Author: Duane Fonseca

CHAIRMAN OF THE Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar bin Faisal Al Saud is excited to see the showpiece Saudi Cup run as a Group One race for the very first time. The feature event of the two days of action which carries a total prize purse of $35.1 million was granted top tier status in October after its first two runnings carried conditions status.

This year’s race will be contested on Saturday, 26 February, at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, with last year’s surprise winner Mishriff, who is owned by Prince Abdulrahman bin Abdullah Al Faisal, the uncle of Prince Bandar, returning to defend his title. Prince Bandar has played a key role in bringing top class racing to the country, turning the Saudi capital into one of the most coveted venues in the world, with connections far and wide now looking to send their horses to compete for the massive purses on offer.

“I get really excited for all the connections in the Saudi Cup,” Prince Bandar said. “We wanted this to be an international event and it has become exactly that. “We have a record number of horses lining up for the meeting and over 70 Group One winners. “It’s mind blowing the interest there is in the Saudi Cup seeing as it’s still in its infancy really: it’s only the third version. I think it’s wonderful for horse racing.”

The two days of action includes the International Jockeys Challenge on 25 February, which has captured the imagination of the world’s best riders. The event is the only one of its kind to feature an equal number of female and male riders (seven each) battling it out as individuals riding locally trained horses.

The event carries a prize purse of $100,000 for the jockeys, with local horse connections standing to win a share of the $400,000 prize money on offer for each of the four contests. History was made during the inaugural running of the challenge when New Zealand rider, Lisa Allpress became the first woman to win a horse race in Saudi Arabia.

Among the riders confirmed this year are Hayley Turner, Jim Crowley and last year’s winner Shane Foley. Prince Bandar added: “The quality level of the meeting has gone up exponentially. People are eyeing the big race of course, but they are equally excited about the others.

“The US guys are very competitive, they come to win and I love that. Everybody is coming to win, they are serious. “I was really excited with the entries for the Saudi Cup, but to be frank I’m even more excited about the entries in all the undercard races. “I’m really looking forward to both days.

I think we have a weekend that is up there in the top five racing events in the world. “And what has really touched me over the past couple of years is how many fans of these big international jockeys there are in Saudi Arabia. The ability to see these men and women in the flesh, it’s almost like seeing Ronaldo or Messi. “They are inspirational figures, great role models and it’s important to have them here; the jockeys’ challenge adds another dimension to the meeting.”