New SA kicking up dust in the desert
The practice of throwing money into solving a problem is often frowned upon, but it can be useful if you keep South African politicians away.
in Saudi Arabia e.g. jumps. A few years ago, the rulers of the Arabian kingdom decided that the glamor and excitement of racing was to be desired.
The way elitism and wealth are projected onto the likes of Royal Ascot—right in front of you, but with courtesy and propriety, and class distinctions neatly smoothed over by the “show”—is very attractive to nominally important people.
World Cup in Dubai
Saudi princes had an example of tiny close neighbors Dubai also envy. The emirate broke into global racing by hosting the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup, in 1996 with a $4 million purse. Of course, Dubai has had to keep raising rates to stay in the spotlight, and the current pot is $12 million.
Saudi Arabia, much bigger and much, much richer, rummaged through the back of the sofa and found change, surpassing everyone in 2020 with the $20 million Saudi Cup. This was only for the main race; several million more were offered in support of racing at the two-day racing festival at the end of February.
The giants of the world of horse racing fell for the bait: America, Great Britain, Ireland, France and Japan sent horses to the King Abdulaziz Hippodrome in Riyadh.
The 2020 Saudi Cup was won by American star Maximum Security, coached by Jason Service and piloted by Luis Saez. The 2021 update went to the English canter Mishriff, saddled by John Gosden and driven by David Egan, while in 2022 the local triumph was marked by Emblem Road, coached by Mitab Almulawa and driven by Wigberto Ramos.
Saudi Cup 2023
The 2023 festival takes place on Friday and Saturday this week.
The two most popular Cup entrants were delivered by US Hall of Famer coach Bob Baffert – last year’s Country Grammar winner (4-1) and Taiba (2-1), the dominant Tier 1 Malibu Stakes winner. when the last one came out.
The world’s most famous jockey, Frankie Dettori, partnered with Country Grammar in his farewell season.
Dettori, who heads Friday’s International Jockey Challenge, describes the King Abdulaziz course as the best clay surface in the world.
The South African racing world probably feels small and devastated by all this, but it has a tiny flag flying in the Arabian sands. Multiple South African champion coach and all-round good guy Jeff Woodruff has a runner on Friday’s card.
Woodruff retired in 2021 but then received an offer from Sheikh Abdulela Almus’ new stable in Riyadh that he could hardly refuse. The host kicked off with a first winner in November 2022 and has since racked up eight more out of 34 rounds with a brilliant win rate of 26.47% – far better than even the top local coach.
Woodruff saddled three-year-old Alia at the Phillies Open Cup with Panamanian rider Victor Gutiérrez on board.
Of course, the Saudi Cup is part of the kingdom’s very expensive PR campaign in recent years. LIV Golf is currently the most controversial element.
The murder and sawing of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul unequivocally drew condemnation of the government from the West. The country’s leadership was desperately trying to bury the memory of this terrible act, or rather “wash it away” with sports extravaganzas.
Another such enterprise was the holding of the popular Dakar rally.
Some tennis and golf players have opted out of Saudi tournaments on moral grounds. Horse racing tends to be less picky about where money can be won, although there are concerns in the US about Saudi sponsorship of the industry.