the “best dirt track in the world”.
The 52-year-old jockey has already enjoyed one massive victory on the American star when landing last year’s Dubai World Cup. Now he has his sights set on the world’s most-valuable race at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on February 25.
Dettori is currently riding in America as part of his worldwide farewell tour having announced his intention to retire from the saddle at this year’s Breeders’ Cup meeting in November following a glittering career.
His first winner in the USA this winter came on Country Grammer, trained by Bob Baffert, when landing the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day.
“The first day I came here to America to ride he took me by surprise. A lot of pressure was on, there were 40,000 people here and he was a big favourite so, of course, I wanted the horse to win,” Dettori was quoted by theSaudicup.com
“He won in style and I was super pleased with him. He still retains all the ability he had last year. Bob made it very clear to me that The Saudi Cup was going to be the next target, that’s why he didn’t run in the Pegasus. At the moment, it’s all systems go for The Saudi Cup.”
Super consistent horse
Country Grammer was ridden by Flavien Prat when he was overhauled by surprise winner Emblem Road in last year’s Saudi Cup.
Dettori watched his American career closely for the rest of the year. He was an interested viewer when the six-year-old finished a distant runner-up behind US superstar Flightline in the Group 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar in September.
Dettori laughed: “I texted Bob Baffert after Flightline had beaten him 19 lengths saying ‘that was a good run’. He said to me ‘Country Grammer thought he won because he never saw Flightline’.
“In fairness, he’s a super consistent horse, he’s unfazed by anything. He’s had a good season and there was always the aim to go back to The Saudi Cup this year. He’s very straightforward. I think the way the season went for him last year just showed he’s very versatile and that he can perform in other countries,” added the Italian jockey.
Strong Japanese contingent
Last year’s winner Emblem Road is expected to lock horns with Country Grammer once again in the $20 million Saudi Cup. American raider Scotland Yard and star British filly Saffron Beach are also due to line up in the 1,800-metre dirt prize, while Panthalassa is likely to head a strong Japanese contingent.
Dettori believes Taiba, also trained by Baffert, could pose the biggest threat to his stablemate. He landed the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day when the former British Champion Jockey trailed in last on outsider Perfect Flight.
He said: “Taiba made a great comeback run the other day and he’s got fresh legs with little mileage on the clock. He is one of the horses I would fear as he’s got plenty to give.”
It promises to be a busy weekend for Dettori. He is expecting to pick up other big-race rides for Baffert in the supporting races on the Saudi Cup card and he will partner Ebor hero Trawlerman in the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Handicap for old allies John and Thady Gosden.
The superstar rider will also take part in the International Jockeys Challenge on the first day of the world’s most-valuable race meeting on February 24. He will join Brazilian star Joao Moreira and Japanese rider Yuga Kawada in the unique event that pits seven of the world’s best male riders against seven top female jockeys.
There is a total of $35.35 million prizemoney on offer over the two-day Saudi Cup festival making it the most-valuable race meeting anywhere in the world.
“The Saudi Cup is established as one of the main events in the racing calendar and I’m very much looking forward to it. The Jockeys Challenge will give me the last chance to ride with some great jockeys from around the world. It will be great fun,” Dettori said.