Upsets rule in weekend horse racing from Saudi Arabia to Kentucky Derby prep

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Emblem Road lands the $20 million Saudi Cup in a massive upset. Photo by Mathea Kelley, courtesy of Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia
1 of 2 | Emblem Road lands the $20 million Saudi Cup in a massive upset. Photo by Mathea Kelley, courtesy of Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia

Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Massive upsets roiled the horse racing weekend with a local runner defeating many of the world's best in the $20 million Saudi Cup and a one-eyed gelding taking down the $1 million Kentucky Derby prep in Arkansas.

Order ruled in some other jurisdictions as Eclipse Award winner Letruska returned to the winner's circle at Gulfstream Park and Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant got back on the winning track in Australia.


We've got lots more, from the middle leg of the Hong Kong Derby series to the Winter Derby in England, plus all the latest results from Dubai and that incredible performance by the Japanese on the Saudi Cup undercard.

There's only one place to start and that's:

The Saudi Cup

King Abdulaziz Racecourse has seen some of the world's top Thoroughbreds in the past few years but none has been cheered more enthusiastically than Emblem Road, who almost incredibly brought the $20 million Saudi Cup home to the Kingdom on Saturday.


Wild cheers of delight rang through the grandstand as the 4-year-old Quality Road colt, Kentucky-bred but raced solely in Saudi Arabia, came from off the pace and collared American runner Country Grammer in the shadow of the wire for the win -- placing him on a par, for once, with the previous Cup winners -- Maximum Security and Mishriff.

And the horses he defeated Saturday were a who's who of international dirt racing including recently elevated Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun (ninth), Japan's top dirt horse; T O Keynes (eighth), Japan-based Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Marche Lorraine (sixth); and last year's Cup winner, Mishriff (14th and last), among others.

"Wow," said Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia. "To have a locally trained horse perform that way is very emotional. I'm very happy for the connections and I'm happy for Saudi Arabia.

"To have a locally-trained horse win it is extremely special, and I'm really excited about what this means for the future of horse racing in Saudi Arabia."

Jockey Wigberto Ramos, who relocated to Saudi Arabia more than 25 years ago from the United States, was talking Dubai World Cup after urging Emblem Road home.


"I knew that I could do it," Ramos said. "But now that I've done it, I still don't believe it. I beat so many good horses and this is the biggest race in the world. I think he could go on to the Dubai World Cup. He's the kind of horse who can do it."

The losers all offered excuses of varying probity, other than Mishriff's rider David Egan, who said, "I hope he's alright. There's obviously something amiss. He's better than that."

A side note that, with any luck will never be matched: The Saudi Cup now has the distinction of hosting a horse who won the Kentucky Derby but was disqualified, Maximum Security, and a horse who won the Kentucky Derby (for now, anyway) through disqualification, Mandaloun.

The shocking upset in the world's richest race overshadowed the accomplishments of Japanese racing and that country's leading jockey, Christophe Lemaire. Lemaire rode four winners on the program, for four different trainers, at conditions varying from dirt sprint to turf marathon.

Also eclipsed was a victory in the Saudi Derby by Pinehurst, sent over by trainer Bob Baffert, whose virtual cup would have overflowed if Country Grammar had held on for the win in the Cup.


If Emblem Road's win was comparable to the 1993 Breeders' Cup Classic victory by Arcangues, at triple-digit odds, Lemaire's feat also was one for the record books.

He started off with a sweep of the day's first three races, all on the turf. First, Authority made all to land the Group 3 Neom Cup Turf at just over 1 1/4 miles. Then Songline came from off the pace and held off American hope Casa Creed in the Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint at about 6 1/2 furlongs.

He completed that triple with a front-running win on long shot Stay Foolish in the Red Sea Turf Handicap at 1 7/8 miles.

"Unbelievable," Lemaire said after the third win, then returned in the race before the Cup to land the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint aboard Dancing Prince.

"Unbelievable," he said again.

Flavien Prat rode Pinehurst for Baffert in the Saudi Derby. The Twirling Candy colt was regarded as a question mark at the 1 1/8-mile distance, but got to the front and kept going, winning by 1/2 length.

With Baffert banned from the Kentucky Derby, the options now could include the Dubai World Cup or the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on the same program.


Detouring back stateside:

The Road to the Roses

Speaking of big upsets and big races, look no farther than Saturday's $1 million Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park. With 50 Kentucky Derby points on the line for the winner, heavy favorite Newgrange -- another from the Baffert barn -- retreated when he needed to advance in the stretch, while 75-1 long shot Un Ojo found an opening on the rail, shot through and won by 1/2 length.

