The ‘Road to Riyadh’: four races in Japan and USA will offer slots on Saudi Cup card

Horse Racing Mucho Gusto wins Pegasus  was fourth in Saudi Cup
Mucho Gusto: fourth in Saudi Cup under Irad Ortiz after easy victory in Pegasus World Cup. Photo: Gulfstream Park/Ryan Thompson

By Nicholas Godfrey

Saudi Arabia: Two Japanese races and a second in the US are set to join the Pegasus World Cup on the ‘Road to Riyadh’ by offering guaranteed spots in three races on the Saudi Cup card on Saturday, February 20.

The winner of the $3m Pegasus at Gulfstream Park on January 23 will again receive a confirmed place in the starting gate for the Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race, to be held for the second time at King Abdulaziz racecourse in 2021.

This year’s Pegasus winner, the Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto, was fourth behind Maximum Security in Riyadh.

Now the Pegasus World Cup Turf will also be linked to the Saudi Cup card as a qualifying race for the $1m Middle Distance Turf Handicap, won this year by Bahrain’s Port Lyons.

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The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia (JCSA) has also announced that the G1 Champions Cup (former Japan Cup Dirt) at Chukyo on December 6 as a second qualifying race for the Saudi Cup, while the G3 Capella Stakes at Nakayama on December 13 will be linked to the $1.5m Riyadh Sprint.

Leading Japanese trainer Hideyuki Mori, who saddled Full Flat to beat subsequent Prix du Jockey Club victor Mishriff in the 2020 Saudi Derby, welcomed the news. “Japanese dirt horses tend to be rated lower than turf horses and therefore we need these kind of races in Japan,” he said.

“I have just decided to withdraw Matera Sky from the Breeders’ Cup to save him for the Riyadh Sprint and look forward to visiting Saudi again in February.”

Tom Ryan, the JCSA’s director of strategy and international racing, commented: “We are keen to encourage more international runners across all our races, not just the marquee Saudi Cup event, and so feel our association with this strong sprint in Japan is an important step for us as we build on the successes of year one.”

Looking at the Pegasus link-up, Ryan added: “Nurturing an ongoing alliance between the Saudi Cup and established races with global followings such as the Pegasus World Cup and Pegasus World Cup Turf is key to our continued growth and development on the international racing stage.”

Adding to the international flavour across Saudi Cup weekend is the introduction of the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap, a race for horses from Part II and Part III racing countries as designated by the IFHA’s Blue Book.

The new handicap will be held on Friday February 19, 2021, the day before Saudi Cup, for horses rated 85-110.

Ryan explained: “With the Saudi International Handicap we wanted to offer a global stage, to horses and connections that may not normally have this access, backed up by attractive prize-money.”

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