Saudi Cup: Scotland Yard building case as local hope

February 5th, 2023

One year after locally-based Emblem Road stunned the world in the Saudi Cup (G1), could lightning strike twice for the same connections in the $20 million race? Emblem Road will defend his title on Feb. 25, but his up-and-coming stablemate Scotland Yard might claim to be even better.

Scotland Yard's American background

Like Emblem Road, Scotland Yard is a well-bred American import by Quality Road. Scotland Yard’s dam, Leslie’s Harmony, is the daughter of high-profile parents – Hall of Famer and influential sire Curlin and Broodmare of the Year Leslie’s Lady. That makes Leslie’s Harmony a half-sister to Hall of Famer Beholder, perennial leading sire Into Mischief, and promising young stallion Mendelssohn.

Unlike Emblem Road, who was exported to Saudi Arabia as a juvenile before he ever raced, Scotland Yard began his career stateside. The $300,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase was initially trained by Steve Asmussen for WinStar Farm and Siena Farm.

Debuting on the 2022 Risen Star (G2) undercard at Fair Grounds, Scotland Yard was runner-up to the Mark Casse-trained Strong Quality. He tried again on the Blue Grass (G2) undercard at Keeneland, but never factored in the slop. Scotland Yard wound up ninth behind Ken McPeek’s favored Creative Minister, who went on to win a Kentucky Derby Day allowance and placed third in the Preakness (G1).

Scotland Yard’s next attempt came in a May 28 maiden at Churchill Downs, where he contended before tiring to third. The winner, War Campaign, would place in a pair of stakes, finishing second in the St. Louis Derby and a near-miss third in the Bourbon Trail S. Scotland Yard stepped up to 1 3/16 miles back at Churchill June 24 and turned in another solid effort as the runner-up to McPeek’s Wolfe County.

Placed three times in four starts, with a Brisnet Speed ratings sequence of 84-85-87 on fast tracks, Scotland Yard was a maiden with realistic hopes of winning somewhere. Thus he was an attractive prospect when WinStar Racing, agent, offered him at Fasig-Tipton’s July Selected Horses of All Ages Sale last summer.

Scotland Yard was sold for $255,000 to HRH Prince Saud bin Salman Stables, the owner of Emblem Road. The bay became a stablemate of the Saudi Cup upsetter when joining trainer Mitab Almulawah in Riyadh.

Scotland Yard figures it out in Saudi

Even allowing for the idea that Scotland Yard should enjoy the change of scenery, few could have forecast just how rapidly – and seriously – he’d leap up the class ladder. In the span of three starts, he’s taken care of the maiden win, captured a local Group 1, and aced the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup, historically a race of great prestige in the Kingdom, to book his Saudi Cup ticket. 

In his Dec. 31 bow over a metric mile at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, Scotland Yard broke like a shot from post 6, continued to show speed inside of his pace rivals, and drew off by eight lengths.

Almulawah pitched him straight into better company in the Jan. 14 King Faisal Cup, the same stepping stone that Emblem Road used a year ago. Scotland Yard raised his game to win handsomely. Easing behind the front rank, then dropping further back, he didn’t appear to be in a promising position in the stretch. But the final furlong brought out the best in him. Spot his blue blinkers and white shadow roll as he angles out and rolls by 3 3/4 lengths.

The runner-up, Great Scot, had won the 2021 edition of this race before finishing third to Mishriff and Charlatan in the Saudi Cup. When mounting a title defense in the 2022 King Faisal Cup, Great Scot settled for second to Emblem Road.

While Emblem Road did not run between last year’s King Faisal and Saudi Cups, Scotland Yard wheeled back on two weeks’ rest for the Jan. 28 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup. The stretch-out to about 1 1/4 miles suited him to a tee, as he routed them by 10 1/4 lengths. Scotland Yard used his early speed to secure a stalking position from post 16, cruised up to the leaders on the turn, and widened under an arguably overzealous ride.

Best of the rest in second was Electability, who has a bit of U.S. stakes form to his credit. His placings were well behind the winners, though, when he was third to We the People in the Peter Pan (G3) and runner-up to Home Brew in the Pegasus S. at Monmouth last summer.

On to the Saudi Cup

Scotland Yard bumped up his Saudi rating to 119, just behind top-rated Emblem Road’s mark of 120. But Emblem Road won’t surrender his local leadership without a fight. After winning his Jan. 13 comeback, he will arrive fresher for his Saudi Cup title defense than Scotland Yard, who has run three big races within a month, and now gets four weeks to replenish. Emblem Road also has the advantage of being proven on the grand stage.

Aside from his lesser experience overall, and compressed schedule so far in Saudi, Scotland Yard faces the question of cutting back a furlong for the about 1 1/8-mile Saudi Cup. He looked a tad outpaced at one stage in the King Faisal Cup before asserting his class late in the metric mile, a luxury he can’t afford against the likes of Country Grammer, Taiba, and the Japanese contingent.

Yet Scotland Yard has the profile of a blueblood getting good in a hurry. He’s eligible to have further forward moves in him, and the Saudi Cup has obviously been his main aim.

Although it’s not straightforward to compare different years, Scotland Yard arguably enters the 2023 Saudi Cup with more to recommend him than Emblem Road did at this time last season. On the other hand, Team USA is liable to be more effective, and Japan too, forcing the locals to post an even bigger effort to retain the trophy than to win it in the first place.

Scotland Yard has compiled enough evidence, however, to be more than a mystery horse.