Frankie Dettori nearly pulled a stakes double aboard American favorites on Saturday’s Saudi Cup (G1) undercard. Elite Power flaunted his class as an Eclipse Award champion in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3), but Havnameltdown was just outdueled by local sophomore Commissioner King in the Saudi Derby (G3).
Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3)
Although Elite Power is based stateside with Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) hero represented Saudi connections. His Juddmonte owners wanted to point for this $1.5 million prize since his championship-clinching victory at Keeneland, and he was even more emphatic at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
Dettori picked up the mount, given his past association with Juddmonte, and a memorable victory in what’s expected to be his last Saudi Cup Day as a jockey. Under confident handling, Elite Power bided his time off the pace set by Meraas. Japan’s Justin moved up to engage on the inside and took over. But Gunite, who had been drafting just behind the leaders, got the split into the stretch and went after Justin.
Then Elite Power kicked into high gear on the outside and simply had too much finishing speed. Driving 3 1/4 lengths clear, the strapping son of Curlin clocked about six furlongs in 1:11.01.
Hard-trying Gunite rounded out the U.S. exacta, two lengths up on Remake who closed well as retiring Yuichi Fukunaga’s final ride. Justin crossed the wire fourth, followed by defending champion Dancing Prince, Ryuno Yukina, Freedom Fighter, Pagan, and Meraas.
Elite Power paid $4.40 while extending his winning streak to six. Unbeatable since finally breaking his maiden last summer, the five-year-old sports a mark of 9-6-0-1, $2,305,711, including the Vosburgh (G2). The $900,000 Keeneland September yearling gets his sprinter speed from his dam, the Grade 2-winning Vindication mare Broadway’s Alibi. She was also a close second in the 2012 Kentucky Oaks (G1), and Elite Power would be a prime contender to step up for the Met Mile (G1).
Mott’s assistant Neil Poznansky, who earlier watched Casa Creed suffer a second straight near-miss in the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3), lauded Elite Power.
“He’s a big strong animal. He shows nothing but class,” Poznansky said. “He shipped over here like he was here his whole life. He’s a good horse, a very good horse. His turn of foot is incredible, he’s just incredible to watch, a magnificent animal.
“He’s really coming into himself and getting better as he was really slow to mature. Now he’s putting it all together. Bill doesn’t come here without reason, but bringing a horse like Elite Power is a good reason to come. For Frankie and Juddmonte it was like a whole dynasty thing.”
“My first word has to be aeroplane,” Dettori said immediately after the race. “I was a little out of reach and asked him to get a little closer, and then the turbo just kicked in and I was a passenger then.
“He’s a very laid-back horse and only does what you ask him to do, but wow, he has some turn of foot.
“The Abdullah family (of Juddmonte) has given so much to the sport; the legacy keeps going. I love these colors and it’s nice to give the locals something to cheer about.”
Saudi Derby (G3)
The hometown fans had even more reason to cheer when Commissioner King toppled Bob Baffert hotpot Havnameltdown in the $1.5 million Saudi Derby. The first locally-trained horse to win this race, Commissioner King chased the favorite early and outstayed him late to spring the $27.40 surprise.
Indeed, the Saudi Derby turned on whether Havnameltdown could carry his high speed over a metric mile. Dettori tried all of his arts to carry him home, and came up a head short.
Still, it was an exceptional effort from Commissioner King to go the pace as the top two separated themselves from the highly-regarded Japanese contingent. Well ridden by Luis Morales, the Sabah Alshammri pupil accosted Havnameltdown on the turn and kept on relentlessly in 1:38.82.
The rest of the field was catching up eventually through the final furlong, and there was just a 1 3/4-length margin to Japan’s Derma Sotogake in third. Uruguayan-trained Es-Unico was just a neck away in fourth, edging Continuar, the only Yoshito Yahagi runner to lose on Saudi Cup Day. Almurtajiz, Atta Alghali, My Map, From Dusk, Almulhelm, Baalb, Ecoro Ares, and Loreley rounded out the order of finish.
“That was history,” exclaimed Abdulaziz Alyousef, representing the victorious FMQ Stables. “You will never see a better duel between two amazing horses like it. That will be watched over and over for a very long time.
“He is the first horse that we bought at FMQ Stables for the owner Faisal Mohammed Alqahtani and he has won the Derby! It is beyond our wildest dreams! He has beaten Bob Baffert and the Japanese horses – people who don’t come here to compete, they come to win.
“The plan was to be close to Havnameltdown and try to test him in the straight. We felt he would run well, but we weren’t optimistic enough to think he would win. It is just amazing.”
“What a tough horse,” Morales said. “It was an honor to ride in a race like that, and to come out on top is just the best. He was so tough; he kept wanting it, and we got there at the line.”
Havnameltdown’s team recognized that he did his best.
“He ran a great race,” Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes said, “and he just got ran down late on, but we are very proud of the horse. He really showed up today, but it is not an easy thing to do, come over here and take on all these horses, so we are very proud of him.”
Dettori was left wishing that the race was a tad shorter.
“After speaking to Bob, I tried to nurse his speed – he has tons of speed,” Dettori said. “I tried to save as much as I could, we got into a duel, but unfortunately in the last 50 yards, it ran out. He was absolutely knackered, he put on a great show and he was very brave. It’s a shame it wasn’t seven-eighths, but this is life.”
Commissioner King, happy to have the extra ground, improved his scorecard to 4-3-0-1, $933,867. A $9,000 “short” yearling at Keeneland January, the Kentucky-bred is a son of Commissioner and the multiple stakes-placed Songandaprayer mare Ek Haseena.