DUBAI: With the second running of the world’s richest horse race only days away, two of Bahrain’s leading trainers have their eyes firmly fixed on plundering the top races on Saudi Cup weekend with Fawzi Nass and Allan Smith both once again bidding to make a mark at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.
The returning trainers will have interest across the weekend on both Saudi Cup day - Saturday Feb. 20 - and the International Jockeys Challenge the previous day.
A year ago, at the inaugural Saudi Cup, Nass made history when his Port Lions won the very first race on turf in the Kingdom, and the Bahrain native is back once again with his stable star Simsir, while Smith’s Dark Power will attempt back-to-back wins in the $1 million STC 1351 Turf Sprint on Saturday.
Frankie Dettori was aboard Dark Power when the seven-year-old saw off a field of world-class sprinters last year and the Italian will renew the partnership having paid Smith a recent visit to his Royal Stables in Hamala.
Smith also plans to saddle Rayounpour in the Al Rajhi Bank Saudi International Handicap on the Friday and was deeply impressed with the inaugural event last year.
Nass too still fondly recalls last year’s meeting, at which his Port Lions floored the international headliner and Japanese raider Deirdre in the Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup (The Neom Turf Cup).
“It was an amazing experience, we went there knowing that we had a chance to nick a place in that race, but obviously everyone thought Deirdre had the race done and dusted,” said Nass.
“But he obviously fought Deirdre all the way to the line and overall, it was an amazing day and the feeling was good.”
Port Lions was a solid fourth to his stablemate Simsir in the Bahrain International Trophy last November and that pair along with Desert Lion and What A Welcome lead Nass’ Riyadh mission.
Simsir arrived in Bahrain from Mick Halford’s Irish yard and heads for the feature $20 million Saudi Cup after tuning up for the event with a fourth-place finish in the Crown Prince Cup on January 29.
“He’s doing well,” said Nass, who has been training since the turn of the century.
“He obviously won the Bahrain International Trophy and he’s had an easy time since.
“We thought if we’re going to go to Saudi, we need to get a run into him so ran him in the Crown Prince Cup where he was beaten by two lengths. Things didn’t go his way, he missed the break and had to come from behind, which doesn’t suit a galloping horse like him. He did well and he didn’t disgrace himself. We’re happy with that being his prep run for the The Saudi Cup.”
Of other running plans, Nass added: “Desert Lion, What A Welcome and New Show, the actual winner of the Crown Prince Cup last, are all going for the Al Rajhi Bank Saudi International Handicap the day before Saudi Cup day.”
Both Smith and Nass are in agreement over the importance of the expansion of the horseracing industry in Saudi Arabia, with the latter saying: “Racing in almost all the Gulf countries has really improved and picked up over the last few years.
“Saudi has played a big part and there’s been a huge improvement with The Saudi Cup meeting now in place. I believe Prince Bandar and the management in place did an excellent job last year, and I’m sure they’ll do an even better job this year.”
Smith added: “Overall it has improved the profile of the area in general. What Saudi Arabia did with The Saudi Cup in its first year was just unbelievable, and they achieved a very high standard.
“The quality of racing throughout the Middle East has got very competitive.”