Two of America’s top horses, WHITE ABARRIO and NATIONAL TREASURE, take on some of the world’s best on Saturday, Feburary 24 in the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) at King Abdulaziz racecourse in Saudi Arabia. White Abarrio will be making his first start since flying to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Samta Anita last November. National Treasure just won the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.

FMQ Stables owner Faisal Al Qahtani tasted success on Saudi Cup night last year with Commissioner King in the Group 3 Boutique Group Saudi Derby, and this year has a live chance in the world’s most valuable race with Saudi Crown.

The flashy grey son of Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming was last seen winning the G3 Louisiana Stakes cosily, having previously finished down the field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, and Al Qahtani sounds confident that Saudi Crown is back on the right path for this weekend’s Riyadh showpiece.

“We will see a different horse from the one that we saw in the Breeders’ Cup,” said owner Al Qahtani.

“He’s grown up a lot since that run and we feel he’s much better. His prep race was very pleasing, and he can step forward from that. The 2000m trip was right at the limit of what he could achieve at that time (at the Breeders’ Cup), and I think the step back to 1800m is ideal. He can be a champion at this distance.

“The preparation for Saudi Crown has been great and I know Brad Cox is very happy with the horse, so we are all waiting and excited to see him after he’s settled in and begins trackwork.”

Confirming his jockey for the $20 million contest, Al Qahtani said: “Florent Geroux will definitely be back on-board Saudi Crown. He’s ridden him in all bar one of his races, so Saudi Crown is his buddy really.”

Al Qahtani is under no illusions that next Saturday’s contest looks a strong renewal, though:

“This year’s race looks the greatest in the history of The Saudi Cup, so we’re well aware of the challenge. Even the reserves are very strong.

“I think the pace is going to be strong. Imagining the race, I can see Saudi Crown and National Treasure leading because they have a lot of natural speed, but that’s just my personal view. I haven’t discussed with the trainer or the rest of the team yet.”

And it is not the world-beating money on offer, or the 24ct gold, metre-high trophy that Al Qahtani is excited for. He said: “I named Saudi Crown after the Crown Prince. If we win, the most important thing for me would not be the prize, or the cup, but having the pleasure of seeing my leader and shaking his hand.”

On Saudi Cup Friday, when the International Jockeys Challenge takes place, FMQ Stables also have an interest in The Tuwaiq Cup, a contest for locally trained horses over the course and distance of The Saudi Cup. Their hero from last year’s Saudi Cup night, Commissioner King, is set to run, and he needs to prove his latest run was just a blip:

“He needs to bounce back from his last effort, but there’s a very strong reason why we think he can do that. He bumped himself really hard in the gates and we think that cost him the run. He’s fully healed now and is back breezing really nicely, so I think you will see the real Commissioner King again,” A Qahtani said, referring to the horse’s disappointing 10th placed finish when last seen in early December.

Probable Entrants   – Trainer  –  Last race

Carmel Road, Abdullah Albadah  8th, 2023 Gotham G3
Crown Pride, Koichi Shintani  11th, 2023 Champions Cup G1
Defunded, Abdulaziz Khalid Mishref2nd, 2023 Awesome Again G1
Derma Sotogake, Hidetaka Otonashi  2nd, 2023 Breeders’ Cup Classic G1
Hoist the Gold, Dallas Stewart  4th, 2024 Pegasus World Cup G1
Lemon Pop, Hiroyasu Tanaka  1st, 2023 Champions Cup G1
Meisho Hario, Inao Okada  5th, 2023 Champions Cup G1
National Treasure, Bob Baffert  1st, 2024 Pegasus World Cup G1
Power In Numbers , Ahmed Mohamoud  1st, 2023 Tale of the Cat LS
Saudi Crown, Brad H. Cox  1st, 2024 Louisiana G3
Senor Buscador, Todd W. Finche  r2nd, 2024 Pegasus World Cup G1
Ushba Tesoro, Noboru Takagi  5th, 2023 Breeders’ Cup Classic G1
White Abarrio, Richard E. Dutrow, Jr .1st, 2023 Breeders’ Cup Classic G1
Isolate, Doug Watson1st, 2023 Al Maktoum Mile G2