RIYADH: A consistent performance from leading US-based rider Luis Saez in Riyadh saw him seal the International Jockeys Challenge, presented by STC, at King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Friday.
It turned out to be the ideal culmination for the competition, with five of the 14 riders from around the world still in with a chance of winning by the last of the four legs.
Saez, a visitor to the meeting in the past, ended up winning one race and finishing second in two others, including the Round 4 finale.
“It’s super exciting, I want to say thank you to everybody for this magnificent moment — my family, well, everybody — I’m pretty happy,” he said.
“Over here I don’t understand the form too much, I could only see how my horses ran last time and so I studied every horse, which was a bit difficult,” Saez said. “But I had a good feeling, I have a lot of faith in my horses, I feel like they are going to run good and every horse ran pretty good so I’m pretty happy.
“I rode the horses like they told me, pretty much. When you break from the gate, when you are in a good position, be kind, be confident and try and win the race.
“This place is very special for me, I really love this course, I love the dirt, I love everything here, the people, I feel like this is home here.”
Saez’s immediate impact in Round 1, the dirt contest over 1,600 meters, proved decisive. Partnering the Mohammed Aldugish-trained trained Wajaab, the Panama-born 30-year-old came with a powerful closing run to pass Joanna Mason and Najm Alenaya close to the line and win by half a length.
The roles were reversed just half an hour later in Round 2, over 1,400 meters. Mason was positive once again with front-running tactics aboard Medbaas, although Saez appeared on her shoulder as the field rounded the home turn.
However, Saez and Kareem could never quite assert their authority and the Bin Khyoot family-owned Medbaas found more for the urgings of the British rider, eventually stretching three lengths clear.
“To come second in the last and win this has been amazing,” Mason said. “I just got told simple instructions, jump out, get to the rail because he likes being in front and push on from the 600 meters, he’s all speed. That’s what he did and he went on again.
“When the horse came to me he pulled out that bit extra. I’m not experienced on the dirt but it rides beautifully, I’ve been on a first and a second, I really can’t complain.”
An amateur rider from as far back as 2006 who has also competed in jump races, Mason has made a striking impression in a couple of full seasons as a professional, steering home 46 winners in the UK last year, and has been clocking up many miles in the car during the current domestic all-weather season.
She continued: “To even be picked to be out here, as much as representing the UK and the rest of the world and the females, to have a second and a winner, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It’s a dream come true, everyone has been so hospitable.”
The best finish of all came in Round 3, the 1,200 meter turf sprint. Both Frankie Dettori and Aasser, and Bauyrzhan Murzabayev on Hapipi Go Lucky, had looked to have come with perfectly-timed late challenges as Yuga Kawada and Groom began to weaken well inside the last 200 meters.
It was Murzabayev who got the verdict by a head and a neck, with a horse who was a late reserve for his scheduled mount.
“It’s very beautiful, it was Frankie in the finish,” said Murzabayev, the rider from Kazakhstan who has become the dominant force in the German championship.
“My original horse was a non-starter and then I looked at this one and I thought he would have a chance. He turned out to be my best chance today. A lot of things have changed since the last time I rode here and I am delighted to be back and to be riding in this challenge. It’s a great day to be here and it gives me a lot of exposure, which is great.”
Round 4, the 2,100 meter turf event, had seen Saez holding a small lead from Mason, with Joao Moreira, Murzabayev and Kawada still in the hunt. In the end it was a straightforward win for last year’s Japanese champion jockey Kawada, who coasted four and a half lengths clear aboard Starcat, with Saez and Incumbent following them home.
The victory enabled Kawada to finish overall second from Mason in third.