Ethereal Road, Barber Road and Kavod finished second through fourth, also earning Derby points, while Southwest Stakes winner Newgrange was relegated to sixth.

Un Ojo, a New York-bred gelding by Laoban, probably shouldn't have been 75-1 after finishing second in his last two starts, including the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct, where he was trained by Tony Dutrow. His speed figures apparently didn't figure against the Oaklawn competition.

"It's crazy," said winning trainer Ricky Courville. "It's kind of shared between me and Tony because I sent him to Tony, to Aqueduct, for the winter and Tony had him until Monday and sent him back to us."

He said the owners, Cypress Creek Equine, wanted Un Ojo running around two turns and the other option, the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, is a one-turn race.


"Gosh, I feel bad for Tony," Courville added.

And, yes, Un Ojo has only one eye. He lost his left eye in a paddock accident as a baby.

Un Ojo, who already had 4 points with his second in the Withers, moved into second-place on the on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard with 54.

Ethereal Road now is ranked fourth after collecting 20 points for second and Barber Road, who had been second in both the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes leading up to the Rebel, is now fifth with 18 points. Fourth-place finisher Kavod is ranked 19th with 7 points.

The Path to the Oaks

Secret Oath certainly was no secret in the $300,000 Grade III Honeybee Saturday at Oaklawn Park. The Arrogate filly was sent to the post as the odds-on favorite, then proceed to outrun even those odds, winning by 7 1/2 lengths despite a slow start and some traffic issues.

With Luis Contreras up for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Secret Oath finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.74. Ice Orchid was second with Yuugiri third.

Secret Oath, out of the Quiet American mare Absinthe Minded, ran her record to four wins from six starts. She was third on debut at Churchill Downs in October and fifth in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27.



Gulfstream Park

Letruska bounced back strongly from her Breeders' Cup Distaff defeat, leading virtually gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Royal Delta Stakes and winning by 3 lengths, well in hand. Into Vanishing and Il Malocchio were second and third, respectively, at big prices.

A 6-year-old Super Saver mare, Lutruska completed 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.43 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.

It was a complete turnaround for Letruska, last seen finishing 10th in the Distaff. Before that, her sterling 2021 record already had clinched the divisional Eclipse Award. While the field she beat Saturday was nothing like what she faced at Del Mar, the quality of her effort bodes well for the remainder of the year.

"I think this is important," said Letruska's trainer, Fausto Gutierrez. "Now, she is 6 years old, and she made it look easy. It's not easy. It's a Grade 3. To win you have to make this kind of effort. She looks in very good form and ready for the next race."


Green Light Go hit the gas right out of the starting gate in Saturday's $125,000 Stymie Stakes and never looked back, drawing clear in the final furlongs to win by a comfortable 3 1/4 lengths from Doubly Blessed. Milton the Monster was another 3/4 length back in third.


Green Light Go, a 5-year-old son of Hard Spun, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.43 with Dylan Davis up for trainer James Jerkens.

Santa Anita

Alice Marble found running room amid rivals at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares, got the advantage at mid-stretch and held off Stella Noir to win by 1/2 length. Spirit of Bermuda was third.

Alice Marble, a 5-year-old Grazen mare, got 6 1/2 furlongs of firm turf in 1:15.45 with Edwin Maldonado in the irons.

Turfway Park

Saturday's $100,000 Wintergreen Stakes for fillies and mares was a breeze for Breeze Rider, who blew down the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths for rider E.T. Baird. The 5-year-old Paynter mare finished 1 mile on the all-weather course in 1:36.60 with Alydiva second and Wait for Nairobi another 2 1/4 lengths back in third.

She notched her sixth win from her last eight starts, with the wins coming a five different tracks on both turf and synthetic.

Delta Downs

Wholelottamo dueled down the stretch with Miss Jana in Friday's $75,000 Take Charge Brandi Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, finally prevailing by a head as the favorite. The other were well up the track as Wholelottamo finished 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:29.89 with Thomas Pompell up. The race was restricted to horses who had raced at Delta since Oct. 12.


On Saturday, Vodka Gimlet outfinished Lightning Struck to win the similarly restricted $75,000 Big Drama Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck. Totalizer was third after participating in the stretch battle. Vodka Gimlet, a Goldencents gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:28.59 with Pompell again riding.

Around the world, around the clock:


Saturday's Group 1 Neds Blue Diamond Stakes for 2-year-olds at Caulfield always figured to be a wide-open affair and remained that way right up until the final few meters of the race were run.

