Baffert Relying on old Guns to win Saudi Cup

American trainer Bob Baffert is reckoning on the expertise of superstar veterans Frankie Dettori and Mike Smith in the world's richest race, Saturday's (25 February) G1 Saudi Cup (1800m, dirt) at King Abdulaziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Dettori, 52, and Smith, 57, will take charge of Country Grammer and Taiba, respectively, around the 1800m dirt track and both look to have major chances of a bonanza payday based on their achievements.

Six-year-old entire Country Grammer emerged from a 270-day absence to almost grab this huge prize last year, before going on to win another – the G1 Dubai World Cup (2000m, dirt).

Four-year-old colt Taiba is having his first start outside the United States but he has posted some massive figures in victory, most recently with a seismic success in the G1 Malibu Stakes (1400m, dirt) at Santa Anita in December.

Baffert expressed no negatives with gate 10 for Country Grammer or two for Taiba after Wednesday's (22 February) barrier draw for the US$20 million (approx. HK$156.9 million) event but he will know that the opposition is formidable, not just from Japan - who field six of the 13 runners – but also the locals such as Emblem Road (Alexis Moreno).

Almost completely ignored in the lead-up a year ago - with only Riyadh form to boast - the US-bred son of Quality Road delivered a searing winning-stretch surge which caused huge excitement among spectators celebrating Saudi success in just the event's third year, and defying all predictions that the locals would be swamped by overseas raiders.

Listening to the enthusiasm of stable representative Hisham Abdulwahed discussing Emblem Road on Wednesday (22 February) it is tempting to think the five-year-old might be able to rout the big guns from abroad yet again.

"Emblem Road is bigger and stronger than last year. Before his prep (surviving a wide trip to easily win a minor event at King Abdulaziz in January) he was 90% now he is just amazing,” Abdulwahed said.

Emblem Road's trainer Moutaib Almulawah also fields the very progressive Scotland Yard (Victor Gutierrez) with connections announcing themselves very content with gate four for a horse that loves to be up front.

Japanese-trained horses won four of the six group races on this card last year, each one benefitting from an inspired ride by Christophe Lemaire, who partners Geoglyph in the Saudi Cup. His trainer Tetsuya Kimura - who believes that the horse could benefit from the switch from turf to dirt - makes a thought-provoking prediction about this year's Saudi Cup day: "I think this year's Japanese contenders are even stronger than last year."

As for Lemaire himself, he predicts that in the Cup: "It will be very hard to beat the American horses," but he was keen to talk about Songline, bidding for a repeat of last year's narrow victory in the G3 1351 Turf Sprint (1351m), the second race on Saturday's six race simulcast programme.

Of Songline - who subsequently gained another courageous victory in the prestigious G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) at Tokyo - Lemaire says: "She felt a bit stiff when I rode her in the morning a year ago, but this year she has felt very smooth with good footwork. I actually feel more confident this time than I did last year." hkjc

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