June 23, 2024

Forever Young closes furiously to mug Book’em Danno in stakes-record Saudi Derby

Remake wins the Riyadh Dirt Sprint at King Abdulaziz racecourse (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Japan’s leading hope for the Kentucky Derby (G1), Forever Young, preserved his unbeaten record in Saturday’s $1.5 million Saudi Derby (G3) – but only after a furious late charge to head Book’em Danno on the line.

Trained by international maestro Yoshito Yahagi, Forever Young was bet down to odds-on favoritism on the strength of his power-packed display in the Dec. 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki. The Triple Crown nominee couldn’t secure the same forward position at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, however, once he broke a beat slow and didn’t have the speed to improve. Indeed, for much of the way, he appeared a doubtful winner.

Regular rider Ryusei Sakai wisely steered him wider out to avoid the kickback, and Forever Young finally began to gain traction on the far turn. Meanwhile, American shippers Bentornato and Book’em Danno were separating themselves from the rest of the field.

When Book’em Danno apprehended Bentornato down the stretch and kicked clear, he looked home free. Forever Young was building up serious momentum, but he still had plenty of work to do to catch the new leader who wasn’t stopping. Despite staying on his wrong (left) lead, Forever Young somehow closed the gap in time and mugged Book’em Danno.

The top two both delivered outstanding performances in by far the fastest running of the Saudi Derby in its five-year history. Forever Young clocked the metric mile in 1:36.17. The next-best time of 1:37.91 was posted by Japan’s Full Flat in the inaugural edition, and the ensuing three winners had all required more than 1:38.

Another metric, the margins back to third and fourth, reinforces the point. Bentornato crossed the wire six lengths behind Book’em Danno, and there was a further five-length gap to locally-based pacesetter Ajwadi.

Susumu Fujita’s Forever Young, who gave his backers $3.50 as compensation for the drama, is now 4-for-4. Yahagi commented that he wished the Saudi Derby would have been part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. He’ll stick to his plan and try to book his spot at Churchill Downs in the UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup night.

A “cousin” of Risen Star (G2) hero Sierra Leone, Forever Young is by the Yahagi-trained Real Steel and out of Grade 2 queen Forever Darling, by Congrats. Sierra Leone’s dam, Grade 1 winner Heavenly Love (by Malibu Moon), is closely related to Forever Darling – both are by A.P. Indy stallions and out of Grade 1-placed stakes victress Darling My Darling.

Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3)

Japan made it a quickfire double in the next race, the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3), as Koji Maeda’s homebred Remake rallied to run down Steve Asmussen’s 5-2 favorite Skelly. Third here a year ago behind a pair of American stars in champion Elite Power and Asmussen’s Gunite, Remake uncorked a whirlwind finish to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:10.42 for about six furlongs.

Skelly, who was in the vanguard throughout, held the runner-up spot by 1 1/2 lengths from another deep closer, Bold Journey. Japan’s speedy Jasper Krone tired to fourth.

Remake, ridden by Yuga Kawada, returned $9 as the 7-2 second choice. The Koichi Shintani pupil advanced his scorecard to 17-8-3-2, including last year’s Korea Sprint (G3) and Cluster Cup as well as the 2022 Capella (G3). By another Maeda globetrotter, Lani, the five-year-old was produced by the Grade 3-placed King Kamehameha mare Sariel.

Neom Turf Cup (G2)

Europeans swept the trio of Group races on turf.

In the $2 million Neom Turf Cup (G2), the Richard Fahey-trained Spirit Dancer continued his progression to spring a $29.40 upset with Oisin Orr. The late-blooming seven-year-old mowed down odds-on favorite Luxembourg in deep stretch, negotiating about 1 5/16 miles in 2:07.10 on the good-to-firm course. Japan’s Killer Ability speared through for second, one length adrift. Gulf-based Calif got up for third, and Luxembourg weakened to fourth after prompting the pace from the outside post 13. The Foxes was surprisingly eased home in last.

Spirit Dancer, a homebred racing for Sir Alex Ferguson in partnership with Done and Mason, has been in career form of late. The Frankel gelding completed a hat trick in last summer’s Strensall (G3) at York, and reached a new level to take the Bahrain International Trophy (G2) two back. He was most recently fourth in his Jan. 26 tune-up, the Jebel Hatta (G1) at Meydan, and his Saudi heroics improved his record to 25-8-6-2.

Fahey indicated that Spirit Dancer was likely to return to Dubai on World Cup night, either reverting in trip for the Dubai Turf (G1) or stepping up for the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1).

Red Sea Turf H. (G3)

After Luxembourg’s loss, another Aidan O’Brien favorite, Tower of London, got the job done in the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf H. (G3). Jockey Ryan Moore adopted different tactics on the 3-1 choice, dropping back from post 12 and angling over to bide his time near the rear. The Galileo colt then endured a checkered passage on the final turn, got strung up in traffic at the top of the lane, and had to wait to swing out for daylight.

By that point, British invaders Enemy and Giavellotto were fighting out the finish. But Tower of London accelerated in the final stage of the about 1 7/8-mile test to nail Enemy in a stakes-record 3:04.43. Giavellotto was a gallant fourth under top weight of 137 pounds, conceding six pounds to the top two.

Tower of London’s first Group victory was worth $8.10 to his supporters. Unable to emulate dual classic-winning full brother Capri when fourth in last fall’s St Leger (G1), the promising stayer had previously captured in the King George V Cup and missed by a head in the Bahrain Trophy (G3) during Newmarket’s July Festival. His resume now reads 9-4-1-0.

1351 Turf Sprint (G2)

The 1351 Turf Sprint (G2) witnessed a $34.90 upset as Annaf, a stablemate of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) winner Big Evs, plundered the $2 million prize. Under a rail-skimming ride by Rossa Ryan, the Mick Appleby veteran prevailed by three-quarters of a length. His time for the unique 1351-meter distance (about 6 3/4 furlongs) was 1:17.88.

Japan’s La La Christine closed for second, with compatriot and familiar foe Win Greatest fourth. Splitting them in third was Bahrain win machine Byline. Early trailblazer Matilda Picotte faded to fifth. Defending champion Bathrat Leon never factored in a slow-starting, hampered 10th, and Godolphin’s 8-5 favorite Mysterious Night was a lackluster 13th.

Fosnic Racing’s Annaf had top-level form as the third in last summer’s King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot. The Shadwell-bred son of the brilliant Muhaarar concluded the season with wins in the Portland H. at Doncaster, defying his 138-pound impost, and the Bengough (G3). Annaf prepped with a solid second in the Feb. 4 Kachy S. at Lingfield to Diligent Harry, who also scored Saturday in the Hever Sprint S. at Southwell. Annaf sports a mark of 26-8-3-3, and he still has upside in this division as a five-year-old.