The American runners had a bad case of “second-itis” on Saudi Cup evening Feb. 20 at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh.
Americans contested three events and finished second in each of them. While Charlatan‘s agonizing runner-up showing in the $20 million Saudi Cup itself was the most expensive beat, the others were painful as well.
In addition to Channel Maker‘s runner-up finish behind True Self in the $1 million Neom Turf Cup on the Saudi Cup undercard, Cowan settled for the runner-up prize in the $1.5 million Al Rahji Bank Saudi Derby.
Cowan’s second-place finish in the Saudi Derby was his fifth straight bridesmaid performance and even that looked unlikely early in the race. As Godolphin filly Soft Whisper showed the way, Cowan and Joel Rosario were far back in the field following a slow start.
Cowan, a Kantharos colt trained by Steve Asmussen, picked things up quickly around the turn but, by that time, Japanese longshot contender Pink Kamehameha already had things in hand and crossed the wire first, giving Japan a second straight win in the race. Cowan, gawking at the grandstand through the final furlong, was an easy second with the John Gosden-trained New Treasure third.
Soft Whisper just missed fourth, edged by Godolphin stablemate Rebel’s Romance.
“He missed the break,” Rosario said of Cowan. “Right when they opened the gate, his head was turned, so he lost the break, but he came running. They went very fast up front and he almost got there. It was a good run from him.”
Coming to the Middle East desert, Cowan had second-place finishes in the Indian Summer Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2T), the Remington Springboard Mile, and the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Pink Kamehameha, a Leontes colt and grandson of King Kamehameha, won at first asking in July of 2020 but had shown little in five intervening starts. The Saudi Derby was his first start of 2021 for trainer Hideyuki Mori, who also saddled the 2020 Saudi Derby winner, Full Flat.
Mori said through a translator he “wasn’t so confident” of Pink Kamehameha’s chances. But he responded with an enthusiastic affirmative when asked if the colt now will be considered for more international exposure.
“He showed a very good response to the jockey at the final turn, which was kind of surprising to me,” Mori admitted. “He ran on dirt for the first time, but today’s surface with a bit of rain-affected track must suit him a lot.”
Otherwise on the Saudi Cup undercard:
Space Blues took the lead in the final 50 yards of the $1 million stc 1351 Turf Sprint and won by three-quarters of a length from Dark Power. The victory by the 5-year-old son of Dubawi continued a purple patch, mostly in Dubai, for Godolphin, trainer Charlie Appleby, and jockey William Buick. Space Blues now has won five straight races and bids to be a force in European and United Kingdom sprints this season.
Godolphin struck again in the $2.5 million Red Sea Turf Handicap as Gifts of Gold went to the lead and held on gamely to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Spanish Mission. Gifts of Gold, a 6-year-old Invincible Spirit gelding, is trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Pat Cosgrave had the mount. He was coming off a last-place finish in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 Sponsored by Mina By Azizi (G2) at Meydan in Dubai, his seasonal debut.
Copano Kicking and Matera Sky gave Japan a 1-2 finish in the $1.5 million SAUDIA Riyadh Dirt Sprint.