What to know for 2020 Saudi Cup Day

February 21st, 2020

The world’s richest horse race, the $20 million Saudi Cup, will be held for the first time on Sat., Feb. 29. The about 9-furlong prize on dirt has lured American champions as well as international stars to King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, which will also offer seven races on the $9.2 million undercard.

Saudi Cup contenders

Recently crowned Eclipse Award champions Maximum Security and Midnight Bisou are joined by the Bob Baffert duo of McKinzie and Mucho Gusto, who comes off a new career top in the Pegasus World Cup (G1). Rounding out the American-based team is Tacitus, officially running under the Saudi banner as a homebred for Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms.

Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotter Magic Wand will make her dirt debut, but the other shippers are all proven on the surface. Godolphin’s Benbatl comes over from Dubai, along with Gronkowski, Capezzano, and North America, while two Japanese dirt champions – currently reigning Chrysoberyl and 2017 honoree Gold Dream – have made the trek.

Two spots were reserved for locally based hopes. Mjjack booked his ticket in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup at this track, while Great Scot was purchased from British trainer Tom Dascombe’s yard last fall in hopes of transitioning to dirt.

Race times for Saudi Cup Day

The Saudi Cup, the grand finale as the 8TH race of the Feb. 29 card, goes off at night locally but 12:40 p.m. (all times ET).

Tune at 8 a.m. for the 1ST race, the $1 million Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup at about 1 5/16 miles on turf featuring Japan’s world traveler Deirdre.

The 2ND race (8:35 a.m.) is the 1351 Cup, a $1 million turf sprint at 1,351 meters (about 6 3/4 furlongs) with California-based Ghoul and Legends of War set to tackle veteran Suedois.

The 3RD race (9:10 a.m.), the $2.5 million Longines Turf H. at about 1 7/8 miles, has attracted a few world-class stayers including Dee Ex Bee and Cross Counter.

The 4TH race (9:45 a.m.) is the race for Purebred Arabians, the Obaiya Arabian Classic at about 1 1/4 miles on dirt, followed by the Jockey Club Local H. (10:30 a.m.) for the locals at the Saudi Cup distance.

The 6TH race (11:10 a.m.), the $800,000 Saudi Derby at a metric mile, has American interests in the form of Rowdy Yates and Billy Bates.

The 7TH race (11:50 a.m.), the $1.5 million Saudia Sprint, pits American speedsters Imperial Hint, Captain Scotty, and Engage against expats New York Central and Gladiator King.

Feb. 28 International Jockeys Challenge

The international competition begins on the day before the Saudi Cup, “Kingdom Day,” with a Jockeys Challenge spicing up the eight-race Friday card.

A total of 14 renowned riders from across the globe – seven male, seven female – will square off in four designated races. Their mounts, all locally trained, will be apportioned during Tuesday’s draw.

Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore, Olivier Peslier, Yutaka Take, Saudi jockey Adel Alfouraidi and fellow locally based rider Camilla Ospino will square off against Emma-Jayne Wilson, Sophie Doyle, Lisa Allpress, Nicola Currie, Mikaelle Michel, Sibylle Vogt, and Coralie Pacout (in lieu of Nanako Fujita).

Dirt track and turf course

Similar to Belmont Park, the dirt track is a large, left-handed circuit, and the Saudi Cup is staged around just one turn. Kickback is negligible, as Dettori and Peslier have told thesaudicup.com:

"It’s based on Belmont, a one-turn mile-and-a quarter," Dettori said. "Of all the dirt tracks I’ve ridden, it’s the one I like best. The big difference is there’s not much kickback. It gives closers a better chance and, in general, I ride with only one pair of goggles.

"I’ve ridden several grass horses on it," Dettori added, "and they adapted really well. It’s a wonderful track, a proper track."

"It’s one of the best dirt tracks in the world," Peslier offered. " 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, about 400 meters, and there is not much kickback."

The brand new turf, a 9-furlong course positioned inside the main oval, will be used for the first time on Saudi Cup Day. A turf trial was conducted on Jan. 29 to the satisfaction of the four participating jockeys, Dettori, James Doyle, Danny Tudhope, and William Buick (who described it as “genuine good-to-firm”).

Post position draw

The Saudi Cup Day fields were to be finalized on Tuesday, Feb. 25, according to the website, but the official Twitter account is now saying Wednesday.