RIYADH: Aero Trem, the winner of the Group 1 Gran Premio Latinoamericano, South America’s most prestigious prize, has been shipped to Dubai to continue his preparation for the Saudi Cup, the world’s most valuable horse race.
It will be a remarkable achievement just to line up in the $20 million showpiece, set to be run as a Group 1 for the first time, at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh on Saturday, Feb. 26.
The six-year-old nearly died when struck down by a serious bout of colic after winning the first two legs of Uruguay’s Triple Crown three years ago.
He has since developed into South America’s best horse and his ambitious trainer Antonio Cintra is keen to test his stable star against some of the world’s top performers.
Assistant trainer Julio Olascoaga is overseeing Aero Trem’s preparation in Dubai and said: “Aero Trem arrived on Monday. He traveled for two days to get to Dubai. He went from Uruguay to Germany and from Germany to Dubai. Horses usually lose weight in transit but, for him, it was like nothing had happened.
“He’s arrived in fantastic condition. I took some blood and that was amazing. He can take all these things very well. I’m very happy with him — he looks great. He will start training at the end of the week.
“We’re just waiting for an invitation to the Saudi Cup and then we’ll work toward that. He’s very highly rated so I don’t think he will have a problem getting in.”
Aero Trem won Uruguay’s most important race over 1,600m, the Gran Premio Pedro Pineyrua at Maronas, for the second successive year in January before landing the Gran Premio Latinoamericano in October.
It was only the second time in 38 years that a horse trained in Uruguay had landed South America’s greatest race, run this year at Maronas.
The field contained the best horses from across the continent and Aero Trem was successful in course-record time. He led home a one-two for Brazilian Cintra — four-times Champion Trainer in Uruguay — with Atletico El Culano finishing runner-up in the 2000m dirt-track contest.
The victory came less than three years after Aero Trem came dangerously close to losing his life to colic.
Olascoaga explained: “He had huge surgery and it was amazing work from the vets. He lost 150kg and it took a lot of time for him to recover.
“He’s a horse that impresses you — when you think he might get beaten he just appears. In the Group 1s he has the extra power, he’s amazing.
“Antonio has a dream to get his horses into the biggest races so we’re working toward the Saudi Cup. It’s a dream, a dream that might come true. It’s unbelievable where this horse can take us.
“It’s not just important for us — it’s important for Uruguay and South America. We are testing how far we can go and how good the horses are. It’s about measuring our horses on the world stage to see where we are.
“When you compete against the best it makes you better. If you’re always competing at the same level you will never improve. If you raise the bar you have to push yourself to be better.
“That’s even more important than the prize money. Money is important but it’s not everything.
“We’ve never been to Saudi but we’ve heard about the track from people we know. They say the track will suit the Uruguayan horses much better than Dubai as it has a longer straight. The Uruguayan tracks generally have long straights so it’s pretty similar.
“A fast pace will suit him, the distance will suit him, the track will suit him.”
Big-race jockey Vagner Leal, a Brazilian based in Uruguay, is expected to arrive in Dubai later this week. He will help with the preparation of Cintra’s team and will take the ride on Aero Trem, who races in the colors of Brazilian owners Haras Old Friends, if he makes it in to the Saudi Cup field.
The trainer’s horses based in Dubai include last year’s Uruguay Derby hero El Patriota, a winner in Dubai in February, and talented three-year-old Perfect Love. They will both be entered in the Saudi International Handicap run on the opening day of the Saudi Cup meeting on Friday, Feb. 25.
The Uruguayan runners at the glittering Saudi Cup meeting will have at least one famous supporter. Manchester United footballer Edison Cavani owns horses trained by Cintra and he has been keeping a close eye on the progress of the potential Saudi raiders.
Olascoaga said: “He’s a very nice guy. He came to play for Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier and he came straight from the airport to the races. Everyone was going crazy.
“He loves horses and he’s supportive of racing. It’s very good for the industry, he brings the fans in.”