As Great Scot romped home to victory in the final challenge of Taif’s King Khaled Racecourse on Sunday, so concluded this year’s summer horseracing season.
Situated at an altitude of 1,900 meters in the western mountains of Saudi Arabia, Taif’s year-round cool and balmy climate make it a perfect location for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia’s summer fixtures.
Pretty much the entire Saudi equine ecosystem — along with many owners, trainers and jockeys from surrounding countries and even further afield — relocates to the pleasant environs of Taif from mid-June to early October.
Kicking off on June 16 with a significantly expanded program, the Taif Season saw a total of 48 meetings and no less than 384 races, double the number of fixtures staged in 2021.
GALLERY: Taif horseracing season ends
Several new contests were added to the calendar, including the $260,000 Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Cup for Purebred Arabian horses, and the National Day Cup fixture, which features the Taif Derby, Taif Sprint Cup and Taif Arabian Horses Derby, all worth over $100,000.
These new races were run alongside more established competitions such as the marquee King Faisal Cup for Purebred Arabians, and the Taif Cup.
Prizes claimed through the Taif season totaled $8.8 million.
Salem Binmahfooz, JCSA director of racing, told Arab News: “Our expansion of the Taif racing season at King Khalid Racecourse in 2022 signifies our continued investment in racing in Saudi Arabia and our eagerness to see the sport flourish and to engage new audiences.
“The significant increase in racing and prize money has attracted some of the best horses in Saudi Arabia as well as the region to race at this unique course.”
The King Khaled Racecourse has seen major investment in recent years, including floodlighting for races to continue after sunset, enhanced quarantining and health checks for the horses, and improved track conditions. The track now includes specialized dirt with a composition of wood pulp and three grades of sand.
“The surface the horses run on is really important, it could make the difference between a horse achieving world-class or terrible times,” JCSA Chief Marshal David Rogers told Arab News. “In many racecourses they don’t get the composition of the dirt quite right, but the JCSA is constantly improving these factors.”
All these efforts contribute to the JCSA’s and Saudi Arabia’s ongoing integration within the global horseracing circuit. The Kingdom has risen from Part III to Part II status, with ambitions to move to Part I.
A wide range of criteria influences this progress, including a consistently high average rating for both local horses competing in JCSA races and Saudi horses competing abroad, and compliance with standards and regulations laid down by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.
With the wrapping up of Taif Season, the Kingdom’s equine community will now decamp back to Riyadh for the winter racing season, held at the JCSA’s King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Al-Thumamah, just north of the capital.
The annual highlight of the Riyadh Season is The Saudi Cup, launched in 2020 and the world’s most valuable. Held in the last weekend of February, the Saudi Cup will this year offer no less than $35.35 million (SR132.5 million) in prizes.
Binmahfooz continued: “Riyadh season is the lead-up to The Saudi Cup of course, but as a standalone race series it also features a number of very important Cup days in its own right.
“Racing seasons are cyclical and the racing programs across Taif and Riyadh are designed to complement each other so that horses can progress from Taif to the big stage of Riyadh and even to The Saudi Cup.”
Alongside a packed program of racing, the JCSA’s Riyadh Season will also feature a host of side activities including fashion, arts and crafts and regional and international cuisine, making it a key fixture of the Kingdom’s sporting, cultural and social agenda.
JCSA Chairman Prince Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal told Arab News: “The 2022 Taif Season has been our most significant yet, with the local racing community feeling the benefits of a number of infrastructure improvements implemented by the JCSA. We have enjoyed an extended race schedule with some very important domestic races as well as an expanded Purebred Arabian program.
“Now we will carry this momentum into the Riyadh racing season. Many of the standout horses that were campaigned through the Taif Season will be very much in evidence at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, as we build towards our major cups and of course, The Saudi Cup.
“This is a hugely exciting time to be part of the JCSA and to see the progress that Saudi Arabia is making as a racing jurisdiction, both globally and on the domestic front.
“We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more, or experiencing the thrill of the action, to come and visit us during our race meetings, ask questions and get involved.”