CHAIRMAN OF THE Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, HRH Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal last week released a list of Saudi Cup day runners bristling with 21 individual Group or Grade One winners across an eight race card. With a total prize purse of $29.2m including a record $20m for the inaugural running of the 1800m Saudi Cup, the race weekend to be staged on 28 & 29 February represents a significant evolution in Saudi Arabia’s racing history. In total King Abdulaziz Racecourse will host 66 overseas runners from eight countries who between them have won 32 Group or Grade One races. The highlight of the card, the first running of the world’s richest race, will see the Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulazizowned Mucho Gusto, trained to victory by Bob Baffert in last month’s Pegasus World Cup, take on Group One winning stablemate McKinzie as well as the might of heavy hitting Group One star, Maximum Security, trained by Jason Servis.
The mares will not go unrepresented with Midnight Bisou trained by Steve Asmussen and the Irish mare, Magic Wand, who is prepared by Aidan O’Brien, set to tackle the colts. Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor-trained Benbatl has landed Group Ones in Germany, Australia and Dubai, as well as a Group Two in Britain, and bids to add a fifth country to his winning CV, while a pair of Grade One stars, Chrysoberyl and Gold Dream, trained by Hidetaka Otonashi and Mitsuru Hashida respectively, represent Japan. Speaking at a press conference at the Equestrian Club of Riyadh’s city clubhouse, Prince Bandar expressed his satisfaction at the strength in depth across the Saudi Cup card. “The establishment of the Saudi Cup is a great moment in the history of horse racing in Saudi Arabia and I am gratified that the global racing community has embraced our new concept with such enthusiasm,” Prince Bandar said.
“I look forward to welcoming some of the world’s most highly decorated horsemen and women to Riyadh and am thrilled that so many champion international horses will be taking part on |Saturday, 29 February.” Top class horses will be on show throughout the meeting. Deirdre, a Group One scorer in both England and her native Japan for trainer, Mitsuru Hashida, is the biggest name in the $1 million Neom Turf Cup over 2100m. Two of America’s top speedsters, Imperial Hint, trained by Luis Carvajal, four times successful at Grade One level, and the Breeder’s Cup Sprint runner-up, Shancelot, for Jorge Navarro face one another in the $1.5m Saudia Sprint over 1200m on dirt. The Charlie Appleby-trained 2018 Melbourne Cup winner, Cross Counter, will come up against the French Group One scorer, Call The Wind, prepared by Freddy Head in the 3000m $2.5m Longines Turf Handicap.
Meanwhile Aatebat Al Khalediah, Masshhur Al Khalediah, Hajres and Ziyadd, top representatives of their breed from Dubai, Britain, France and Abu Dhabi respectively, will clash in the day’s big event for Purebred Arabians and richest race of its kind, the $1.9m Obaiya Arabian Classic over 2000m on dirt. Tom Ryan, director of Strategy and International Racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, added: “Since the launch of the Saudi Cup less than seven months ago, the level of support and assistance we have received from our friends in the world of horse racing has been quite overwhelming, and I could not be happier with the quality of the horses set to contest our big races in just over three weeks’ time. “Quality is spread throughout the card and we are looking forward to watching these superstars of global racing take to the track on 29 February.”