RIYADH: Early morning rain and grey skies slowly gave way to sunshine as the lucky few who attended the opening day of the 2021 Saudi Cup made their way to King Abdul Aziz Racecourse on the outskirts of Riyadh.
And for the second year running the International Jockeys Challenge was a worthy and exciting curtain-raiser to the world’s most valuable horse race on Saturday.
In particular, it proved memorable for overall winner Shane Foley, while Saudi jockey Adel Alfouraidi came in second, with veteran American Mike Smith third.
“It’s fantastic to be involved,” Foley said. “It’s on the big stage, there are a lot of people watching and it’s obviously good for your career to be seen by different owners.”
On offer at each of the $400,000 challenge races were 15 points for the winner, with the next four finishers winning 10, seven, four and two, respectively.
“It was pleasant surprise on my end because I wasn’t even supposed riding the Jockeys Challenge,” Smith said. “John Velazquez couldn’t make it and I filled in for him. We started out winning one, and the second one I’m not sure what exactly happened.
“This is a great event, the prize money is amazing,” he added. “When the purses are $400,000, and when people travel a long, long way, it makes it worth their while.”
Smith, who won the International Jockeys Challenge last year, even joked about his age compared with some of the newcomers.
“I’m the old man of the group, but I feel great,” he said. “It’s really great to see these younger, up-and-coming, extremely talented riders come from all over the world to compete, and you get to meet new friends.”
The day started with the Imported & Local Bred Handicap, worth SR95,000 ($25,300), with Emblem Game grabbing the SR47,500 top prize.
Runner-up Zander and third-placed Intellect collected SR19,000 and SR14,250, respectively.
In the Saudi International Handicap, sponsored by Al-Rajhi Bank, Walter Ramos rode Petrus — owned by Refaei Sanat Alghuraban and trained by Fawaz Alghareeban — to victory, claiming $300,000, while Desert Lion came second and Rayounpour, ridden by Frankie Dettori, third.
The top prize of $200,000 for the International Jockeys Challenge (round 1), sponsored by STC Dare went to Mortajeh, owned by Prince Faisal bin Khaled, with the first 15 points going to Smith.
Naj’jam and Riyadee claimed 10 and seven points for their jockeys Nanako Fujita and Ramos.
The second International Jockeys Challenge sponsored by STC Cloud, followed, with Emblem Star of Albayraq Stable, ridden by Foley, snapping up top prize. Mon Choix came second, while Switzerland’s Sibylle Vogt, one of the stars of last year’s event, came in third on Aroahom.
The fifth race of the day, the Local Bred Fillies Open, saw Mosawtah edge Motaetterah to claim the win and the SR50,000 top prize. Khazeenah came third.
With the sun sinking and the skies slowly turning grey again, the floodlights came on for the spectacular conclusion of the day’s races.
The third Jockeys Challenge, sponsored by STC Pay Instant, brought a second win of the day for Foley, riding Motawariyah, owned by Majed Mahal W. Albugami.
PHOTO GALLERY: Saudi Cup 2021 Day One
Alaeda’a, Montahezah, Aljamee and Mayhamah were the other top five finishers.
The winner was delighted to claim victory on the dirt course.
“Its a beautiful course, very kind,” said Foley. “They’ve done a fantastic job, fantastic race. It’s brilliant to be here.”
He added: “I’ve been here since Monday training hard. I’m looking forward to the next ride and tomorrow. It’s great to be at these kind of things with everything that’s going on at the moment.”
Victory in the fourth and final International Jockeys Challenge, sponsored by STC Tamayouz, went to Saudi jockey Alfouraidi, riding Zhabi Alhammad, although the overall competition was Foley’s.
“It means a lot to me to represent all Saudi jockeys,” the winner said. “She was a favored filly, a good filly and she gave me a lot of help to win this race.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling, I felt that everyone was with me,” he added. “It was dream come true.”
Foley topped the final placings with 30 points, with Alfouraidi on 25 and Smith on 19.
The final race of the day, the Local Bred Horses Open, was won by Najmak Aali, owned by Naser Abdurahman Naser Alrabia and ridden by Luis Morales. Doctor Zohair and Mothaweqah came in second and third.
On Saturday all eyes will turn to the $30.5 million Saudi Cup day, culminating in the showpiece $20 million race.