Twenty-one individual G1 winners - headed by international stars including Maximum Security, McKinzie, Mucho Gusto, Benbatl, Midnight Bisou, Magic Wand, Deirdre and Cross Counter - feature on the list of runners announced today for the eight-race card on Saudi Cup day at the end of the month.
With a total purse of $29.2 million, including a record $20 million for the inaugural running of the 1800m Saudi Cup, the two-day weekend on February 28-29 represents a significant evolution in Saudi Arabia’s racing history.
In total King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh will host 66 overseas runners from eight countries who between them have won 32 G1s.
The list was revealed today by HRH Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, Chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, who told a press conference at the Equestrian Club of Riyadh’s city clubhouse he was happy at the strength in depth across the card.
The Saudi Cup itself will pit the Prince Faisal Bin Khalid Bin Abdulaziz-owned Mucho Gusto, winner of last month’s Pegasus World Cup for trainer Bob Baffert, against G1-winning stablemate McKinzie as well as the Jason Servis-trained Maximum Security, the highest-rated 3-year-old in North America last season, and the 12-time Graded stakes winner Midnight Bisou, trained by Steve Asmussen.
But the big-name Americans won’t have it all their own way. Globetrotting Irish mare Magic Wand, trained by Aidan O’Brien, is set to take her chance, along with Japanese dirt stars Chrysoberyl and Gold Dream, and the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained Benbatl, who has landed G1s in Germany, Britain, Australia and Dubai already.
Top-class horses will be on show throughout the meeting. Deirdre, a top-level scorer in both England and her native Japan, is the biggest name in the $1 million Neom Turf Cup over 2100m.
Two of America’s top speedsters, Imperial Hint, trained by Luis Carvajal, four times successful at G1 level, and the Breeder’s Cup Sprint runner-up Shancelot, for Jorge Navarro, go head-to-head in the $1.5 million Saudia Sprint over 1200m on dirt.
The Charlie Appleby-trained 2018 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter has been allotted joint top weight in the 3000m $2.5 million Longines Turf Handicap alongside Dee Ex Bee, whose distinguished career includes runner-up finishes in the Epsom Derby, the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and the Goodwood Cup. They will have to concede 1.5kg to the Freddy Head-trained French G1 scorer Call The Wind.
The press conference also saw the announcement of two of the Saudi Cup’s Platinum Partners, Longines, the Official Watch and Timekeeper of the Saudi Cup and race sponsor of the Longines Turf Handicap, as well as Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia), the Official Carrier of the Saudi Cup and sponsor of the $1.5m Saudia Sprint.
“The establishment of the Saudi Cup is a great moment in the history of horseracing in Saudi Arabia and I am gratified that the global racing community has embraced our new concept with such enthusiasm,” said Prince Bandar. “I look forward to welcoming some of the world’s most highly decorated horsemen and women to Riyadh and am thrilled that so many champion international horses will be taking part on Saturday, February 29.”
Other highlights on the card will include a clash between Aatebat Al Khalediah, Masshhur Al Khalediah, Hajres and Ziyadd – top representatives of their breed from Dubai, Britain, France and Abu Dhabi respectively – in the day’s big event for Purebred Arabians and richest race of its kind, the $1.9m Obaiya Arabian Classic over 2000m on dirt.
The fields for each race will be completed with the addition of two local runners, which will be selected after the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques raceday on Saturday.
Tom Ryan, Director of Strategy and International Racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, said, “Since the launch of the Saudi Cup less than seven months ago, the level of support and assistance we have received from our friends in the world of horse racing has been quite overwhelming, and I could not be happier with the quality of the horses set to contest our big races in just over three weeks’ time.
“Quality is spread throughout the card and we are looking forward to watching these superstars of global racing take to the track on February 29.”