A red-hot pace anticipated at King Abdulaziz for the worldˇ¦s richest race

A sizzling encounter is expected for the G1 Saudi Cup (1800m, dirt) at King Abdulaziz on Saturday night (24 February) in Saudi Arabia with a host of potential pace-pushing horses hunting for a share of the massive US$20 million (approx. HK$156.33 million) in prizemoney.

Last year the speed held with Panthalassa controlling from the lowest stall to fend off the closers with a potential scenario this year being that Lemon Pop ˇV another Japanese contender who earnt the 2023 title of best dirt horse in Japan ˇV will be urged by jockey Ryusei Sakai to also deliver from the front. The Godolphin-owned six-year-old triumphantly did just that when last seen in the G1 Champions Cup (1800m, dirt) at Chukyo in December.

Or perhaps jockey Flavien Prat will attempt to repeat the aggressive tactics that had succeeded in Florida last month on Bob Baffert-trained National Treasure in the G1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (1800m, dirt) at Gulfstream Park.

And one can guess at plenty of other early pace possibilities with brilliant horses from different jurisdictions involved. However, out on the track on Wednesday morning (21 February) associates of big-race contenders ˇV 15 of whom have been declared for the fifth running of this Group 1 ˇV were directing their thinking less about race-day tactics and more about the well-being of their horses.

After assistant trainer Toshihiko Hokari had ridden Lemon Pop in a 1000m gallop on the dirt, he said: ˇ§Lemon Pop had a good reaction to everything I asked him, moving beautifully with a good balance.ˇ¨

Derma Sotogake, another major Japanese challenger, also breezed over 1000m quickening up under Saturdayˇ¦s jockey Christophe Lemaire over the last 400m. The hugely successful Japan-based Frenchman said: ˇ§He was very good today. He looks happy and I am very confident for Saturday. He is the kind of horse who keeps himself safe and still has many things to show us.ˇ¨

Clearly relaxed about competing well away home, Derma Sotogake had grabbed an early lead before thrashing his rivals in last Marchˇ¦s G2 UAE Derby (1900m, dirt) at Meydan. His performance when a fast-finishing second to Saturdayˇ¦s rival White Abarrio in the G1 Breedersˇ¦ Cup Classic (2000m, dirt) at Santa Anita last November was arguably even more exhilarating considering it was his first start for 182 days and he had missed some crucial work due to a minor foot injury.

Japanese race fans will be hoping for Santa Anita placings to be reversed by Derma Sotogake at a racecourse 12,800km away from Los Angeles although the almost white five-year-old American star was also wowing his own fans in trackwork at King Abdulaziz on Wednesday though only cantering. ˇ§I feel by only cantering him we will give him more steam,ˇ¨ says trainer Rick Dutrow, adding that they may give the possible Saudi Cup favourite some faster work early on Saturday, the day of the race.