RIYADH: Panthalassa made all the running under Yutaka Yoshida as the Japanese winner beat out Frankie Dettori and Country Grammer for victory in the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup race on Saturday.
It was heartbreak for trainer Bob Baffert and his runner Country Grammer, who was also narrowly denied in the world’s most valuable race last year. The American trainer is still seeking a Saudi Cup victory.
Panthalassa set off at a blistering pace on a strong gallop at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse and could not be caught.
Panthalassa’s pace put the whole field under pressure from the beginning, and at one point during the sprint, it looked like it could be a Japanese one-two-three-four.
Legendary jockey Frankie Dettori pulled a late rally out of Country Grammer toward the end, but the winning line came up just too soon as he was narrowly denied once again.
Trainer Yoshito Yahagi – who also won earlier on Saturday on Bathrat Leon in the Turf Sprint – said: “It is unbelievable. I have no words. I am very, very happy. He was in stall one, so I said it was okay to go to the front.
He continued: “I was happy when he went three wide off the rail. The ground was a little bit faster and he needs it fast. This win is higher than any other I have had – of course it is the best feeling, because the prize-money is the best, too.
“I really can’t believe it at the moment. It does not feel real, but I’d like to say thanks to my staff and the horse. Winning this is not easy. Japanese racing tries everything to improve and develop and (make) Japanese horse racing to become more international – and we have done that,” he added.
Dettori was hopeful Country Grammer could put the disappointment behind him and repeat his heroics of last year in the Dubai World Cup.
“He ran a super race, I was outpaced all the way, I travelled to stay and thought I would be sixth really, then they all died and bless him, he’s got so much heart,” he said.
“I stayed on well, but his game is a mile and a quarter and we go back to Dubai. I was way back because I couldn’t lay up. I pushed him all the way. It was a super run.
“Like I said, at the quarter pole, I’m sixth here and thought ‘I’m not going to get any money,’ in fairness, it was a bit like last year and he was closing all the while.
“It has been a great experience, this meeting. I’m always smiling,” he added.
Jim Crowley, who won the third race of Saturday's action on Mostahdaf, said the Saudi Cup continues to improve year on year.
“It's my third visit to Saudi Arabia, it's getting bigger all the time,” he told Arab News.
“Obviously, the prize money on offer is huge, and when you put such good prize money, the horses and the competition will follow and just it's a wonderful track.
“Every time I've come it seems to be improving and standard of horses coming here are getting better and better and better and and it's a great meeting to be part of,” he said.