Saudi Arabia set to up racing stakes with globe’s ‘richest race’

JEDDAH: Up to $29 million could be up for grabs in February next year as details of the new King Abdulaziz Horse Championship have emerged.

It is just over a month since Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority announced that the new championship would rival the world’s greatest races but, until now, details were scant.

The main event will be staged on the dirt course at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh and will be run over 2,000 meters.

Feb. 23 has been earmarked as a likely date, although any time in the last two weeks of the month are possible. This could clearly clash with the Emir’s Sword international meeting in Doha, Qatar, which was held at Al-Rayyan Racecourse between Feb. 22 and 24 of February this year. The Saudi Arabian Equestrian Club also hopes to establish a prep race ahead of the big day, along the lines of Dubai’s Super Saturday concept that acts as a feeder for the Dubai World Cup meeting.

“There will be around eight to ten races on the big day,” Saleh Al-Hammadi, director general and secretary of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Club and general manager of the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship, exclusively told Arab News.

“The big race will be something like $15-20 million. Of course the Pegasus World Cup is $16 million but people pay $1 million to participate, so it is different.

“For the other races on the big night we are looking to start at $1 million.”

Should the races go ahead, it would mean that a thoroughbred dirt performer could run for $16 million in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in Florida at the end of January, the new King Abdulaziz Horse Championship for up to $20 million in February and the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai in March.

Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Arrogate, who has been retired after wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, is currently the all-time largest earning racehorse at $17,422,600.

Last month there was a reshuffle of the management board at the Equestrian Club with Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal appointed as chairman, while Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and Prince Abdullah bin Khalid Bin Sultan were appointed by royal decree as fellow board members.

All four of the board members met last week and will do so again in four weeks’ time when the further details of the big race and shoulder races should be finalized and announced.

Behind the headlines there is still a lot to be done before the grand vision is realized. For a start there are international protocols to set up in order for the import and export of racehorses. Saudi Arabian race rules need to be elevated to international standards and the issues of harmonization of race rules need to be discussed.

“Yes, we need to discuss all of this,” Al-Hammadi said.

“We looked at TV rights, race rules, guidelines and the next steps for the club and how to improve things to international standards.

“We will look to utilize foreign experts from Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia. We will have them advise us and maybe there will even be full-time positions.

“We are also going to announce a big program of races during the summer to be held at the King Khalid track in Taif. Eight weeks of races across 16 days from June 22 until August 11. Each fixture will be seven races and will be open for Saudi and expatriate owners.”

Taif is a city in the mountainous region of Saudi Arabia, which is much cooler during the summer.

The King Abdulaziz Horse Championship will surpass the Dubai World Cup as the premier race in the Middle East. The famous UAE race was first run in 1996 over 2,000 meters on dirt at Nad Al-Sheba racecourse and offering a $4 million purse, which was a record at the time. The Dubai Racing Club, which was formed just four years beforehand, managed to lure over the great American racehorse Cigar and his victory over Soul Of The Matter lent a legitimacy to the race as a whole.

The prize increased to $6 million and then was bumped up to $10 million when the race moved to the glittering new Meydan complex in 2010.

In 2017 the World Cup was eclipsed for the first time as the world’s most valuable race when the Pegasus World Cup was established with a purse of $12 million.

Following the running of last year’s Dubai World Cup, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, pledged to increase the purse of the Dubai World Cup to make it once again the world leader. The Pegasus World Cup was subsequently run in January for $16 million.

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