Saudi Cup: Female jockeys ‘most welcome’ at new $27m race meeting

Nicola Currie
Nicola Currie is a potential rider at the Saudi Cup, trainer Jamie Osborne has indicated

Female jockeys will be encouraged to take part in a new $27m horse racing meeting in Saudi Arabia.

Run on a one-turn dirt circuit, it will have a maximum of 14 starters, with $10m going to the winner and even the 10th-placed finisher earning $200,000.

Two of the supporting races will take place on the same track, with three others on a new turf course.

One of those races on grass is a ‘staying handicap’ over just under two miles and could attract the kind of runners that compete in the Ebor Handicap at York and Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

Organisers anticipate a racecourse crowd of around 12,000 people for the opening year, with ticket buyers guaranteed visas for a country which has traditionally restricted visitors from overseas.

Group photograph
Prince Bandar was joined by Frankie Dettori and more than 20 trainers at an event to promote the new fixture

Who is behind it?

A team of racing experts has been established quickly.

Tom Ryan, a man credited with helping revitalise Naas racecourse in Ireland, was recruited in January to be strategic director.

Phil Smith, the ex-Grand National handicapper who set the weights that horses would carry in the Aintree race, has been drafted in for a similar role.

Harry Herbert, a well-connected British racing figure, is global ambassador.

Leading the project is a member of the Saudi royal family – Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.

“Our goal is for everyone who attends to enjoy their time, enjoy the race and come back the year after,” said the prince, who is a great grandson of King Abdulaziz, founder of the modern Saudi Arabia.

Press conference
Global ambassador Harry Herbert, Prince Bandar and Saudi Cup strategic director Tom Ryan alongside broadcaster Nick Luck at a press conference
Raising the stakes – the world’s richest race
1984 – Breeders’ Cup Classic – $3m
1996 – Dubai World Cup – $4m
2010 – Dubai World Cup – $10m
2017 – Pegasus World Cup – $12m
2020 – Saudi Cup – $20m

Why is Saudi Arabia getting involved in sport?

While oil has fuelled booming economies, there is a need for other income streams – which is where tourism and entertainment comes in.

Motorsport’s Race of Champions, a European Tour golf event and boxing match featuring Britain’s Amir Khan have been held in Saudi.

Horse racing, and sport more generally, has been down this track before – benefiting financially from the interest of Dubai and Qatar, where questions have also been raised about equality and freedom of speech.

The fragile political situation in the Middle East will have made for some interesting discussions.

However, while Saudi and Qatar might not be on speaking terms, it is understood that Prince Bandar has dealt directly with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed over the racing project.

The Saudi Cup takes place a month before the Dubai World Cup, which for many years was the world’s richest race. Trainers may well keep horses in the region to compete at both fixtures.

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September 2019