Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent

Special Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent
Saudi jockey Adel Al-Fouraidi is greeted by his horse's owners as he wins The Obaiya Arabian Classic of the Saudi Cup, at King Abdul Aziz race track in Riyadh on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent

Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent
  • Success of $10 million winner Mishref, jockey Al-Fouraidi and host of other owners and trainers highlighted rising Saudi involvement
  • Al-Fouraidi rode Saudi horse Mubasher Al-Khalediah to victory in the US $2 million Obaiya Arabian Classic

RIYADH: The smile on Adel Al-Fouraidi’s face said it all.
The Saudi rider had just won the last of the four International Jockeys Challenge races to secure second place overall on the first day of the Saudi Cup weekend.
Riding Zhabi Al-Hammad, Al-Fouraidi romped home ahead of the rest of the strong 14-jockey field, having finished second in the second Jockeys Challenge earlier.
“It means a lot to me to represent all Saudi jockeys,” he said, barely concealing his glee. “She was a favored filly, a good filly, and she helped me a lot to win this race.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling. I felt that everyone was with me. It was a dream come true.”
But things were about to get even better for the local boy.
The following day, as the eyes of the racing world turned to the $30.5 million Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race meeting, Al-Fouraidi found himself in the spotlight again.
First, he rode Saudi horse Mubasher Al-Khalediah to victory ahead of stablemate Mutwakel Al-Khalediah in the US $2 million Obaiya Arabian Classic, the richest race in the world for purebred Arabians.
For the second day running, the television cameras caught an elated Al-Fouraidi.
“I thank God for this win. I cannot describe this feeling,” he said. “The race started very fast, but I took my time with this horse because I had ridden him before, and slowly I picked up the pace. In the end, it worked for me and we won.”
To cap a memorable personal weekend, Al-Fouraidi then rode Great Scot — owned by Prince Faisal bin Khalid — to third place in the showpiece $20 million Saudi Cup. A $2 million prize is the stuff of dreams for a jockey few had heard of days earlier.
Naturally, the focus on Saturday night was on the winner of the $10 million top prize, Mishref, ridden by David Egan, trained by John Gosden and owned by Prince Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah Al-Faisal.
And for good reason. A superlative race by Egan saw him steer Mishref to an unexpected victory over the favored American horse Charlatan, trained by the legendary Bob Baffert.
But the real legacy of the Saudi Cup could well be the establishment of a thriving, sustainable horse racing industry driven by the country’s own talent.
This was not an event that simply relied on importing the best international practitioners. Saudi involvement was ubiquitous.
The International Jockeys Challenge, in which riders are assigned horses prepared by Saudi-based trainers, pits 14 international male and female jockeys against each other in four races worth $400,000 each.
But the Jockeys Challenge day is also intended to boost local participation in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, with four other races taking place throughout the afternoon.
On Friday, horses from Bahrain, Spain and the Czech Republic were left behind by Petrus — trained by Fawaz Al-Ghareeba — who emerged victorious at the inaugural running of the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap sponsored by Al Rajhi Bank.
Meanwhile, the Imported & Local Bred Handicap, the Local Bred Fillies Open and Friday’s final race, the Local Bred Horses Open, all provided other Saudi jockeys and trainers a share of the spotlight.
Beyond the races, awards and top prize money, it was a welcome sign of changing times to see how every aspect of the Saudi Cup was carried out by local talent, both male and, significantly, female.
From the volunteers, some clearly still in their teenage years, directing the arriving cars and buses, to the golf buggy drivers, security personnel, media center staff and ushers — all were local, professional and courteous.
While having the finest international talent perform at your doorstep is no doubt inspirational, involving local students and young adults in such programs and events provides a tangible way for Saudis to be introduced into the horse racing industry.
From the Saudi Cup, more competitions and racing programs will emerge according to Amr Zedan, member of the Saudi Equestrian Authority and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US.
The Saudi Cup, he told Arab News earlier this month, “is reinventing the way racing is done from a regional perspective, and internationally as well.”
He also highlighted the Kingdom’s geography and climate as factors in promoting equestrian activities all year round.
“Saudi Arabia is very unique in many ways. We don’t have a single season,” Zedan said. “We have Taif, for instance, where the weather is very pleasant during the summer, so we can have racing meetings there during the off-season. Then we have the on-season, which is the winter-spring. So Saudi Arabia is very unique in that regard, and I know that the Saudi Equestrian Authority has ambitious plans to create a full-on ecosystem to develop equestrian sports in general and racing in particular.”
All the conditions are there to succeed, as Al-Fouraidi and many others showed at the 2021 Saudi Cup. It’s time for young Saudis to take the reins.