“We Have Ambitions To Extend Our Offering”
The racing world has taken notice of The Saudi Cup in a big way. From the record prize money of the $20 million namesake fixture to a brilliantly executed inaugural event from a hospitality standpoint, the Riyadh showcase has set the bar high as it heads into its second edition. Add to that the ever-present complications of the COVID-19 situation and 2021 is looking like a memorable renewal in many ways. Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, kindly took the time to discuss the 2021 Saudi Cup, which will include another supporting card of rich global affairs.
“There were so many positive things to take out of Saudi Cup 2020, but one of the most pleasing aspects for me, personally, was the level of support we received from the world’s top trainers and owners,” Prince Bandar said. “In the eyes of the racing world, we were an unknown quantity and we knew our biggest task would be demonstrating to the industry that we are a safe pair of hands. The fact that the inaugural Saudi Cup welcomed 22 individual Group or Grade 1 winners is an excellent measure of the level of delivery achieved and we only want to build on that.
“We received brilliant feedback from some of the most respected players in the horse racing industry and were incredibly proud to host these amazing animals and their connections in Riyadh,” he continued. “Now we will take that feedback forward and use it to deliver an even stronger event in 2021.”
Moving forward to 2021 means a set of new circumstances. Not only the essential balancing act of trying to maintain the momentum of a blockbuster opener while growing the product, but also doubly unchartered territory of a global pandemic. Speaking to the former, Saudi Cup announced purse increases to the Saudi Derby, Obaiya Arabian Classic (for Purebred Arabians, naturally) and the Jockey Club Local Handicap for Saudi-based handicappers. The overall increase bumps the day to $30.5 million in prize money.
“The Saudi Cup is here to stay and we wanted to demonstrate our commitment to the sport and to the long-term development of the Saudi Cup race weekend,” Prince Bandar explained. “We felt that the races with increased prize money this year were deserving of it. The Saudi Derby (up from $800,000 to $1.5 million) has produced excellent form especially from the runner-up, Mishriff, who has gone on to great things in England and France. We would like to see the race develop into a prestigious Derby on the global calendar and the prize money boost reflects this aspiration.
“The Obaiya Arabian Classic ($1.9 million to $2 million) is the richest Purebred Arabian race in the world and a key contest that celebrates the heritage of the Purebred Arabian horse and the high standard of global competition that exists in this code of racing. We saw the Jockey Club Local Handicap ($500,000 to $1 million) as a fitting way to honour the domestic owners, trainers and jockeys who have supported the industry week-in-week-out for many years in Saudi Arabia and the prize money on offer in 2021 reflects this.”
Regarding COVID-19, the tone is definitely one of reflection and humility. During the week of Saudi Cup, the world was struck with sudden, intense travel lockdowns and a palpable sense of anxiety. Prince Bandar and his team, captained by Tom Ryan (Director of Strategy & International Racing), flourished through said trial, putting on an enjoyable show that featured popular winners from France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and America.
“We felt that the inaugural Saudi Cup was very fortunate with the COVID-19 situation,” Prince Bandar said. “We certainly had some difficult moments at the last second with getting everyone into the country, but we were able to move quickly and find the solutions that allowed us to successfully stage the event. Since February 2020, the world has changed, especially the world of large events where people would normally congregate. We have been able to closely observe the measures taken by other sporting events, especially those in major racing jurisdictions. We are working closely with the authorities to ensure best practice for Saudi Cup 2021 and safe travel for our guests.
“The main take out from the COVID-19 era is the necessity of robust communications and agile management,” he continued. “We will be keeping all our stakeholders fully informed of our decisions at the earliest stage and our decisions will be made with the goal of holding the most accessible and safest event possible in the current global situation.”
Keeping an eye on the future, one would be remiss if they did not query about an expansion of Saudi Arabia’s elite international racing, such as a Carnival-style programme leading up to the $30.5 million day. This comes at a time when flat racing is flourishing in the region, accentuated by the $650,000 Bahrain International Trophy set for November, Abu Dhabi’s $1.3 million Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown in December and the long-esteemed Dubai World Cup in March.
“The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia has made no secret of the fact that we have ambitions to expand our offering, both on the domestic front and internationally,” Prince Bandar concluded. “The key to this in the first instance is a cooperation between the Gulf racing countries and this is something we are pursuing and have been developing for a number of months.”
-Full Flat wins the inaugural Saudi Derby (The Saudi Cup/Neville Hopwood)
-Omsiyaatee wins the Jockey Club Local Handicap (The Saudi Cup/Doug De Felice)