Saudi Cup’s $20 Million Showdown and Kentucky Derby Build-Up Dominate Horse Racing Weekend

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As the sun rises over tracks from East to West, the anticipation builds for a weekend of thundering hooves and heart-stopping finishes. The world’s richest race, alongside Kentucky Derby 2024 preps from Arkansas to the Middle East, promises to dazzle fans and aficionados alike. With sizzling action from England to Hong Kong, there’s no shortage of equine excellence to witness.

Saudi Cup Showdown

Saturday’s $20 million Saudi Cup, known as the planet’s wealthiest horse race, is set to be an arena where the globe’s premier dirt runners convene in high-stakes competition. Among the elite contenders, the first two finishers of November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic have drawn particular attention. The American champion, White Abarrio, and the Japanese star, Derma Sotogake, enter the race with their trainers eyeing a reprise of their Breeders’ achievements. However, the picture is far from clear-cut. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends out National Treasure, a formidable contender eager to topple the expected hierarchy. Notably, Baffert’s past pupils have claimed consecutive second-place finishes in the last three iterations of the race, a streak he is undoubtedly aiming to convert into a victory.

In a parallel narrative, the Saudi Derby brings its own U.S.-versus-Japan dynamic. Forever Young, having dominated the Japanese circuit with three consecutive wins, is expected to make a strong statement. Success in Saudi Arabia could catapult him towards the UAE Derby and, potentially, an appearance in the storied Kentucky Derby. American participants, Bentornato and Book’em Danno, share similar aspirations, as their connections eye these races as stepping stones to the legendary run for the roses.

Complementing the headline events, the undercard promises no less thrill, featuring world-class turf contests covering a gamut of distances, including a sprint on dirt enriched by American participation, further highlighting the global appeal of the weekend’s equestrian feats.

The Road to the Roses

Amidst the buzz of global showdowns, one omission has raised eyebrows: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will not be presenting any entries in Saturday’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Renowned for his impressive track record in Arkansas, Baffert’s absence in this year’s Rebel Stakes breaks with tradition and has left the racing community pondering. His previous prosperity with 3-year-olds at this venue has been notable, yet this season, the California-based trainer seems to be shifting his strategy by keeping his young contenders closer to home.

Nevertheless, the Rebel, a pivotal lead-up to the Arkansas Derby, is brimming with promise even without Baffert’s influence. The lineup boasts 13 eager contestants, with Timberlake headlining as the morning-line favorite at 6-5. Trained by Brad Cox, this son of Into Mischief has demonstrated exceptional potential. He began his career with a commendable second at the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga, following up with a triumph at the Grade I Champagne at Aqueduct. Despite a fourth-place finish behind the victor Fierceness at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, expectations remain high.

Among his chief competitors is Just Steel, the runner-up of the recently concluded Southwest Stakes at this same track. That race, with its sticky conditions, saw Just Steel trailing Mystik Dan by eight lengths, who, intriguingly, will not partake in the Rebel. Victory in the Rebel stakes rewards the winner with 50 crucial points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard, thus cementing its significance.

Meanwhile, the $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park beckons as a proving ground for those with Preakness dreams. The field of 11, which includes just four early Triple Crown nominees, features an interesting twist. Point Dume, a recent $30,000 claim from the Baffert barn following three underwhelming performances in California, is one to watch. This could be a redemption arc worth noting, as new connections boldly aim for a surprise upset in the build-up to the crucible of the Preakness Stakes.

The Path to the Oaks

While colts gear up on their Road to the Roses, fillies are blazing their own trail to the Kentucky Oaks, and Oaklawn Park’s Grade III Honeybee Stakes is a pivotal battle. Trainer Brad Cox positions West Omaha as one of two solid favorites in the race, following her dominant performance at the Silverbulletday Stakes, where she romped home with a five-length victory. This rousing start to her 3-year-old campaign sets high expectations for her continued success.

Standing in West Omaha’s path is the Kenny McPeek-trained Band of Gold. This daughter of Preservationist also made an impact with an impressive 2-3/4 length triumph in Oaklawn’s Martha Washington Stakes on Feb. 3. The matchup between these two outstanding contenders is poised to present a showdown of skill and strategy, shedding light on possible frontrunners for the celebrated Kentucky Oaks.

Further east, the $100,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park provides a platform for local fillies vying for their own springtime glory. Echoing the importance of the Miracle Wood Stakes for colts, this race serves as a critical step toward the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. With seven entrants known, the Wide Country Stakes is guaranteed to be a keenly watched precursor packed with emerging talent.

Dubai’s Prestigious Preps

As the sun sets on Dubai’s golden sands, the excitement crescendos toward Friday’s Carnival program, highlighted by the esteemed Group 3 UAE Oaks. This pivotal event could potentially churn out promising candidates for the Kentucky Oaks, mirroring its historic propensity to elevate horses to international acclaim. Additionally, the evening will showcase two critical preparatory races for the celebrated Group 1 Dubai Turf, slated for World Cup night. As burgeoning talents take to the track, hopes are pinned on exceptional performances that could secure a ticket to the grandeur of the Group 2 UAE Derby on March 30.

While the most notable Dubai’s 3-year-old prospects reserve their energy for the climactic UAE Derby, the Al Bastakiyi Stakes stand as a golden opportunity for other competitors to thrust themselves into the spotlight. Excelling in this race signifies a strong indicator of future success and could well set the stage for a thrilling presence on World Cup night. Among the hopefuls, Manama Gold emerges as a striking Louisiana-bred filly — a progeny of the underrated sire Star Guitar. Her presence ignites speculation about her potentially filling a spot in the gates at Churchill Downs on the first Friday in May.

Godolphin’s blue silks have become a dominant force in the turf contests throughout the Carnival, laying out expectations of continued supremacy as Friday night’s races approach. Though Godolphin’s arsenal may emerge victorious, the top contenders in these events are likely charting a course for summer campaigns in the lush greenery of Europe and England rather than facing off against the world’s elite at Dubai’s World Cup night.


Across the world in Dubai, attention turns to the impeccably bred Lord North as he gears up for the Group 3 Winter Derby at Southwell’s all-weather track. Aiming to capture the Dubai Turf title for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year, Lord North is set to use this race as a crucial stepping stone.

His mastery of the Winter Derby in the previous year set the stage for his triumph on the grand stage in Dubai, and the racing community is abuzz with anticipation to see if history will repeat itself. Among his adversaries are the stalwart 2021 Winter Derby winner Forest of Dean and the formidable Tyrrhenian Sea, who will be looking to upgrade from last year’s second-place finish.

This robust competition offers a glimpse into what promises to be an electrifying preparation for the robust 8-year-old and his bid for continued glory in the lush greenery of Dubai.

Hong Kong

The stage is set at Sha Tin for the compelling Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, where the spotlight falls on Romantic Warrior, the star of Hong Kong’s racing scene in Golden Sixty’s prolonged absence. After clinching the Group 1 Cox Plate down under and triumphing in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup in December, Romantic Warrior now eyes a historic achievement. A victory on Sunday would mean a prestigious sweep of the three local 2,000-meter Group 1 events—an accolade only previously held by Vengeance of Rain and Designs on Rome since the turn of the century.

Facing a formidable field, Romantic Warrior’s combination of resilience and grace under pressure suggests another epic showdown is imminent. Despite a gallant second-place finish to the legendary Golden Sixty in the 2023 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, the momentum following his recent victories positions Romantic Warrior as the one to beat. A win here would not only etch his name into the annals of Hong Kong racing history but would also reaffirm his status as a premier horse on the international stage.