Yahagi Believes Panthalassa Can Pounce In The Saudi Cup
16 February 2023
16 February 2023 – Having trained four of the six Group race winners on Saudi Cup night in 2022, Japan are back with a battalion of 20 horses at this year’s meeting, including six of the 13 runners in the world’s most valuable race, The Saudi Cup.
Globetrotting trainer Yoshito Yahagi, who plundered last year’s Group 3 Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap, will this year field Panthalassa in the $20 million main event. The six-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa’s six career wins have all come on turf so far, but Yahagi is excited about the switch to dirt.
“Panthalassa ran on the dirt once at Nakayama back in 2020 and he was well beaten. However, I think going anti-clockwise around one turn is more suitable for him,” explained Yahagi.
“One of the most important things is the dirt surface at King Abdulaziz as well. The dirt surface at racecourses in Japan is very different. In order to handle the dirt track at King Abdulaziz well, horses are required to have good speed, and Panthalassa has that.”
Commenting further on Japan’s success at the meeting, Yahagi said: “The Saudi Cup meeting in February is one of the most important meetings in the calendar. The timing is good for Japan, where the season finishes at the end of December, and I believe it will be a very important race meeting for all Japanese trainers in the very near future.”
Yahagi is also set to field Continuar in the Group 3 Saudi Derby presented by Boutique Group, a race that the trainer believes could act as a stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby.
“Continuar was an impressive winner of the Cattleya Stakes and still had energy to spare,” said Yahagi. “I think he is the best three-year-old dirt horse in Japan. Both the Cattleya Stakes and Saudi Derby are run over 1600m on an anti-clockwise track, so it looks a suitable race for him, and the owners were also very keen to go for it.
“After that, the Kentucky Derby is in my sights too. Hopefully he can run well in Saudi Arabia, and then we can think about Churchill Downs.”
Not only well-known for his training exploits internationally, Yahagi also recognises the attention on his fashion these days: “The expectation for my hats has been quite high recently,” said Yahagi. “I feel it is my duty to find a proper one for Saudi Cup night. I will try to bring a very nice hat from my collection to Saudi Arabia!”
Two-time Japanese Derby-winning trainer Yasuo Tomomichi will saddle Jun Light Bolt, who is recognised as one of the country’s leading hopes in The Saudi Cup, having gained an automatic invitation by winning the Champions Cup back in December.
“The improvement of Jun Light Bolt since he started to race on dirt has been more significant than I expected,” said Tomomichi.
“While Jun Light Bolt was running well in races on turf, I felt he had reached his ceiling. As he is by King Kamehameha, I felt he would act well on dirt, and I discussed the plan of switching him to that surface with Northern Farm. I sent him to race on dirt for the first time in July of last year and he was beaten into second, but he lost a shoe during the race and I thought he should have won it.
“I started thinking about The Saudi Cup just before his run in the Champions Cup. I thought we might have three options if he runs well: The Saudi Cup, February Stakes in Japan or the Dubai World Cup. Soon after winning the Champions Cup, the owner, Junji Kawai, told me that he was keen to go overseas. I thought the same, and we decided that the next race for Jun Light Bolt would be The Saudi Cup.
“If we win The Saudi Cup it would be the highlight of my training career. I love the atmosphere at these international events, and it would be a very special moment. While the prize money is obviously attractive, The Saudi Cup is also a prestigious race.
“I would like to be the first Japanese trainer to win The Saudi Cup. Not only in 2022, when Japan won four races, but also the previous years, Japan have enjoyed plenty of success at the meeting, so I think it is a good place for us to go to.”
Tetsuya Kimura, who trained Authority to take the G3 Neom Turf Cup, the opening leg of Japan’s 2022 Saudi Cup night four-timer, will this year be represented by Geoglyph in The Saudi Cup, and he also thinks the surface should suit.
“During the second half of the 2022 season, Geoglyph ran two races over 2000m on turf and he did not perform as I expected,” said Kimura. “It was disappointing and I was convinced I needed to give him a new challenge in 2023. He is by Drefong, who was champion on the dirt in America, and Drefong is siring a lot of superior dirt horses. Although Geoglyph is a Group 1 winner on turf, I think the time has come to send him to race on dirt.”
“The Saudi Cup, which is both a valuable and prestigious race, is scheduled at the right time for Geoglyph. I think I am lucky that this race is suitable and it looks like a golden opportunity for him to race on dirt for the first time.”
Songline, who landed leg two of the four-timer, is back to defend her crown in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint presented by Sports Boulevard, and her trainer, Toru Hayashi, believes she is even better now.
“The experience in Saudi Arabia last year provided immeasurable nourishment for Songline. Before the trip to Saudi, she was a nervous horse. However, after returning from Saudi Arabia, she has been stronger mentally,” said Hayashi.
“She is even tougher now and went on to win the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in June. I think the trip to Saudi was a sort of turning point in Songline’s racing career. It will be wonderful to visit Saudi Arabia again and I am looking forward to the race.
“As the prize money is big and it’s a prestigious race, I believe the competition will be tough, at least as tough as last year, but Songline is now a better horse than she was 12 months ago.”