Saudi Cup 2021 bookends year of global sporting turmoil with record $30.5m prize money up for grabs

Saudi Cup 2021 bookends year of global sporting turmoil with record $30.5m prize money up for grabs
Luis Saez wins Saudi Cup 2020 on Maximum Security at the King Abdul Aziz Racecourse in Riyadh. (Reuters)
Updated 07 January 2021

Saudi Cup 2021 bookends year of global sporting turmoil with record $30.5m prize money up for grabs

Saudi Cup 2021 bookends year of global sporting turmoil with record $30.5m prize money up for grabs
  • Second edition will take place at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack on Feb. 20
  • Saudi Cup surpasses Dubai World Cup as the richest in horse racing

RIYADH: The long queues at King Khalid International Airport were a sign of things to come, but not in the way anyone entering the Saudi capital on Feb. 26, 2020 could have imagined. 

All eyes were on the Saudi Cup, a two-day festival of international racing that promised to be memorable in so many ways.

And the next few days did prove to be historic. Female jockeys on podiums stole the limelight on the first day, while record-breaking prize money was shared across the second.

The event, sadly, also acted as full stop for life as we know it.

Within days, the coronavirus pandemic had spread globally, bringing all sporting activities to a halt by the middle of March. Masks and lockdowns became the norm. Busy airports were suddenly empty as countries closed their borders for an indefinite period.

Now, one year on, the coronavirus pandemic is still headline news, but for better or worse, the world is learning to live with it — especially when it comes to sporting events.

In just over a month, Saudi Arabia is planning to stage its second Saudi Cup, but far from being limited by the crises of 2020, the organizers have even bigger ambitions this time.

The event’s second edition will again be held at Riyadh’s King Abdul Aziz Racecourse on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19-20, and will feature some of the world’s leading racehorses and jockeys. 

The 2020 Saudi Cup had already surpassed the Dubai World Cup as the richest in racing, with 64 international runners representing 10 countries, including Saudi Arabia, competing for total prize money of $29.2 million.

This time around the numbers are even more impressive.

The showpiece Saudi Cup on its own will once again command $20 million — as it did last year — with the 16-race, two-day event worth a $30.5 million in total.

Seven female and male riders will line up for the International Jockeys Challenge on Feb. 19. Last year, the event proved memorable as women jockeys were allowed to race competitively, and win, in the Kingdom for the first time.

The first International Jockeys Challenge of the day, run over 1,400m (7f), saw Lisa Allpress of New Zealand, riding Matmon, ride to victory and a place in the history books.

“I honestly came here with an open mind,” Allpress said.

“We’ve been well looked after,” she added, playing down her newly bestowed status as Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female winner. “I had no expectations. I decided to come with an open mind and just enjoy it.”

Allpress wasn’t the only one woman jockey enjoying the day, though, ultimately, results meant that veteran American Mike Smith won the overall challenge with 33 points.

In the fourth and final Jockeys Challenge race of the day, Swiss rider Sibylle Vogt, riding, Sabeq’hom, came home ahead of Emma-Jane Wilson on Alshatherwan in second, with the legendary Frankie Dettori on Sha’erah in third. 

A delighted Vogt reminded the world’s media that she had already won over 90 races in her career at that point, and that she sees herself simply as a jockey and not as “female jockey,” before ending with perhaps the quote of the weekend.

“My idol is Frankie Dettori and I’m so happy he was behind me,” she said.

While the International Jockeys Challenge will again set the tone for the weekend, it is the Saudi Cup, this year on Feb. 20, that will have the eyes of racing fans around the world turning to Riyadh. 

Last year, Maximum Security made history on Feb. 29 in front of a watching King Salman as the first winner of the Saudi Cup, taking home the $10 million first prize.

The Jason Servis-trained four-year-old favorite, with Luis Saez in the saddle, stormed to a victory that many had predicted, with Midnight Bisou in second collecting $3.5 million, and third-placed Godolphin’s Benbatl claiming $2 million.

Almost exactly a year on, the staging of the race will signal that sporting activities are back on track in Saudi Arabia.

The new year has kicked off with the Dakar Rally crossing the desert terrain of the Kingdom, and the coming months promise more high-profile football and golfing competitions before the inaugural Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix comes to Jeddah on Nov. 5. 

Another successful Saudi Cup will show that while the coronavirus is yet to be defeated, sporting events in the Middle East and around the world are at least learning to overcome its obstacles — and that Saudi Arabia is open for business.


Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 26 min 15 sec ago

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
  • Elite riders saddle up for $34,600 National Guard Ministry cup at Jeddah Trio Ranch

JEDDAH: The Saudi National Guard Ministry’s showjumping cup competition kicked off on Thursday at the Jeddah Trio Ranch, with Abdullah Al-Sharbatly and Dalma Malhas leading a top-class equestrian lineup.

