$20M Saudi Cup, Kentucky Derby preps set in weekend horse racing

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Romantic Warrior (red bridle), shown winning the Longines Hong Kong Cup in December, returns to action Sunday in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club
1 of 2 | Romantic Warrior (red bridle), shown winning the Longines Hong Kong Cup in December, returns to action Sunday in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club

DUBAI, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- The world's richest race, Kentucky Derby preps from Arkansas to the Middle East and hot action from England to Hong Kong all feature in weekend horse racing.

No time to waste. ... We're off in the weekend preview!


Saudi Arabia

Saturday's $20 million Saudi Cup is the world's richest race and has attracted the world's best dirt runners to contest it.

While there are plenty of runners with opportunities, the trainers of the first two finishers from November's Breeders' Cup Classic -- American champ White Abarrio and Japan's Derma Sotogake -- see a chance for a repeat finish.

The Bob Baffert-trained National Treasure is among those looking to upset that picture. Baffert horses have finished second in each of the last three runnings of the Saudi Cup.

The Saudi Derby also has a U.S.-versus-Japan element. Forever Young has been ultra impressive in winning three straight races in Japan, and a victory likely would propel him on a trajectory to the UAE Derby in Dubai in March and a potential engagement in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.


The connections of American colts Bentornato and Book'em Danno likely seek the same path.

The undercard includes world-class turf racing at distances from 6 furlongs to 1 7/8 miles and a dirt sprint that also has some American interest.

The Road to the Roses

It looks very much like something's missing from Saturday's Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park -- no entry from Baffert. The California-based trainer has had huge success at the Arkansas track for many years, but this year, so far, is keeping his 3-year-olds at home.

That doesn't mean there's nothing doing in the Rebel, the final prep for the Arkansas Derby. The race has 13 entries with Timberlake as the 6-5 morning-line favorite.

The Into Mischief colt, trained by Brad Cox, showed nothing but promise as a 2-year-old, finishing second in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga, and then winning the Grade I Champagne at Aqueduct. He then was fourth behind the winner, Fierceness, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The main rival seems to be Just Steel, who finished second in the local Southwest Stakes on Feb. 3. The Southwest was run over a muddy track, and he finished 8 lengths back of a long-shot winner, Mystik Dan, who sits this one out.


The Rebel winner gets 50 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard with the minor placings accruing 25, 15, 10 and 5.

Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park can be a testing ground for locals looking for a shot at the Preakness Stakes.

There are 11 candidates, only four of them early nominees to the Triple Crown. Watch for Point Dume, claimed from the Baffert barn for $30,000 on New Year's Eve after three dismal efforts in California.

The Path to the Oaks

Trainer Cox has one of the two solid favorites in Saturday's Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn Park in West Omaha. The West Coast filly romped home first by 5 lengths in the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds in her 3-year-old debut.

She faces off against the Kenny McPeek-trained Band of Gold, a daughter of Preservationist who was equally impressive in winning Oaklawn's Martha Washington Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths Feb. 3.

Saturday's $100,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park, like the Miracle Wood for males, likely points to local hopes like the Black-Eyed Susan. Seven are entered and it's worth a look.


Oaklawn Park's supporting races for the Rebel are the Grade III Razorback Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles and the Carousel Stakes for filly and mare sprinters.


Saturday's program at Tampa Bay Downs features the Turf Dash and Lightning City Stakes, both at 5 furlongs on the turf. The Lightning City is for fillies and mares. Both were postponed from last weekend because of weather.

Around the world, around the clock


Friday's Carnival program features the Group 3 UAE Oaks, two potential preps for the prestigious Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night and a tryout heat for the Group 2 UAE Derby, also on the big night, March 30.

The biggest of Dubai's 3-year-old noises are waiting for the Derby itself, but a good showing by any others in the Al Bastakiyi Stakes could propel them forward.

The Oaks has a history of turning up candidates for the Kentucky Oaks and easily could do so again. Manama Gold, a Louisiana-bred filly by the underappreciated Star Guitar could be the one.

Godolphin has been dominating the turf races throughout the Carnival and promises to do so again Friday night. But the top guns in those two heats likely are headed for summer campaigns in Europe and England rather than a showdown with the world's best March 30.


Speaking of the Dubai Turf, Lord North, winner of the last three renewals, will be warming up for an expected swing at a four-peat when he takes on the Group 3 Winter Derby on the Southwell all-weather track.


He won the Winter Derby last year en route to Dubai and this year's race should be a good prep for the 8-year-old, as he will face, among others, 2021 Winter Derby champion Forest of Dean and last year's runner-up, Tyrrhenian Sea.

Hong Kong

Romantic Warrior, top horse in Hong Kong amid the prolonged absence of Golden Sixty, seeks his sixth Group 1 victory in Sunday's Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000 meters.

The winner of last year's Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia and December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup in December would complete a sweep of the three local 2,000-meter Group 1 events if he can defeat a tough-enough field.

Since 2000, Only Vengeance of Rain and Designs on Rome have won the Gold Cup, the FWD QE II Cup and the Hong Kong Cup. Romantic Warrior finished second to Golden Sixty in the 2023 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup.

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