Dubai World Cup On Radar For Japanese Hero

A pillar-to-post thriller

The fourth running of the US$20 000 000 Gr1 Saudi Cup in Riyadh on Saturday went the way of Japan for the first time courtesy of the Yoshito Yahagi-trained Panthalassa (JPN) as he saw off all challengers for a historic wire-to-wire victory.

It was a Saturday evening for the powerful racing nation to rejoice, with Panthalassa’s all the way success under veteran jockey Yutaka Yoshida meaning that Bob Baffert’s American raider Country Grammer (USA) had to once again settle for the runner-up place in Riyadh.

Panthalassa (far side) holds off the late challenge of Country Grammer to win the Saudi Cup (Pic – Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia / Erika Rasmussen)

In four renewals, victory in The Saudi Cup has gone to four different nations with the Japanese winner becoming the latest to win the world’s most valuable race, now proving his capability on both dirt and turf.

Yahagi was among the winning trainers last year when Japanese-trained runners claimed four races on the card and the strength of horse racing in the country was confirmed once again on Saturday with three more in front of an appreciative crowd at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.

For the globally popular trainer Yahagi, it was a second winner of the evening, following up from Bathrat Leon’s win in the 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc. It was also an unforgettable night for owners Hiroo Race Co Ltd, who owned both Yahagi’s winners.

Momentarily in the latter stages it appeared that Japanese runners would fill the first three places, but Country Grammer finished with a flourish down the outside to claim second, half a length adrift, from Cafe Pharoah (JPN) in third with Geoglyph (JPN) and Crown Pride (JPN), both also trained in Japan, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.

Last year’s winner Emblem Road (USA) was sixth and the best of the four locally-trained runners. The winning time was 1:50.80.

Winning rider Yutaka Yoshida said that when he drew barrier one his tactic was simply to take a lead.

“He sometimes doesn’t jump well so I concentrated on giving him a good start and he did it. When he took an early lead the others did not give too much pressure to him. The pace was not too strong for him, it was another factor for him to keep finding until the line,” he added before confirming that he did break well and then it was straightforward.

“Mr Yahagi said to me to ride my race and I would get a good result. So, I didn’t think about the surface. I just rode my race and thought if he adapts to the track, it would be all right. Of course, they were coming for me in the straight, but Panthalassa always found another gear and so I kept riding. It is an unforgettable moment and I am very happy to have ridden the winner.”

Yoshito Yahagi, trainer of Panthalassa said: “Panthalassa had a perfect start today. I applaud Yutaka’s jump, it was a masterful job from the jockey. When I drew barrier one I thought this was a big advantage to him but it worked perfectly.

“I really can’t believe it. I don’t know if it is real at the moment. Thank you to my staff and to my horse. This horse only has one way to go. He jumped really well when he needed to and got the job done. I think I was correct that my feeling was right that he could handle the dirt. You know this is not easy. Japanese racing tries everything to improve and develop. Japanese horse racing has become more international. Of course, this is the best feeling as the prize-money is the best!

“I will discuss with my owner after the conference and then we will decide if we go to Dubai for the World Cup, which is of course a possibility. If my owners let me go to Europe, I would love the challenge. When I started training, no one knew me and when I wore a hat they knew who I was. Today, I wore the same hat I wore at the Breeders’ Cup. I have between 200 and 300 hats. I don’t count. It would be fun if they started a game where they bet on the colour of my hat.”

Naoki Yoneyama, president of Hiroo Race Co Ltd, owners of Panthalassa said it was the team’s win.

” I have been in 100 per cent trust for Team Yahagi so I was fully confident before the race. I would like to share the tremendous joy with the team.”

Frankie Dettori, who probably rode his last Saudi Cup, said that repeat runner-up Country Grammar ran a super race.

“At the top of the straight, I thought, ‘Oh god, I’m going to finish sixth’ but he just has too much heart. He wants a mile and a quarter [2000m]. Super result. They were coming back to me, but the winning post was there.”

Watch the replay here:

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