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Saudi Crown won the 2023 Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx in gate-to-wire fashion for his 1st victory at the graded stakes level.
Should the Brad Cox trainee target the Breeders’ Cup for his next start? If so, should he aim for the Classic or the Dirt Mile? Watch the replay & get the Racing Dudes’ expert analysis, then tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
The Bensalem skies were gray, and the cold winds blew late Saturday afternoon at Parx Racing. An all-day rain had given way to a misty air over the track, threatening to put a pall over the biggest day of racing on the Pennsylvania calendar.
However, inside the paddock, it was all sunshine and rainbows when the young, gray colt named Saudi Crown came strutting in following the 43rd running of the Grade 1, $1 million betPARX Pennsylvania Derby.
FMQ Stables, the rookie ownership group from Saudi Arabia, were whooping it up along with trainer Brad Cox and his team. They were able to let out a little steam after Saudi Crown, the even-money favorite, had completed a gate-to-wire journey by winning the 1 1/8-mile race by a half length over Dreamlike, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.
With the win, Saudi Crown dropped himself into the conversation among the leading 3-year-olds in the country, along with the likes of Belmont and Travers winner Arcangelo, Florida Derby winner 2022 champion 2-year-old male Forte and Kentucky Derby winner Mage. At least that is what his trainer thinks.
This was the first graded stakes win for the son of Always Dreaming out of the Tapit mare New Narration.
“I think so,” Cox said. “He has been there. He needed a breakthrough performance and I think he is one of the top 3-year-olds in the country.”
Ridden by Florent Geroux, Saudi Crown improved his record to three wins in five starts with a pair of seconds. All of his races have been during his 3-year-old season.
And, with a little luck, he might be undefeated. The two times Saudi Crown lost, he was beaten by a nose in the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont Park June 30 and lost by the same margin in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga July 29.
“We have asked a lot out of him in the last two runs and I think he gained a lot of experience and has been battle-tested in his last two runs,” Cox said.
In the Pennsylvania Derby, he showed his trademark early speed by cutting fractions of :23.16, :47.27 and 1:12.17.
“He broke like a rocket,” Geroux said. “I thought I was in a great spot.”
“Based on what we saw throughout the day, I thought he had to be aggressive,” Cox said. “Sometimes, you see that and everyone has the same idea. He has enough natural speed to break clear off and he did and Flo did a great job.”
Scotland, from Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s stable, kept up the chase with jockey Junior Alvarado until the three-eighths pole. Heading into the stretch, Saudi Crown’s lead widened to 2 lengths but he had to brace for the challenge from Dreamlike, who was ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
“Going into the stretch, he wanted to be in the clear,” Ortiz said. “He was responding. He was closing. For a second, I thought if that horse would just come back a little, I could get there.”
For a moment, Cox was having a case of deja vu as he had seen this show before. He was hoping it was not going to happen again, a narrow loss at the finish line.
“Right before he straightened up I saw his ears going back and forth and I thought he was looking around a little bit,” Cox said. “He kind of got a little lost. He is still lightly raced and Flo had to re-engage and push him along.”
Reincarnate, the second choice in the field of 11, never made a serious bid from post position 11 and finished sixth.
Saudi Crown will likely head to the Breeders’ Cup. Which race – the Dirt Mile or the Classic – has yet to be determined.
Faisal M. Alqahtani of FMQ Stables said the decision will come from Cox. FMQ has been involved in U.S. racing for one year. Alqahtani came to the states for the recent Keeneland September yearling sale and stayed for the Pennsylvania Derby. They purchased Saudi Crown for $240,000 at last year’s OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training.
“He could be in the Classic,” said Cox, who also said the Saudi Cup next year would be in play because of the owners.
Saudi Crown covered the distance in 1:50.62 over the sloppy track and paid $4.20. He earned $546,000 to boost his earnings to $817,085.
Il Miracolo finished third, a neck ahead of Magic Tap. The Antonio Sano-trained Il Miracolo had to survive a jockey objection lodged by Tyler Gaffalione, who was aboard Magic Tap. After a short review, the objection was disallowed.
Crupi finished fifth followed by Reincarnate, Gilmore, Daydreaming Bob, West Coast Cowboy, Scotland and Modern Era.
