Saturday’s $1.5 million Saudi Derby could have implications for the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, and more immediately the Mar. 27 UAE Derby (G2). Unbeaten Triple Crown nominee Rebel’s Romance takes on UAE 1000 Guineas conqueror Soft Whisper in a showdown between Godolphin’s exciting dirt sophomores, and Steve Asmussen’s Cowan brings the American dirt form.
Saudi Derby – Race 6 (11:10 a.m. ET)
The Godolphin homebreds, both by Dubawi, started out in Britain and recently starred at the Dubai Carnival. The Saeed bin Suroor-trained Soft Whisper raced exclusively on turf as a juvenile, placing in her first two before capturing nurseries at Salisbury and Pontefract. The upwardly mobile filly took to the Meydan dirt straightaway. Her convincing win in the Jan. 7 UAE 1000 Guineas Trial was but a prelude to the Guineas itself, where she bolted up by seven lengths. So effortless was her dominance that jockey Frankie Dettori was left reminiscing about the late, great Dubai Millennium – Soft Whisper’s grandsire. Dettori rides John Gosden’s New Treasure here, so Mike Smith picks up the mount aboard Soft Whisper.
The gelded Rebel’s Romance took longer to come to hand for Charlie Appleby. Not seen until the fall, he won both starts on the all-weather at Newcastle and Kempton, the latter more authoritatively, and earned himself a tilt at the Carnival. Rebel’s Romance passed his dirt audition in the Jan. 14 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, a close margin in part due to William Buick’s good handling, and partly to the credit of talented runner-up Mouheeb. With Rebel’s Romance skipping the Guineas in favor of this richer pot, Mouheeb complimented him by coming right back to win the Feb. 4 classic over Meshakel. The Saudi Derby will be a stiffer test for the still-developing Rebel’s Romance.
Cowan, the other Triple Crown nominee in the field, has collected a series of placings. A hard-charging second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), the son of Kantharos was no match for Senor Buscador in the Remington Springboard Mile or Caddo River in the Smarty Jones. Both were around two turns, and reverting to one turn – even at a metric mile – stands to benefit Cowan considerably.
Hideyuki Mori, who upset the inaugural Saudi Derby with Full Flat, is back with Pink Kamehameha. But Full Flat had experience on dirt, including a fifth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Pink Kamehameha has run only on turf so far. After winning a newcomers’ event at Hakodate last summer, he’s gone unplaced in five straight. Unlike stablemates France Go de Ina and Jasper Dream, Pink Kamehameha was not nominated to the Triple Crown. Yet he has shown early speed, and the ability to get position could help.
Leading the trio of Europeans is France’s Homeryan. Runner-up in the Prix Thomas Bryon (G3) in his juvenile finale, the Francis-Henri Graffard pupil just dominated a conditions race on the Chantilly Polytrack. New Treasure, a 66-1 shocker in last August’s Round Tower (G3), was later sold for 90,000 guineas at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale. The Jim Bolger homebred was transferred to Gosden to prepare for this assignment, but will reportedly remain in Saudi thereafter. Albadri, unplaced in four stakes attempts on turf, takes a big class jump from a Southwell handicap win for Jane Chapple-Hyam.
The Saudi contenders include Emblem Road, winner of three straight (but scratched after the draw); Round Six, who just missed by nose to Emblem Road but had been 2-for-2 on the British all-weather; Hatm, on a four-race spree versus fillies; Magbootah, coming off a third to Hatm; and Shibl Lattaam.