By Gavin Gibbon
Saudi Cup has attracted more than 140 nominations, representing four continents, 16 countries and more than 60 trainers around the globe
The $20 million Saudi Cup has the potential to be part of the greatest horse racing meeting of the year, according to Tom Ryan, Saudi Jockey Club’s director of strategy and international racing.
It will certainly be the richest, with the two-day meeting at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, on February 28-29, carrying a total prize purse of $29.2m.
The Saudi Cup will be run over a distance of nine furlongs (1,800 metres) on turf and is the feature of an eight-race card.
The prize for the winning horse will be $10m with horses down to 10th place sharing another $10m between them.
Ryan, who managed the Naas racecourse in Ireland’s County Kildare for 13 years, told Arabian Business: “It has exceeded our expectations to say the least. They had an aim to run the richest race in the world - which the Saudi Cup is in its own right - and obviously it’s a very attractive pot in terms of prize money, which is a key factor.
“I think it has the potential to be one of the best quality race meetings in the world this year, led by the Saudi Cup itself.”
Held under the patronage of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Saudi Cup is the first international race weekend to be staged in Saudi Arabia.
The race has attracted more than 140 nominations, representing four continents, 16 countries and more than 60 trainers around the globe.
Entries to the featured 1,800m (1m 1f) contest on the dirt have been made by the connections of 143 horses and feature multiple Grade 1-winning mare Midnight Bisou (USA), trained by Steve Asmussen, Grade 1 Cigar Mile winner and four-time Grade 1 star, Maximum Security (USA), prepared by Jason Servis, and the Bob Baffert-trained Breeder’s Cup Classic runner up, McKinzie (USA).
The first turf races to ever be held in Saudi Arabia have received an impressive list of entries.
The 2,100m (1m 2½f) $2.5m Neom Turf Cup entry list includes Aidan O’Brien’s incredibly tough mare, Magic Wand (IRE), who ended a hectic Australian campaign with victory in the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes in November, as well as her stablemate, Anthony Van Dyck (IRE), the Epsom Derby winner.
Successful in the Singspiel Stakes at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse, Benbatl (GB), trained by Godolphin’s Saeed Bin Suroor, has intriguingly been entered for both the 2,100m (1m 2½f) Neom Turf Cup, as well as the Saudi Cup on the dirt.
Italian superstar Frankie Dettori, 11-time British Classic-winning rider Ryan Moore, four-time Breeders’ Cup-winning Frenchman Olivier Peslier and, from America, the most successful Breeders’ Cup jockey of all time, Mike Smith, are all confirmed to take part over the two-day event.
Ryan said: “To get to this standard in year one has been really surprising and encouraging.
“Let’s be very honest: the main race wasn’t too hard to sell. But I think the way we went about it through the summer and the autumn last year, we were upwardly mobile, we were present at all the major events and we took the time to go and meet the trainers, meet the owners and put a personal touch to the approach. I think that’s something that has really served us well.”
Some 10,000 people are expected through the gates on both days with expected VIP guests including Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; and Ireland’s leading thoroughbred stud owner John Magnier.
“All the big operators are due to be here, all the leading trainers. It’s been very positive,” said Ryan.