The world has a new richest race with the announcement of the $20m Saudi Cup, to be run at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh on February 29, 2020.
Details of the contest were announced by Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club Of Saudi Arabia, at a launch event in
Saratoga on Wednesday.
The race will be run over a distance of nine furlongs (1800 metres) on dirt and have a maximum field of 14 starters. The race will be free to enter and free to run in.
The prize for the winning horse will be $10m with horses down to 10th place sharing another $10m between them.
Announcing the creation of the Saudi Cup, His Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, said: “The introduction of the Saudi Cup as an international race is without doubt the most significant event in the history of horseracing in Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates our resolve to develop this great sport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and also our ambition to become a leading player on horseracing’s world stage.
“We look forward to welcoming international horsemen and women, the media, racing enthusiasts and the public to Riyadh in 2020.”
The Saudi Cup will take its place in the international calendar at the end of February and will be run four weeks after the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, and four weeks prior the Dubai World Cup at Meydan, meaning that the top horses in training have the opportunity to compete in all three of the most valuable dirt races in the world.
The prize money of the Saudi Cup places it in esteemed company. The Pegasus World Cup had a peak value of $16m in 2018 while the Dubai World Cup is currently worth $12m.
In terms of turf races, the richest is in Australia (the Everest) and is worth $9.8m, in Japan the mark is $6m for the Japan Cup and Europe’s most lucrative event (the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe) has a prize fund of $5.6m.
HRH Prince Bandar’s connection to horses is an emotional one as less than a century ago, his great grandfather, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, a renowned rider and the founding father of modern Saudi Arabia, was leading his army into battle on horseback, earning himself the title ‘The Last Horse-man’.
In 1932 King Abdulaziz unified the kingdoms of Nejd and Hijaz in creating the new sovereign state of Saudi Arabia.
Horseracing soon became an important cultural event within the young nation and its status was enhanced in 2003 with the opening of a new racecourse in Riyadh, King Abdulaziz Racetrack, with a mile and a quarter (2000 metre) circumference, a three-furlong (600 metre) chute and a state-of-the-art dirt racing surface.
Many of the world’s leading jockeys have ridden regularly at King Abdulaziz Racetrack over the past few years and been impressed with its facilities.
Europe’s jockey of the moment Frankie Dettori said: “I’ve been going to King Abdulaziz Racetrack ever since it opened. It’s based on Belmont, in that it’s a one turn mile and a quarter. Of all the dirt tracks I’ve ridden, it’s the one I like best, as you can win from the front, and you can win from behind – it’s a fair track.
“The other thing I like is that the kickback is so much less than on other dirt tracks. I don’t know why, but the sand seems finer and doesn’t stick. You only need a couple of pairs of goggles, where on other tracks you need four or five.
“It’s a kinder track that I can see turf horses handling.”
US jockey Edgar Prado was also enthusiastic: “In my experience, all the time I rode at King Abdulaziz Racetrack I’ve found the track good and safe with a nice stretch run. Horses handle it very well.”
France’s four-time champion jockey Olivier Peslier added: “King Abdulaziz Racetrack is one of the best dirt tracks in the world. A wonderful track and I know that the American jockeys like it very much because it really suits the American horses.
“It has a long straight and there is not much kickback.”
The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia will arrange and fund the shipment of all invited horses, and arrange and pay for the flights and hotel accommodation of the horses’ connections.
In addition to the Saudi Cup, there will be further international races on the undercard ahead of the showcase race. Further details of these supporting races and the full race programme will be announced at a later date.
When Sharjah Ladies Club established the Sharjah Women’s Sports Department in 2008, it was a massive stepping stone for giving rise to a generation of Emirati women who would become leaders in the world of sport.
Eleven years later, the organisation has stayed true to its word as not only has it empowered young athletes in their sporting endeavours and allowed them to practice whatever sport they like in a fully private setting, but it has also created an integrated system to promote women’s sport in the region, particularly in the Emirate of Sharjah.
Sharjah Women’s Sport (SWS) became an independent entity chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi following a 2016 Emiri decree, and has since then gone on to form competitive sports teams that participate in tournaments at local, regional and international levels.
As part of their efforts to promote women’s sports, SWS has also organised various events to provide a platform for athletes to showcase their skills and includes a wide array of sports. This includes the Sharjah Women’s Sports Cup, which was launched in 2014, and a biannual event called the Arab Women Sports Tournament which is set to return for its fifth edition sometime during the first quarter of 2020, after a very successful 2018 edition.
