Saudi Arabian society is undergoing a transitional journey as the Kingdom welcomes more visitors from overseas to encourage a developing tourism industry. The concept of hospitality has deep roots in Saudi society and the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia is proud to host our international visitors at The Saudi Cup 2021.
First-time visitors to Saudi Arabia, here are some important things to keep in mind;
- Please do not attempt to bring alcohol into the country.
- Saudi Arabians are naturally very welcoming people and traditional Arabic hospitality and good manners are an important part of society.
- Please remember that Saudi Arabia observes Islamic prayer timings and shops may close during these times.
- Women do not need to cover their heads but it is advisable to wear modest clothing with full length trousers or skirts and upper arms covered.
Organised 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 festival of international racing headlined by the USD$20m Saudi Cup – the world’s most valuable race.
Established in 2020 with the second renewal set to be run on Saturday February 20, 2021, the Saudi Cup day card carries a total prize purse of $30.5m and features dirt and turf races for the highest calibre racehorses in the world.
A full card of racing on the preceding Friday includes an International Jockeys Challenge which sees seven female and seven male jockeys compete as individuals as well as the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap for horses trained in IFHA-registered Part II and III racing countries.
The Saudi Cup is charged with raising awareness of horse racing in the country and encouraging participation among men and women throughout the sport. It also aims to promote Saudi Arabia at international level, acting as a marker for the Kingdom’s transformational journey, encouraging tourism and investment.
The inaugural running of The Saudi Cup saw 22 Group or Grade 1 winners compete across an eight-race card for a total prize pot of USD$29.2m. In 2021 the prize purse was increased to $30.5m and the number of Group and Grade 1 winners entered to run went up to 31. Adding even more international flavour in February 2021 is the newly founded $500,000 Saudi International Handicap, introduced for horses trained in developing racing nations.
Held before an invited audience of guests, horse connections and media, The Saudi Cup 2021 will be beamed into millions of homes via the world feed programme.
Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli is living the American dream as he prepares for some choice rides at The Saudi Cup meeting.
The 32-year-old switched to California 14 months ago having enjoyed a fruitful spell in Hong Kong and success has followed him all the way to the West Coast of America.
His first year in the states yielded more than $7 million in prize money and he currently lies second in Santa Anita’s jockey standings after a sparkling start to 2021.
The only thing missing is a Grade 1 win to add to his top-level prizes collected in Italy, France, Japan and Hong Kong.
He will attempt to add The Saudi Cup to his international haul of racing trophies when he rides Max Player in the world’s most valuable race.
It will be his first ride for American Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and he is looking forward to partnering the four-year-old, fifth in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year, in the meeting’s glittering $20million feature run over 1800m on February 20.
Rispoli said: “I was so excited when I received the call. When I heard which horse I would be riding and for which trainer, I was like ‘oh my goodness’.
“Max Player has run in some tough races, he always comes late. He looks like he needs a little something extra but he’s getting more experienced.
“It would be a dream come true to win The Saudi Cup. I would be the happiest person in the world if I could win the race. This will be my first time in Saudi but the track is supposed to be very good. It’s very exciting to both be riding over there and to be involved in the biggest race.”
Asmussen has also booked Rispoli to ride Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint runner-up Cowan in the $1.5million Saudi Derby, run on the dirt track over 1600m on the same day as The Saudi Cup.
Rispoli revealed: “I saw him at the Breeders’ Cup and he ran a huge race. I got the impression you could go longer with him and he switches from the grass to the dirt. He was second on his first start back after the Breeders’ Cup and he looks in fantastic order.
“He is the highest rated horse in the race and he might have a better chance than Max Player, but I have 100 per cent confidence in both of them.”
It would be fitting for Rispoli to grab a winner at The Saudi Cup meeting having impressed in some of the world’s top races. He was twice champion jockey in Italy before enjoying plenty of success when based in France and then in the ultra-competitive racing scene in Hong Kong.
His move across the Pacific has been a roaring success and he just missed out on the jockeys’ title at Del Mar’s summer meet to Flavien Prat by a single winner.
Rispoli said: “Since I landed here it feels like home. It’s a new challenge and a new chapter for me. If anybody would have told me it would go this way, I wouldn’t have believed them.
“I’ve had great support from nice people and nice owners. The lifestyle is fantastic and since I’ve been riding here, I’ve been doing well. The numbers last year were unbelievable, some of the best of my career.
“Del Mar helps me a lot so I’m glad the Breeders’ Cup is here this year. I love the place and I couldn’t feel happier. I’m really excited about my second season, excited like a kid.
“I learned a lot in Hong Kong, you need a strong personality to succeed, but my time there was done. I am ambitious and one day I want to win an Eclipse Award. To do that I may have to move to the East Coast one day.”
Rispoli is clearly loving life in California but he does admit that racing in the state is going through a tricky period with a crackdown affecting trainers and jockeys.
He added: “In California things are very difficult at the moment. The trainers have a lot of restrictions for Lasix and the jockeys have whip restrictions. It’s tough and I hope this isn’t going to push the riders away. The fines are very high and you get banned quite easily so you end up missing a week.”
Ground-breaking trainer Fawzi Nass is preparing an assault on the $20 million Saudi Cup with Bahrain International winner Simsir.
Nass made history at the inaugural Saudi Cup meeting last year when his Port Lions pulled off a shock win by defeating Japan’s star mare Deirdre in what is now called The Neom Turf Cup, the first turf race ever held in Saudi Arabia.
Now he has the world’s most valuable race in his sights with Simsir. The five-year-old will take on some of the world’s best dirt horses, including Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go and rising star Charlatan, in the 1800m contest on February 20.
Bahrain-based Nass will also aim a three-strong challenge at the first running of the Al Rajhi Bank International Handicap on February 19, the day before The Saudi Cup.
He is targeting last month’s Crown Prince Cup winner New Show, as well as stablemates Desert Lion and What A Welcome, at the 2100m contest, which is open to horses trained in countries not included in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities’ Part One nations.
Nass said: “Simsir is doing well. He’s had an easy time since winning the Bahrain International Trophy in November, so we thought, if we’re going to go to Saudi, we needed to get a run into him. We had the Crown Prince Cup, which was a hot race over 2000m, and he finished a close fourth. Things didn’t go his way, he missed the break and he had to come from behind, which doesn’t suit a galloping horse like him. He didn’t disgrace himself and we’re happy with that being his prep run for The Saudi Cup.
“Desert Lion, What A Welcome and New Show, the winner of the Crown Prince Cup, are all going for the Al Rajhi Bank International Handicap, which is over 2100m on the turf. I’m not sure what the competition will be like but I’m happy with them and their preparation.
“Simsir and What A Welcome will be ridden by Adrie de Vries, who won on Port Lions at the meeting last year for us, so we’ll stick with the same luck. Desert Lion will hopefully be ridden by Paddy Mathers, who gets on well with him here in Bahrain, and New Show will hopefully be ridden by David Egan.”
The return to King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh will obviously bring back happy memories for Nass after last year’s famous victory.
He remembered: “It was an amazing experience. We went there knowing that we had a chance to nick a place but, obviously, everyone thought Deirdre had the race done and dusted. Overall, it was an amazing day and the feeling was good.
“I think the track is second to none really – up there with the best of the turf tracks. There was an amazing cushion and cover on the grass. Knowing that they had laid it so close to the race, all the jockeys obviously loved it. It’s a very, very nice turf track.
“The Saudi Cup meeting is very important, especially for us in Bahrain, as we look at Saudi Arabia as the mother country. It’s always a pleasure to participate in those events in Saudi Arabia, so it would be nice if we can win another race again.”