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Posted 2024-02-23 04:42:19  
Saudi Speed: Cup Race could be a speedy affair

Anticipated at King Abdulaziz for the world's richest race: A thrilling showdown awaits at the G1 Saudi Cup (1800m, dirt) on Saturday night (24 February) in Saudi Arabia, where a plethora of speedy contenders are vying for a piece of the staggering US$20 million (approx. HK$156.33 million) prize pool.

Last year, Panthalassa dictated the pace from the inside gate, holding off late challengers. This year, Lemon Pop, the reigning Japanese dirt horse champion, guided by jockey Ryusei Sakai, aims to emulate that front-running strategy after a successful display in the G1 Champions Cup (1800m, dirt) at Chukyo in December.

Alternatively, jockey Flavien Prat may opt for a similar bold approach, which proved victorious aboard Bob Baffert's National Treasure in the G1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (1800m, dirt) at Gulfstream Park last month.

Various other contenders from around the globe add to the anticipation of a fast early tempo. However, in the lead-up to race day, the focus shifts from tactical discussions to the well-being of the equine athletes.

During Wednesday's morning track session (21 February), connections of the top contenders, including the 15 declared runners for this prestigious Group 1 event, were more concerned with the condition of their charges.

Assistant trainer Toshihiko Hokari, after a 1000m workout aboard Lemon Pop, commented, "Lemon Pop responded well to all cues, moving smoothly with excellent balance."

Derma Sotogake, another prominent Japanese contender, showcased his fitness with a brisk 1000m workout under jockey Christophe Lemaire, accelerating impressively over the final 400m. Lemaire expressed confidence, stating, "He felt excellent today. He appears content, and I am optimistic for Saturday. He's a horse who takes care of himself and still has more to offer."

Despite competing far from home, Derma Sotogake has a proven track record, having dominated the G2 UAE Derby (1900m, dirt) at Meydan last March. His courageous second-place finish to White Abarrio in the G1 Breeders' Cup Classic (2000m, dirt) at Santa Anita last November showcased his resilience, especially considering a lengthy absence due to a minor foot injury.

Japanese racing enthusiasts hope for a reversal of fortunes for Derma Sotogake against White Abarrio at King Abdulaziz, despite the latter impressing during Wednesday's trackwork with a leisurely canter. Trainer Rick Dutrow aims to fine-tune his charge's preparation, possibly incorporating sharper workouts before Saturday's main event. 

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