HE Nada Askar Al Naqbi, director general of Sharjah Women’s Sports, said: “With the aim to identify and nurture local talent, we organise a series of regional and international tournaments to enrich their experience.
“Playing with international teams enhances their exposure and level of confidence as they represent the UAE in such tournaments. Such initiatives go a long way in not just elevating the stature of women in sports locally but also provides them with a professional platform to showcase their skills regionally and globally.”
Renowned Emirati equestrian rider, Nadia Taryam, sang the praises of SWS and insists the organisation provides a solid cornerstone for female athletes to shape their sporting careers.
Taryam is currently preparing to participate in the International Show Jumping Competition in Rabat, Morocco, where she is targeting a chance to qualify for the
2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and attributes her success as an athlete to SWS which she claims has made her the athlete she is today.
“SWS goes above and beyond to support female athletes. From giving them the tools needed to tap into their truest potential to supporting them throughout the process of training, preparation and competition,” added Taryam.
“Sharjah Women’s Sports acts as the anchor female athletes need to shape their sporting careers.”
The star showjumper started the sport when she was just 10-yearsold and feels that the society ihas very much stuck to traditional ideas about gender roles and what girls could and could not do, and she says SWS contributed tremendously in breaking those taboos.
“One of the biggest challenges is to change people’s mindsets around their expectations from a girl, things like it’s not right for a girl to compete in male dominated sports, and win,” said Taryam.
“However, since the formation of SWS, a lot has changed for the better for us.”
Many people go that extra mile, but one Emirati always goes a step further than the rest.
Ahmed Al Katheeri became the first person to fly the flag for the UAE earlier this month at the Marathon Des Sables, an historic ultra-marathon staged in the Sahara Desert – unsurprisingly billed as the toughest foot race in the world.
It was by no means Al Katheeri’s first endurance race – he had recently completed the five-day, 270km Al Marmoom Ultra Marathon in Dubai – but he enlisted the help of endurance sports specialists I Love Supersport Dubai to help him reach his goal.
Some 10 weeks later, Al Katheeri was all smiles as he crossed the finish line for his country, after an epic six-day adventure that pushed his body to its limits.
“The conditions were extreme,” admitted the 42-year-old. “It was over 30 degrees in the day time, and at night around 4 or 5, and I had to carry everything with me.
“I was very proud to represent my country and my people, especially without any support from clubs or big companies to find sponsorship.”
As one can imagine, it took meticulous preparation and Al Katheeri honed his nutrition, race strategy, heart rate zones, strength and conditioning, plus technical skills with help from ILSS.
The goal was to finish in very good condition, rather than crawl over the line – and it was mission accomplished.
“Not a huge period of time to do proper work needed for a race like MdS but it looked reasonable keeping in mind Ahmed’s experience – he did a few ultra runs in 2018 including a phenomenal finish at the multi stage one in Dubai,” said Rinat Mustafin, managing partner of ILSS Dubai.
“Ten weeks is not a big period to change something drastically however we made a plan to get best out of it.
“We used the 21k trail race at Mt Sana for a race simulation when Ahmed tested all his gears, clothes, shoes, nutrition, did some tempo work.
“It all seems to have worked well and we are proud of Ahmed’s performance at MdS – he did really solid and great work out there, representing UAE flag for the first time ever in the history.”
Not that Al Katheeri is stopping there.
He plans to run the 100km Race to the Stones in the UK in July, while a desert run in Texas is also in his sights.
The big aim, however, is to become only the ninth person to race in five 250km races in a calendar year on different continents in 2020, including a staggering sub-zero effort in Antarctica.
“I’ll try to make contact with a big supermarket with a big fridge, and put my treadmill there so I can try to practice at cold temperatures,” said Al Katheeri, who resides in Abu Dhabi. “I don’t have enough money to go to Siberia for training!”
But it is desert running that is in his blood and Al Katheeri puts down his love of such extreme competition down to his upbringing in Al Ain.
“I didn’t live far away from the desert – 500m away from the dunes,” he recalled. “When I trained in the desert, I figured out why I love this sport – it takes me back to where I spent my childhood, when we as kids in the afternoon ran on the dunes or played football, and sometimes when it rained and the sand was firm, we took bicycles.
“You do it all from yourself – your own patience, your own love, giving every emotion from your body.”
I Love Supersport Dubai is the premier international endurance sports school. No matter your age or ability, achieve your goals as a swimmer, runner, cyclist and triathlete under the tutelage of some of the region’s best coaches. Visit dubai.ilovesupersport.com for more details.