King Abdulaziz Horse Championship raises the bar in the richest race stakes

The King Abdulaziz Horse Championship is likely to be run on dirt. (AP)
Updated 08 February 2018
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King Abdulaziz Horse Championship raises the bar in the richest race stakes

LONDON: The detail might have been scant, but there was no hiding the ambition with which the new King Abdulaziz Horse Championship was announced late on Tuesday night.
What we do know is that the new international horse race will carry a purse of $17 million, which, if for a single race, will eclipse the $16 million Pegasus World Cup as the world’s most valuable race.
Last March Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid promised to stage the world’s most valuable contest again, and with Dubai’s Expo 2020 on the horizon, it is not out of the question that we will soon have the world’s first $20 million horse race.
The Pegasus World Cup looks set for a third renewal next January and The Everest is the world’s most lucrative turf sprint at $AU10 million ($7.86 million).
But, for now, the $17 million purse for the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship makes it the most lucrative on the circuit.
The aim of the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship, which, so far, does not have a distance, surface, home or date, is to attract the best talent from the racing powerbases of the United States, the UK and Japan.
The Saudi Arabian Government’s General Sports Authority outlined that the fixture would help share the Kingdom’s “historic and cultural legacy,” which has been the modus operandi of neighboring Middle Eastern countries during the past 30 years.
Dubai was the first Gulf state to understand the international marketing potential of sport, and thoroughbred horseracing in particular, when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, set up his Godolphin racing stable in 1992. Others have followed, with varying success, and it remains to be seen whether Saudi Arabia can catch up. And quickly enough.
Saudi Arabia has a considerable international racing presence already, however. Prince Khalid Abdullah is Saudi Arabia’s most successful international racing figure, having owned such equine luminaries as Frankel, Enable, Arrogate and Dancing Brave. But the leading owner and highly successful breeder is in his 80s and, although son Prince Ahmed bin Khalid was at Ascot in July to witness Enable’s triumph in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the succession plans for the Juddmonte operation are not yet clear. 
There is also the issue of competition. The King Abdulaziz Horse Championship is likely to be staged in Riyadh and on dirt. It will therefore be a direct rival not only to the Dubai World Cup at the end of March, but Qatar’s Emir’s Sword Festival at the end of the month. 
The Dubai World Cup Carnival, which is currently in full swing at Meydan racecourse until the $30 million World Cup meeting itself on Mar. 31, attracts horses from around the world and is an established stopover of the international season. It was first run in 1996. 
This new initiative will, in all likelihood, have to break that up or in some way complement it. Alternatively organizers may look to squeeze the event  into the busy international season at the end of the year when the Breeders’ Cup and the Hong Kong International meeting in December takes center stage.
Saudi Arabia’s interest in international sport is growing, and at pace. The country is riding a wave of reform as it works toward Saudi Vision 2030, which intends to transform the country into a global investment powerhouse and strategic global hub.
Perhaps in 12 years time the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship vision may well have been realized, but there is a lot of work to be done in the meantime.


HORSE RACING'S RICHEST RACES

King Abdulaziz Horse Championship $17million

Pegasus World Cup $16 million

Dubai World Cup $10 million

The Everest $7.86 million

Breeders' Cup Classic $6 million


Big-name stars have stands packed as records fall in new Saudi Pro League season

Updated 24 September 2018
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Big-name stars have stands packed as records fall in new Saudi Pro League season

  • A total of 102,509 fans went to Saudi Pro League clashes over the past weekend.
  • The total attendance this season has already reached 249,018, with the GSA setting a target of three million fans over the course of the season.

LONDON: Saudi Arabian officials are delighted with the record-breaking attendances that have been the hallmark of the first few rounds of this season’s Saudi Pro League.
Round three of the current campaign saw the highest number of fans attend games since official records were kept. A total of 102,509 fans went to stadiums up and down the country as defending champions Al-Hilal maintained their perfect start to remain top of the table.
This was in contrast to a total of 19,341 who watched games at the same stage last season and 20,361 from the 2016-17 campaign. 
The latest figures confirm an encouraging overall upward trend. So far in the three rounds already played, the total attendance has already reached 249,018. In the 2017-18 season overall, just over one million passed through the turnstiles. During the summer, the General Sports Authority, the body which oversees all sports in the country, set an ambitious target of three million fans for the new season.
“The season has started as well as we could have hoped for in terms of fans coming to games and we have seen increases of over 500 percent from last season and the season before that,” an official from the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) told Arab News.
“Clubs have been working hard to try and engage with fans and while there have been some free tickets handed out, the standard of football that fans are watching is better than before. We know that we have to keep working hard but it is a great start.”
So far the action has been entertaining and the 100,000 plus fans saw 29 goals in just eight games, with all but eight scored by overseas stars. Many of the big-name signings made by the big clubs have hit the ground running.
Ahmed Musa went to Al-Nassr for a league record fee of around €16 million ($19 million) from Leicester City in the English Premier League. The Nigerian scored a hat-trick at Al-Quadisiya to maintain his team’s unbeaten record. Al-Hilal’s Bafetimbi Gomis and Omar Abdulrahman are other expensive stars who are already producing the goods while Argentina’s Cristian Guanca, who plays for Al-Ettifaq, tops the scoring charts with four goals.
 “The standard of many of the foreign players who came before the season has been better than ever before,” added the official.
“Some of them are already showing the kind of talent they have and have settled in quickly. Others will take more time so as the season goes on then we should see this level continue.”
SAFF administrators believe that this Saudi Arabia’s World Cup campaign — which ended with a victory over Egypt , the Green Falcons’ first win at the competition since 2006 — has helped with the feel-good factor. Allowing women to enter stadiums to watch games is another reason why there have been increased attendances.
The biggest crowd of the weekend was recorded in Jeddah when 41,000 fans turned up to watch Al-Ahli defeat Al-Hazm 2-0. The club provided 10,000 tickets free of charge but it was still an impressive turnout, with the raucous crowd making plenty of noise
Al-Ahli star Nooh Al-Mousa was delighted with the attendance and has called on fans to keep supporting the team in such numbers.
“It was great to see so many people come here to support us,” the midfielder said.
“The atmosphere was great and it really inspires the players. It not only increases our energy and enthusiasm, it also helps us get better results. We hope that the fans keep coming back as we will have a bright future together.”