With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day. About 130 horses were registered in the competition. The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.
Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade. Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.
“We have seven competitions under the names of seven ministries. After good international and Olympic results, support has doubled for equestrian sports, particularly showjumping,” a member of the SAEF technical committee, Ali Al-Sahli, told Arab News.
One rider, Naif Al-Sudairi, said that equestrianism in Saudi Arabia is making rapid advances on many levels.
“With Saudi Vision 2030, we now have more tournaments in all regions of the country, and the competition has heated up,” he told Arab News. “This can motivate the riders to improve and show our best in the run-up to international competitions.”
He added that he is looking forward to representing Saudi Arabia in the global equestrian events.

First day
In the small round on the first day of the competition, Khaled Al-Hady came first with 20 points. His horse, Doberlina Van de Kapel, came second with 18 points. Mohammed Hassan Al-Hadi was ranked third with 16 points, while Princess Al-Anoud Al-Saud secured fourth place with 14 points, and Waleed Al-Ghamdi was fifth with 12 points. Faisal Al-Ouda and Abdul Aziz Al-Hamazani came sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the medium class, Mohammed Al-Malki topped the ranking with 30 points followed by Khalid Al-Mobty, who collected 28 points. Badr Al-Fard came third with 26 points, and Abdullah Al-Sheikh was fourth with 24 points. Ahmed Bakarman came fifth with 22 points.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day.

• The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.

• Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade.

• Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.

Malhas, who secured an individual bronze at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, after completing the round in 38 seconds without a single penalty, came ninth with 14 points. She is also the first Saudi female equestrian to take part in the individual hurdles at the 2018 World Equestrian Championship held in the US city of Tryon.


In the big round, Al-Sharbatly, who won the individual silver medal at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, came first with 40 points, followed by Abed Sanosy with 38 points. Fahad Al-Ghamdi was third with 36 points, while Badr Al-Fard was fourth with 34 points, and Talal Al-Juaid came fifth with 32 points. Sultan Al-Qarza’e and Khaled Al-Mobty came sixth and seventh, respectively.

Riders’ journey
Muneer Al-Ayoubi, who has been riding for over 20 years, told Arab News that showjumping requires understanding between rider and horse.
“I have been participating in showjumping (activities) for more than two years. It is the most difficult type of horse-riding activities,” he said. “Unlike horse racing and endurance riding, contestants have to keep training their horses. The rider and the horse should appear as if they were one soul.”
Arwa Mutabagani, owner and managing director of Jeddah Trio Ranch, said that they have riders of different levels from all over Saudi Arabia.
Speaking about the preparation to host the competition, Mutabagani said: “The horses arrive a couple of days before the competition, so we have to be ready. On-site, we have 150 horses participating, so we have different locations to host all these numbers. We made the warm-up arena ready for the riders to prepare their horses for the show.”
An Italian equestrian expert was brought in to handle the timing and ensure there are no complaints, she said. Mutabagani said that she is training a number of female riders to become champions. Family support is essential in this type of sport, she added.
“To reach a top position, dedication, family and team support, and sacrifices are all elements that should go together. You also have to have a good instructor, a good horse, and you have to have the right competition that can help you move to higher levels,” she said.
She mentioned her daughter, Dalma Malhas, as an example, saying: “When she was competing, she was young and spent weekends at the shows and not with her peers. So, you have to sacrifice being a normal teenager to reach the top.”
Meanwhile, Mohrah Faisal, a female equestrian who took part in the small round, said that she is grateful to SAEF for supporting female riders. “We did not have such an opportunity in the past. Now I hope I can represent the Kingdom at the Olympics.”
She said that her family believed in her passion for equestrianism once they saw her succeeding in many local competitions.
Wafa Hasson, another Saudi female rider, said she competed in the UAE two years ago after SAEF gave women riders the green light, which helped them improve.
Female riders are still looking for opportunities to learn. “I want to go as far as I can. I don’t really have a limit, I just want to see what I can achieve and I will do my best to achieve it.”
Ghalia Al-Musa, another participant, said that she has been riding for 13 years, and her mother is still her biggest supporter.
“SAEF allowed female riders to compete along with male riders in 2019, and it was good news for all female riders. In the same year, SAEF selected the best female riders to represent Saudi Arabia in the Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah, UAE. We came second as a team and I came fourth as an individual,” she told Arab News.
Al-Musa also hopes to represent Saudi Arabia in international events, including the Olympics.
Heavy rain in Jeddah on Friday forced the organizing committee of the National Guard showjumping cup to combine the second and third day of competition on Saturday (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.) when the competition will come  to an end.