Call The Wind flies European flag on valuable Saudi Cup undercard
European trainers came out in force for an undercard worth almost $7 million (£5.5m/€6.4m) but it took until the third race for them to make an impression when Call The Wind landed the 1m7f turf handicap.
A number of runners were in contention in the straight but Olivier Peslier held his nerve on the six-year-old to claim the $1.5m first prize, finishing two and a half lengths ahead of the Jamie Osborne-trained Mekong in second, with Prince Of Arran in third.
"He showed how good he is," said trainer Freddy Head. "He was able to quicken away and we had a lovely run. He's not an easy horse to ride as he's a bit lazy. He was in a great position on the rail.
"He was difficult to train early on but has improved again from last year. He has to go for the Dubai Gold Cup and will go on Monday."
Call The Wind was cut to 4-1 (from 10s) by Betfair for next month's race and could line up alongside Mekong, who needs an invitation, and the Charlie Fellowes-trained globetrotter Prince Of Arran.
"He's an amazing horse and we're lucky to have him," said Fellowes. "We thought he might get there. The plan is to go to Dubai and then we may look at the Ascot Gold Cup as we feel he could stay further."
Bahrain steal the show
The meeting attracted runners from all over the globe but the first two winners came from neighbouring Bahrain.
There were few bigger cheers from the local crowd than those for Frankie Dettori after the jockey pulled off a piece of magic to spring a major surprise on Dark Power in the 7f conditions race.
The six-year-old, who is trained by Allan Smith and used to run in Britain for Clive Cox, came from behind with a devastating late surge to finish clear of the Godolphin-owned Mubtasim.
"I've been going to Bahrain for five years and had a lot of success," said Dettori. "It was a big deal for their horses to be invited."
The first race on turf in Saudi Arabia also went the way of a Bahrain-based runner, as Port Lions collared favourite Deirdre late on.
Deirdre was a popular attraction during work mornings at King Abdulaziz racecourse and looked as though she had done enough under champion jockey Oisin Murphy, only to be beaten by a head.
"We were a little underestimated and he missed the kick," said winning jockey Adrie de Vries. "I wasn't sure if we could beat the Japanese mare but he settled really well. It's a great feeling."
Consolation for Japan
After the disappointment of Deirdre missing out on the line, there was some joy for Japan as Full Flat won the $800,000 Saudi Derby Cup Mile under veteran jockey Yutaka Take.
The 50-year-old rode the 2000 July Cup winner Agnes World for trainer Hideyuki Muri, and the pair combined 20 years later with Full Flat, who beat Mishriff, one of two John Gosden-trained runners at the meeting.
Take almost recorded a double in the Saudia Cup Sprint, the final race on the undercard, when holding a commanding lead on Matera Sky but was denied by a beautifully timed ride.
Irad Ortiz jnr, winner of four Breeders' Cup races last year, delivered the locally trained New York Central late to win by a head.
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