When the gates open and the runners and riders get underway in Riyadh on Saturday in the world’s richest horse race, one man will be watching the action with more pride than most.
Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, owner of the hugely successful Juddmonte Farms breeding operation, will not only be closely monitoring the performance of his own horse, Tacitus, in the $20 million Saudi Cup, but will also be celebrating the fact that such a prestigious international race meeting is taking place in the Kingdom for the first time.
Simon Mockridge, director of the UK stud operation, described the Saudi Cup as a “momentous moment” and said that victory in the inaugural event would be “vitally important” to the prince and the entire Juddmonte team.
“I think what we have to remember (is that the Saudi Cup has) an extremely strong field and Tacitus will have to step up to the plate; we’re hoping very much that he can achieve that,” Mockridge told Arab News at Juddmonte’s Newmarket headquarters.
“Prince Khalid’s breeding operation is probably one of the jewels of Saudi Arabian history. It would be very nice if he was able to win the race and I’m sure he and the family would be over the moon. I think being a Saudi he will be very excited to think that they have a race of this magnitude now in Saudi Arabia, and it’s going to create some great waves,” he said.
The Saudi Cup, a two-day meet that begins on Friday at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack, is the latest high-profile event added to the Kingdom’s growing sporting calendar. But while the country only recently embarked on its ambitious program of attracting a host of top-class international sporting events as part of its Vision 2030 development program, over the past four decades Juddmonte Farms has become one of the most recognizable global names in horse breeding and racing.
Founded in 1977 and located a world away from the desert sand of Riyadh in the rolling countryside of Suffolk in England, with further operations and bases in Ireland and Kentucky, Juddmonte Farms has quietly become one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest sporting success stories.
The inexorable rise of Juddmonte, and Prince Khalid, began when Known Fact won the 2000 Guineas Stakes in 1980, a victory that earned the prince a place in the history books as the first Arab owner of the winner of a Classic, the name given to a handful of the most prestigious, elite races in England, Ireland and France.
It marked the beginning of a long and illustrious career for the prince that includes more than 100 Group 1 winners and dozens of Classics winners. According to Mockridge, the secret to that sustained success is down to the building of a highly professional team at Juddmonte and some astute early decisions by the prince.
“I think we have to think back to when Prince Khalid was very active in the market, in the early 1980s,” he said. “He purchased very well, he was advised extremely well and he made very sound decisions. He purchased a lot of good mares and that was his primary focus at the time.
“They were wise decisions, calculated purchases at the time, which he then masterfully guided through wonderful breeding careers. I think globally, if you look at the impact he has had in the 40 years he has been in operation, he’s managed to win every English Classic and every French Classic.
“And to top it all off, he has had in excess of 500 stakes (the most prestigious, and valuable, races, contested by the best horses) winners. So you have to look at him and say that for a medium-sized breeding operation, he has certainly taken the racing and breeding operations to a very high level,” Mockridge said.
Amanda Prior is the general manager of Great British Racing International, which facilitates global investment in British racing and breeding. “It is brilliant to see Prince Khalid Abdullah’s long-serving investment in British racing and breeding continuing to reap rewards,” she said.
“Juddmonte has never had a better stallion roster, attracting world-class mares from all over the world, and will ultimately shape the breed for many years to come.”
It is hard to disagree with her prediction. Juddmonte has bred some of the most successful horses in recent racing history, including the likes of Frankel — the legendary unbeaten horse now standing at stud at the farm’s Banstead Manor base — Kingman, and Danehill, a thoroughbred Mockridge said is “arguably the most important stallion that has stood in the northern and southern hemisphere.”
And yet despite such consistent global success in the sport, the achievements of Juddmonte Farms and Prince Khalid are still more celebrated outside the Kingdom than within. This is something Mockridge hopes will change when the two-day Saudi Cup meet grabs the racing world’s attention and puts Saudi racing on the map.
He was also full of praise for event organizer Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, and the work that has gone in to bring an elite racing event to the Kingdom.
“We have to look at the race itself and say this is one of the strongest races that has been run for a great many years, so this is a phenomenal achievement by Prince Bandar and his team,” said Mockridge.
“I think the difficulty for them going forward is how they can maintain the momentum …but there is no doubt they have positioned this race incredibly well and there has been a lot of foresight here.
“I think if you imagine there is now an opportunity for a single horse to win the Breeder’s Cup and the Pegasus, then the Saudi Cup and to go on and win the Dubai World Cup, races that are worth nearly $50 million in total prize money, then I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Douglas Erskine Crum, Juddmonte’s CEO, echoed Mockridge’s thoughts about the bright future for horse racing in Saudi Arabia.
“There will always be many challenges in establishing racing and breeding but I have every confidence that it will be achieved successfully in the Kingdom,” he said. “The team that has put the Saudi Cup together is very impressive.”
Mockridge conceded that some were skeptical early on about whether it was feasible for Saudi Arabia to host top-class horse racing, but he said the work done by Prince Bandar’s team has silenced the doubters.
“The wonderful thing for Saudi Arabia is that they have been able to attract such a strong field at the first time of asking,” he said. “There was a little bit of skepticism right at the beginning, but Prince Bandar and his team have been very progressive with it.
“The fact they have been able to build a turf course in such a short space of time — and apparently it’s riding very well — that’s extraordinary to me that they have been able to do that. For most of us, it would take generations to get a track up and running.
“So, I hope it’s a wonderful success for them and I would like to see lots of young Saudi people coming out of that and coming in to invest in European and American bloodstock. I think it’s important for the future of racing.”
Regardless of which horse is first past the post on Saturday, the Saudi Cup marks the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for racing in the Kingdom. And given the expertise of Prince Khalid, Mockridge and the entire Juddmonte team, their own success story is likely to run and run.