The youngest of the great international horse races is also the richest. Sponsorships for the second edition of the Saudi Cup have risen a whopping 600%, while 31 individual G1 winners and horses from 19 different countries are getting ready to perform on February 19-20th. Sadly, this will be one more race behind closed doors because too many health safety restrictions are still severe in Riyadh. Hopefully, late spring and summer will bring back some normality to the racecourses. If you want to keep up to date with competitions worldwide, visit this compilation of 2021 horse racing calendars and be sure to scroll down the page to find all the events you are interested in.
Despite the disappointment of running without spectators, the Saudis are in high spirits about their upcoming event. Organized by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia and run at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Cup is a two-day international racing festival. The Saudi Cup day card carries a total prize purse of $30.5m and features dirt and turf races for the world’s highest caliber racehorses.
Before the primary race on Saturday, February 20th, an International Jockeys Challenge the day before will include seven female and seven male jockeys competing as individuals. Last year, this inaugural event was marked by the first women’s participation to ride under the rules in Saudi Arabia. Lisa Allpress, a four-time New Zealand champion, was the first female jockey to win a race in the Kingdom. At the end of the Challenge, Sibylle Vogt was crowned champion. For the second edition, an additional attraction on Friday 19th will be the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap for horses trained in IFHA-registered Part II and III racing countries.
Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of both the Equestrian High Commission and the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia (JCSA), has explained that the Saudi Cup 2021 is an invite-only event. The festival will be held behind closed doors and observe rigorous safety protocols. “Only the horses and the horse connections, and perhaps a limited number of guests with the owners, will be allowed to attend while maintaining the Ministry of Health’s strict requirements in terms of masks and social distancing.”
Despite this setback, the Saudi Cup has lofty ambitions. “One of the key indicators we are required to report to the government annually is how are we creating an industry,” Prince Bandar said.
“The JCSA is transforming this from a purely sport-oriented activity to an industry, and the government is very keen on how many jobs we’re creating for Saudis and how many Saudis are entering the sector.” The government was pushing for the new event to be one of the top five in the world right from the first edition in 2020, so the $20-million purse for the main race served the purpose of speeding things up. The whole concept though, is much broader and includes a vision of global development of Saudi tourism and valorization of key heritage sites and new ambitious projects of unique attractions.