Winning trainer Brad Cox: “Right before he straightened up, I saw his ears going back and forth and I thought this horse is looking around a little bit. He kind of got a little lost. Florent said he was looking around a little bit when he came back to the winner’s circle. He is still lightly raced and he had re-engage a bit and push him along.”
Is Saudi Crown among the top 3-year-olds now? “I think so. He has been there. He needed a breakthrough performance and I think he is one of the top 3-year-olds in the country.”
What was the difference today after losing last two (Dwyer, Jim Dandy) by a nose? “Just progression. In the Dwyer, he had come off a 6 1/2-furlong race (a win) and was stretching out to a mile. He went up the backstretch a little quick that day but overall finished up well. He was passed, he came back and lost the bob. The last time out (Jim Dandy), he got beat a nose by a champion (Forte) in his first run around two turns. We have asked a lot out of him in last two runs and I think he gained a lot of experience and has been battle-tested in his last two runs.”
“Based on what we saw throughout the day, I thought we had to be aggressive. Sometimes, you see that and everyone has the same idea. He has enough natural speed to break clear off and he did and Flo did a great job.”
How far has he come since the Jim Dandy? “You know, he has always been a good horse. We thought a lot of him last year at Saratoga as a 2-year-old. He had a setback and the owners were all good with giving him as much time as he needed. And he rehabbed well. We kept him in Louisville all through the winter and targeted Keeneland with him and it worked out. He is two noses from being undefeated. Very proud of what he did.”
Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or Classic? “He could be in the Classic. Based off the pedigree, by a Derby winner (Always Dreaming) out of a Tapit mare (New Narration), with his physical deal, he could handle the mile and a quarter. Obviously, you have to get the right setup. I am not sure he has to have the lead in order to win. He is a pretty kind horse who breaks well. I will tell you this, with his Saudi-based ownership group – great guys to work with and for – I think the Saudi Cup is one race that is definitely on the target as well.”
Winning owner Faisal M. Alqahtani of FMQ Stables: “It is a historic race. Saudi Crown is all about speed. He’s a winner as a sprinter, he’s a winner as a two-turn horse. That’s just fabulous. He showed his class today. And he has more to do. He lost the Dwyer to Fort Bragg by a nose and in the Jim Dandy he almost got Forte (when second by a nose). Today he showed the world what class he is.”
On a potential start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: “I cannot answer that question. We are professional people. We will regroup with our trainer, Brad H. Cox, who is one of the best trainers. We are here to assist him. The decision is for him.”
Background: FMQ Stables has been involved in U.S. racing for one year. Alqahtani came to the U.S. for the Keeneland September yearling sale and stayed for the Pennsylvania Derby.
Winning jockey Florent Geroux: Surprised at how easy you made the lead? Yes and no. He broke super sharp. I broke and I was almost like a good length and a half in front, so when you break that sharp it allows you to take a better position instead of breaking flat-footed or a step slow. He broke like a rocket and from there I thought I was in a great spot. Reincarnate, being so far outside, I thought it gave me an extra second and a half to slow it down in the beginning. I didn’t see the fraction, what was it, :47? (the half-mile fraction was :47.27)… Pretty good huh?”
“Last time he was a little bit keen first time around two turns. I thought I could go a little bit quicker to get him to go a little more relaxed, and that’s what I did today. Just to have a two-turn race under his belt, I think from now on he’s going to be very dangerous. He’s a horse we always had very high hopes on. We always had faith in him and I’m glad the owner made the trip from Saudi today. They seem very happy and very proud of the horse.”
“It’s great, especially winning a Grade 1 race. He’s a 3-year-old. This year it’s just too bad because he came very late to the party. He’s just two noses away from being undefeated.”
“He started looking around the last eighth of a mile. His ears were flopping a little bit; a little bit too much for my liking, but it was great.”
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. (Dreamlike, second): “Beautiful trip. I saved ground, started moving great by the half-mile, three-eighths pole. Going into the stretch he wanted to be in the clear and he was responding. He was closing. For a second I thought if that horse (Saudi Crown) would just come back a little I could get there.”
“Last time I tried to stay close and he didn’t really fire, so that was our plan. Help him out of there and let him find his stride. I didn’t care where I was. Then try to make a run. Going by the five-eighths pole he started picking it up really good. I was close enough that I could make up that ground. He was doing it easy and comfortable.”
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