All said and done, 19-1 chance Daumier got to the front inside the 50-meters mark and held on to win by a short head over Revolutionary Miss with the favorite, Jacquinot, third and the first six finishers all within 1 1/2 lengths.

Daumier, a Godolphin homebred colt by Epaulette, won for the second time in three starts.

In the companion Group 1 Neds Oakleigh Plate, Marabi got home first as the strong favorite, defeating Away Game by 1/2 length. Oxley Road was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Marabi, a 5-year-old mare by I Am Invincible, ran her win streak to three.

Meanwhile, at Randwick, Verry Elleegant returned to her winning ways in her second start of the autumn season, taking down the Group 1 TAB Chipping Norton Stakes as the big favorite.


It was a close call, though, as She's Ideel, at 70-1 odds, came with a rush outside the winner to miss by just a short head. It was another 1 1/4 lengths to Angel of Truth at 60-1.

Verry Elleegant returned from a three-months break after winning the Melbourne Cup to finish seventh in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes going just 7 furlongs Feb. 12. The Chipping Norton, at 1 mile, got her nearer to preferred trip.

Hong Kong

California Spangle, with a perfect ride by Zac Purton and a perfectly clean trip, got home first Sunday in the Hong Kong Classic Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse, the middle leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series that now awaits a decisive outcome in the March 20 BMW Hong Kong Derby.

California Spangle broke well and led all the way while his chief rival, previously undefeated Romantic Warrior, was parked out wide from the No. 13 gate, couldn't get over and couldn't catch the winner, as he had done in the first race in the series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile.

Turin Redsun rallied from far back in the field of 14 4-year-olds to finish second in the Cup with Money Catcher third after pressing California Spangle's easy early pace.


A son of Starspangledbanner, California Spangle scored his fourth win from six starts this season for trainer Tony Cruz. The question now for Cruz and Purton is whether the bay gelding can go much farther.

"Of course I was worried the last 200 meters [of the Cup]" Purton said. "He was out on his feet and it was a good effort. Two thousand meters looks as though it's really going to stretch him."

Cruz noted that while his sire was a champion sprinter, his damsire, High Chaparral, won at 1 1/2 miles in the Epsom Derby and twice in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

"I'm sure he's got that sort of pedigree in him and I believe he will get the distance," Cruz said. "I believe he will wait in front and I believe he will run out the distance."

Asked specifically if California Spangle can get the 2,000-meter Derby distance March 20, Cruz said with a grin, "It's possible."

The Four-Year-Old Classic Series has an enviable history of turning up future starts in Hong Kong with the latest example being Golden Sixty (AUS), who swept the three races en route to building a 16-race winning streak that was snapped just earlier this year.



Godolphin horses finished first and second in the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes at Meydan Racecourse Friday with 4-year-old Royal Fleet looked his 6-year-old rival Star Safari right in the eye, found another gear and prevailed in a tight finish.

The 2,000 meters on the turf gave Royal Fleet his first Dubai World Cup Carnival win after two seconds.

"He is a young, improving horse who has been progressing all year and everything fell into place tonight," winning ridery James Doyle said of Royal Fleet. "He has had to battle, in fairness, when Star Safari came to him. But he is definitely getting more professional with experience and racing."

Appleby and Doyle also combined for victory in the night's second 2,000-meter turf challenge, the Jumeirah Derby. Nation's Pride, a Godolphin homebred colt by Teofilo raised a flag as a potential Epsom Derby candidate as he got clear of the pack through the final 100 meters and won by 3 1/4 lengths.

"We know he stays well so this looked the right race for him and he has done it in pleasing style," Appleby said. "He was pretty fresh so it was pleasing and we will probably take him back to England and look at a Derby prep."


The 1,200-meter (about 6 furlongs) Lincoln Nautilus, a sprint down the Meydan turf straight, was a World Cup Night test for Batwan and the 7-year-old Kendargent aced the exam, battling a crowd down the Meydan straight to score by a head.

"We are hoping to run him in the (Group 1) Al Quoz Sprint," said trainer Nicolas Caullery, "but we will have to see how the handicapper reacts. But we will not run him next week on Super Saturday."


Alenquer found the best late punch Saturday as the three favorites rallied from off the pace in the Group 3 Betway Winter Derby and rolled home first by 2 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Lord North, chased in second with Fancy Man third.

Alenquer, a French-bred colt by the German sire Adlerflug, finished the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather surface in 2:00.51.

The first two were coming off long layoffs while Fancy Man exited a win over course and distance Feb. 5.

The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Easter Classic on All-Weather Championships Finals Day on Good Friday. All of the top three, however, would be prime candidates for the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night at Meydan.


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