Pegasus, Saudi Cup, and Dubai World Cup: It’s Not Only About Money, Is It?

March 20, 2023

Art Collector returns to G1-winning form in the Pegasus World Cup (Ryan Thompson)

By Michaela Moricova

The second part of this miniseries, dealing with big meetings, their tradition, and potential, looks at a trio of events embodying peaks of the year’s first quarter. How prestigious is it to win the Dubai World Cup held at the end of March? Has the Pegasus World Cup lost its charm after cutting the prize money? And where does the Saudi Cup stand right now? What to think of it after we know the 2023 results? Well, let’s dive into it.

What is the Appeal of the Dubai World Cup?

In the 1990s, we witnessed the birth of the Dubai World Cup Night. Until recent history, Dubai World Cup was the richest race in the world, usually dominated by Godolphin; however, the trend shifted in the past years. As the card offered several rich races, the event quickly gained recognition. Thanks to The Carnival, providing not only the locals with trials for the big races, but the meeting has also become an inseparable part of the March schedule. Besides Godolphin-bound horses, runners from Europe, the USA, Japan, South Africa, Norway, and Denmark often travel to the UAE to compete for exciting prizes; however, what is the actual sound of the meeting?

Honestly, it might be an inseparable part of the first quarter of the year just because there is nothing else to look forward to. Of course, the Road to the Kentucky Derby is on the way, but March lacks any other world meetings besides that. Therefore, we have been paying that much attention to the Dubai World Cup Night because it offers such a purse that attracts some fine animals, but from time to time, we watch the event only because we have nothing else to watch.

Additionally, look at Super Saturday – a Dubai World Cup Night trial day. Do you remember any exciting horses running on that day? Well, recently, only several European horses of interest showed up, for example, Lord Glitters or Al Suhail, and some regular participants in the Al Maktoum Challenge series like Salute The Solider and Military Law. That’s it. 

A Jewel Everybody Craves

So, the trials don’t raise much attention. The Dubai World Cup Night benefits from its place within the schedule; still, it would seem unfair to say that the meeting is not prestigious. Because it actually is. Teams from around the world travel to Dubai to have a say in the Dubai World Cup or the feature races, while the key might lie elsewhere than in what I’ve mentioned – in the settings and atmosphere. Additionally, the organizers offer luxurious prizes and varied races on dirt and turf, they pay for the travel expenses, and the event has its history. 

However, the officials have done a lot to make the meeting attractive, including building the Meydan Racecourse, a beautiful place resembling a horse racing temple. Everything in Meydan speaks of wealth, luxury, and superb animals competing for a rich prize. Although the Dubai World Cup isn’t the richest race in the world anymore, it is a treasured race everybody strives to win in the temple the Meydan track is. It is not just a wealthy race; it’s a jewel that surely has a ring to it. 

The Birth of Pegasus World Cup

Arrogate blazes to victory in the inaugural running of the Pegasus (Coglianese)

The Gulfstream Park gem started strongly with a purse of $12,000,000. With owners paying for the berth for their horses, varied fields met in the inaugural running that Arrogate turned into a one-horse show. The Pegasus World Cup, held over a mile and a furlong, attracted incredible animals in the subsequent renewals, won by Gun Runner, City of Light, Knicks Go, or Life Is Good.

In the beginning, there was an endeavor to keep brilliant horses in training a bit longer, in other words, to prevent them from being retired right after the Breeders’ Cup. To some extent, it worked as the names above suggest; still, Gun Runner and City of Light ran their final races in the Pegasus. It’s necessary to say that the place in the schedule was picked quite logically, and it more or less succeeded in keeping great champions in training for a bit longer.

However, the organizers dropped the system of buying berths rather quickly. After two exceptionally rich renewals, the prize plummeted from $12 to $3,000,000. Compared to who we saw in the first few runnings, the 2021 and 2022 fields lacked something. Life Is Good, Knicks Go, and Code of Honor definitely brought some quality, yet I don’t feel they matched the class of Arrogate or Gun Runner

Fall into Mediocrity

In the beginning, the race offered only a big purse and a convenient place in the schedule. It kept just the second aspect, though, and the teams around the best horses have lost their interest. In other words, Flightline retired after the Breeders’ Cup and Country Grammer ran in the Saudi Cup.

