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King Abdulaziz Horse Championship raises the bar in the richest race stakes

JK NNI News

Arab News London February 08


LONDON: The detail was scant, but there was no hiding the ambition with which the new King Abdulaziz Horse Championship was announced late on Tuesday night.
What we do know is that the new international horse race will carry a purse of $17 million, which, if for a single race, will eclipse the $16 million Pegasus World Cup, won by Breeders’ Cup star Gun Runner at Gulfstream Park in Florida last month, as the world’s most valuable race.
The aim of the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship, which, so far, does not have a distance, surface, home or date, is to attract the best talent from the racing powerbases of the United States, the UK and Japan.
The Saudi Arabian Government’s General Sports Authority outlined that the fixture would act to help share the Kingdom’s “historic and cultural legacy,” much as the modus operandi of neighboring Middle Eastern countries has been during the past 30 years.
Dubai was the first Gulf state to understand the international marketing potential of sport, and thoroughbred horseracing in particular, when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of that country, set up his Godolphin racing stable in 1992. Others have followed, with varying success, and it remains to be seen whether Saudi Arabia can catch up. And quickly enough.
Saudi Arabia has a considerable international racing presence already, however. Prince Khalid Abdullah is Saudi Arabia’s most successful international racing figure, having owned such equine luminaries as Frankel, Enable, Arrogate and Dancing Brave. But the leading owner and fantastically successful breeder is in his 80s and, although son Prince Ahmed bin Khalid was at Ascot in July to witness Enable’s triumph in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, there has been little interest shown from his family at taking the Juddmonte operation on when he dies. Only a few years ago there were a considerable number of reports that his operation was to be slowly wound down.
There is also the issue of competition. The King Abdulaziz Horse Championship is likely to be staged in Riyadh and on dirt. It will therefore be a direct rival to not only the Dubai World Cup at the end of March, but Qatar’s Emir’s Sword Festival which takes place at the end of the month.
The Dubai World Cup Carnival, which is currently in full swing at Meydan racecourse until the $30 million World Cup meeting itself on Mar. 31, attracts horses from around the world and is an established stopover of the international season. It was first run in 1996.
This new initiative will, in all likelihood, have to either try to break that up or in some way complement it, or look to the busy international season at the end of the year when it will clash with the likes of the Breeders’ Cup in November or the Hong Kong International meeting in December.
What is more, last March Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid pledged to make the world’s most valuable contest again and with Dubai’s Expo 2020 on the horizon it is not out of the question that we will soon have the world’s first $20 million horse race.
In terms of money, the $17 million purse makes the new race top dog ahead of the new kids on the block.
The Pegasus World Cup looks set for a third renewal next January and The Everest, which was won for the first time by Redzel at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney in October, is the world’s most lucrative turf sprint at $AU10 million ($7.86 million).
Saudi Arabia’s interest in international sport is growing, and at pace. The country is riding a wave of reform as it works toward what has been dubbed Saudi Vision 2030, which intends to transform the country in to a global investment powerhouse and strategic global hub.
Perhaps in 12 years time the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship vision may well have been realized, but there is a lot of work to be done in the meantime.

HORSE RACING’S RICHEST RACES

King Abdulaziz Horse Championship $17million

Pegasus World Cup $16 million

Dubai World Cup $10 million

The Everest $7.86 million

Breeders’ Cup Classic $6 million

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