White Abarrio the saudi Cup X-1708625659805
White Abarrio’s regular exercise rider Emily Ellingwood going through the paces ahead of the Saudi Cup. Image Credit: Source: thesaudicup X

Dubai: Breeders’ Cup Classic winner White Abarrio heads a strong 14-horse field in the world’s richest Saudi Cup to be run at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Saturday.

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The $20 million dirt race has attracted some of the finest thoroughbreds and top jockeys from around the globe, run over a distance of 1,800 metres. White Abarrio, who has drawn Gate 1, will be facing a stiff challenge from 2023 Dubai World Cup winner Ushba Tesoro and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Derma Sotogake. The impressive line-up for the prestigious includes Godolphin’s Lemon Pop and Bob Baffert’s National Treasure with the winner taking home a prize money of $10 million. For the record, Japan’s Yoshito Yahagi-trained Panthalassa won the Saudi Cup 2023, the highlight of the race meeting, which has a combined prize fund of $37.35 million, an increase of $2 million from last year.

Other eight races

The further eight races are the Ministry of Culture Jockey Club Local Handicap; the Group 1 Diriyah Gate Development Authority Obaiya Arabian Classic run by Purebred Arabian horses; the $2m Howden Neom Turf Cup; the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap; the $1.5m Boutique Group Saudi Derby; the National Housing Commission Saudi International Handicap; the Sports Boulevard Riyadh Dirt Sprint and the much loved, Saudi National Bank 1351 Turf Sprint.

Trainer Richard Dutrow was unmoved after drawing Gate 1 and said: “He had the two-hole last time, this can’t be a problem. We’ve got the best rider, one of the best horses. It’ll be fun. We’ll be ready. He really takes my breath away every time I see him.”

Derma Sotogake
Japan's Derma Sotogake will take on White Abarror in the Saudi Cup after finishing second to the American in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November last year. Image Credit: Source: JCSA/Mathea Kelley

The 5-year-old White Abarrio, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr, saw off a strong challenge from Derma Sotogake to win the 40th running of the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) for 3-year-olds and up at Santa Anita in November. He also has a Grade One Whitney Stakes under his belt, which makes him the hot favourite for the Saudi Cup.

Familiar training process

Dutrow is happy with the way White Abarrio is shaping up for the big race. The American grey, owned by Prince Faisal Bin Khalid Bin Abdulaziz, remained in the training barn on Thursday morning as he follows a now familiar process, where he peaks after a break.

The trainer explained in detail the process of preparing his top favourite. “We thought we had a chance of beating a couple of horses in the Whit [Whitney Stakes]. We weren’t expecting or hoping to beat Cody’s Wish but two turns at Saratoga might not have been Cody’s Wish’s game, who knows, so we said we’d take a chance.

“But I never got to breeze him for the race, so we were like 10 days without breezing and you just show up. But we did breeze him the morning of [the race] and Irad [Ortiz] happened to be there watching. It wasn’t my plan, I wasn’t even there, I was on my way up because I had to train at Belmont but Irad caught it and he was wondering if we were going to scratch!” laughed the trainer.

Lemon pop
Godolphin's Lemon Pop will be targeting the richest Saudi Cup on Saturday. Image Credit: Source: JCSA/Neville Hopwood

“He called me and said, ‘Babe, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, we’re just trying to win a race, man!’.

“It worked out unbelievable, so seeing that happen I repeated the same process for the Breeders’ Cup. When I knew that we were coming here, it was like 11 days before we came and I was like man, they are playing into our hands because we don’t need to breeze him. We can play the same game and right now I feel that he is over the trip and he’s himself now.

Ferguson euphoric

“We will take him to the training track on Friday to jog him. This is not by design, it is only because what happened at Saratoga. You never know about things until you try and when you do try them and they work, you want to keep them in that zone.”

Meanwhile, Legendary former Manchester United football manager Alex Ferguson is euphoric about his runner Spirit Dancer as he bids to make a mark a breeder in Saturday’s G2 Howden Neom Turf Cup.

For Ferguson, who co-owns the Frankel gelding along with Ged Mason and Peter Done, having a horse capable of taking him to international races on the biggest stage still doesn’t seem a reality.

“When I bred Spirit Dancer, we never dreamt we’d get as far as this. I went to Dubai a few years back and wondered what it would like to be on the international stage with a horse, and now we’ve got one there. We had a few little problems with him as a three-year-old, but he got over that and he just keeps getting better and better, and he’s not had a lot of racing. That’s what Richard [Fahey] keeps saying; he’s a seven-year-old, but he can race a lot more that he has done so far,” the 82-year-old manager was quoted by the official Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia website.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is happy to break his rib again if Sprint Dancer wins on Saturday. Image Credit: Source: JCSA/Mathea Kelley

Ferguson has taken the Old Trafford club to their glorious days during his 26-year reign, winning 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, and two Uefa Champions League titles.

Spirit Dancer will face stern competition in the 2100m contest, something Ferguson is well aware of: “Aidan [O’Brien] has two of his best ones here, and you know when you’re competing with him, you’re competing against the very best. The Japanese have improved on the international stage in recent years. They’ve buying a lot of good mares and they’re really having a go.”

Speaking about his days as a football manager, Ferguson shared a memory of how he got into racing.

“Around about ’95, I remember my wife saying, ‘You’re going to kill yourself’ because I was so heavily into the game [football] with United that my whole day was absorbed by what the club was doing. So, I said to her one day ‘do you want to go to the racing?’.”

Notable successes

Nearly 30 years later, Ferguson has enjoyed notable successes with his horses in the UK and he touched on how he started breeding horses, including Spirit Dancer.

“It was by accident in a way, I was over in Germany at Andreas Wohler’s place and he put that idea in my mind. I bought a horse from him, a mare called Queen’s Dream, and a friend of mine suggested this operation down in Hemel Hempstead and I said, ‘Well, we’ll have a go!’”

Asked if their celebrations would be the same if Spirit Dancer is victorious on Saturday as after winning the Bahrain International Trophy back in November, Ferguson laughed as he said: “You mean my broken rib?! I don’t mind [breaking a rib] if we win!”, Ferguson said.