It’s fair to say that the last bunch of three-year-olds didn’t generate many stars; moreover, the brightest one, Epicenter, was forced to retire. Therefore, it’s no wonder the 2023 Pegasus World Cup was relatively lackluster and looked like a standard G1. Although Stilleto Boy, Defunded, Cyberknife, and Art Collector are smart performers everybody would love to have in the stable, they are no stars. They are very useful G2-G1 horses, and it speaks about the Pegasus World Cup for itself.

It started as an exciting opportunity for the champions’ farewells. Currently, it’s almost an ordinary G1 event. Is this the future of the Pegasus World Cup? It doesn’t have to be if the organizers won’t entirely resign from trying to make it more attractive as it seems they have done. After the initial hype of bringing something new and exciting, they surrendered and settled for something less extraordinary. Still, it’s handy to have a G1 race in January.

New Kid on the Global Scene

Panthalassa captures the fourth edition of the Saudi Cup (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Erika Rasmussen)

We have seen the fourth running of the richest race in the world. Is it early to judge how it fares in terms of class? Probably. However, it’s never early or late to gauge its potential to become an inseparable part of the worldwide racing calendar or an event that everybody looks forward to. Firstly, Saudi Arabia succeeded in attracting teams worldwide. Not only do they offer luxurious prizes, but they also picked a February date, and the meeting features other exciting races in two days, both on turf and dirt.

Indeed, it has no long tradition to benefit from right now, it builds only on the date and the prize, but initially, the appeal lied also in the fact that the Saudi Cup could’ve worked as a great mid-step between the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup. However, we’ve already covered that Pegasus is not that attractive anymore. In this aspect, the Saudi Cup beats it, which showed especially in its 2023 renewal.

Promising Future

In the inaugural running, the USA pair Maximum SecurityMidnight Bisou fought for the glory. Then, Europe celebrated the victory delivered by Mishriff. Emblem Road’s triumph in 2022 still feels more like a fluke as the race didn’t work well for any of the favorites, but in 2023, the Saudi Cup really showcased what a proper globally recognized event is capable of. Not only did the Saudis manage to lure Country Grammer and Taiba, but they also attracted brilliant animals from Japan, which resulted in a spectacular win for Panthalassa. He might not have been the best horse in the field, yet he brought a story to Riyadh; he brought Japanese attention to the meeting and proved that the US horses have strong competition also on the dirt surface.

This is what the Saudi Cup can offer. A level playfield for the Japanese and Americans who are at home during the Breeders’ Cup but need to travel as much as the Japanese to compete in Riyadh. If the officials keep the prizes high, this meeting has a vast potential. It still feels a bit bizarre, and some teams venture to Saudi Arabia because it could pay off, and it’s an exotic place to run their horses, but in the future, it could match the prestige of the Dubai World Cup Night. 

The race has huge potential, the organizers have money, and they have their goals firmly set in stone. They are determined to make the Saudi Cup meeting an inseparable part of the global schedule. And that determination is something people around the Pegasus World Cup quickly lost. 

So… Where Does the Saudi Cup Stand?

Surely, these three events cannot match Royal Ascot’s tradition. It simply isn’t possible; however, I wanted to point out that pouring lots of money into a race and hoping it would become a treasured part of the season, cannot work on its own. You need more than that; otherwise, The Everest would currently be the most anticipated race in the world. And we barely know when it’s run (in October). 

You need a vision, determination, and a good date in the schedule. Of the three mentioned races, only the Saudi Cup currently possesses those aspects. The Dubai World Cup has already fulfilled its potential, and it seems the organizers don’t want to compete with the Saudi Cup. The Dubai World Cup is here. Take it or leave it, and they can afford it as it has a tradition, unlike the Saudi Cup. Still, only the future will tell us if people around the Saudi Cup persist in their endeavor. If they maintain the high level, or in a couple of years, sort of lose interest and… follow the path set by the Pegasus World Cup that took the fall. Not into obscurity but into mediocrity.

@jonathanstettin @PastTheWire @BOBCOL Is there anyone and I mean ANYONE better than Mr. Stettin?? I don’t think so. Thank you sir!

Paul Culpo (@PaulCulpo) View testimonials