By Jon Lees
Saudi Arabia: Enrique Leon, one of Spain’s leading trainers, is preparing two runners for the Saudi Cup meeting’s new concept race exclusive to lower-tier racing nations.
Leon, best known as the trainer of G1-placed Noozhoh Canarias, plans to run Noray and Federico in the inaugural running of the $500,000 Al Rajhi Bank International Handicap.
The 2,100-metre (1m2½f) contest, run the day before the Saudi Cup on February 19, is for horses trained in countries not included in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities’ Part One nations.
Noray ended last season by completing a hat-trick over 2,000m at La Zarzuela, while Federico was also successful at the Madrid track in October.
Leon, 38, said: “Noray is a very strong horse, he’s been one of the top horses in Spain for the last three years. He’s a nine-year-old but he’s still got the will to win and he keeps himself very sound.
“He finished last season well but a little tired, so we gave him a rest in December and he put on quite a bit of weight. We took him to Madrid for a gallop last Sunday and that will help him a lot. In two weeks, he will be 100 per cent ready.
“He’s a horse who likes to set a fast pace from the beginning. He’s a very strong puller, you just have to let him roll. He’s been running well over 2,000m and we hope on a flat track like in Saudi he will last the extra 100m.
“He’s a very quiet horse – very strong minded. Both my horses are very professional so I’ve no worries about the travelling.
He added: “Federico has been in the best form of his life in the last few months – he’s never been in such good condition. He’s always been a good horse, a bit lower than Noray in the ratings, but they galloped together on Sunday and everyone thought Federico worked better. He also has a very good chance.”
Leon, who finished third in last season’s Spanish trainers’ championship, moved his 36-strong team to a state-of-the-art yard in Milagro, Navarra in northern Spain, just an hour from the tracks of southern France, in November.
In 2014 he saddled Noozhoh Canarias, who had finished runner-up in the G1 Jean-Luc Lagardere as a two-year-old, to finish sixth in the 2,000 Guineas and the July Cup in Newmarket, where he had worked for James Fanshawe 20 years ago.
Noray and Federico, due to travel on February 14, will ensure there will be a European presence in the new race which has drawn most entries from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
The trainers of top Scandinavian horses such as Square De Luynes, Kick On and Suspicious Mind have ruled out the trip because winter weather in Denmark and Sweden has prevented their training.
Leon said: “It’s not our first experience at this level but we don’t get too many chances in these races so it’s very exciting for us. We’re looking forward to it.”
• Visit the Saudi Cup website