RIYADH: When the gates of King Abdul Aziz Racetrack open at noon on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, it will usher in a new era for sports and entertainment in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Cup, the world’s most valuable horse race is finally here — and not for the first time in recent years the eyes of the sporting world will turn to the Kingdom.
The numbers tell their own story: Eight races, a total purse of $29.2 million.
Prize money for the main event and final race of the day, the Saudi Cup, will be a record-breaking $20 million, with the winner taking home $10 million and the rest of the field sharing $6.5 million.
The line-up features a formidable American presence, including the highly rated Maximum Security and the Bob Baffert-trained duo of McKinzie and Mucho Gusto, but there will be significant regional interest as well.
Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, owner of the Juddmonte Farms breeding operation, will watch his own horse, Tacitus, take on the strong field in the Saudi Cup. “This is like the icing on the cake to be able to be here and participate in this race,” said trainer Bill Mott of Tacitus.
“It’s exciting. The great connections I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to be involved with at Juddmonte wanted to participate in (the Saudi Cup) and they’re excited as well.”
The Saudi Cup will also feature Godolphin’s six-year-old Benbatl, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, who will also have pupil Final Song running earlier in the Samba Saudi Derby. A win for Benbatl, son of the famous Dubawi, will raise his career earnings to more than $15.7 million.
“It would mean a lot for us to win,” bin Suroor said. “It is the first-ever Saudi Cup and the first big international race in Saudi Arabia. It is a very important race and it will be important for us to see him run well and win. He has been a very good Group 1 horse for us and very versatile. I’m very happy with him and I think he will have a good run.”
In the run-up to the headline event, seven other races, with combined prize money of $9.2 million, will take place in front of the magnificent 5,000- seat main grandstand. VIPs and members of the public arriving at the Golden Entrance will have plenty of time to acquaint themselves with the different facilities and services of the track, which include the Saudi Cup Pavilion, the Red Sea Pavilion, the Main and Saudi Cup Grandstands, the food court and picnic area, a tech zone and a children’s play area.
The first race of the day, the 2,100-meter Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup, will be run on turf at 4 p.m. local time. It will be followed by the stc 1351 Cup (1,351 meters), also on turf, at 4:35 p.m.
Meanwhile, Freddy Head, who has ridden and trained major winners all over the world, is hoping to add the inaugural running of the $2.5 million Longines Turf Handicap (5:10 p.m.) to his list of triumphs when he rides six-year-old Call The Wind.
“He is a very consistent horse,” said the trainer. “Last year was a bit frustrating, though. He was unlucky a couple of times and had to carry a lot of weight.
In France, when you win a Group 1 race, you have to carry a lot of weight.”
Head said:“I think it is a worldwide thing to have these big races. It changes the way we train and plan the racing career of a horse. I remember coming here many years ago to ride. It’s nice to come back with a horse and run in a big race. Hopefully, he runs well here and then he will go back to Dubai.”
At 5:45 p.m. the Obaiya Arabian Classic, for purebred Arabian horses, will run over 2,000 meters on the dirt track before a 45-minute break.
Visitors will have the chance to observe the Maghreb prayers at 5:56 p.m. before returning in time for the fifth race of the day, the Jockey Club Local Handicap at 6:30 p.m.
This will be followed at 7:10 p.m. by the 1,600-meter Samba Saudi Derby, before the Isha prayer at 7:26 p.m.
No doubt the excitement will have built to fever pitch by the time of the penultimate race, the Saudia Sprint.
Gladiator King, Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al-Nuaimi’s Dubai-based runner, will put his unbeaten 2020 record on the line in the 1,200-meter event — the same distance at which he won both his starts this year in Meydan’s Dubawi and Al-Shindagha Sprint.
The showpiece event of the day, the Saudi Cup, will be run on dirt over one lap of the 1,800-meter King Abdul Aziz Racetrack.
The one-meter-high Saudi Cup trophy and a cheque for $10 million awaits the winner. Along with a place in history.