Saudi Cup: Female jockeys ‚most welcome‘ at new $27m race meeting

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By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport
Female jockeys will likely be invited to take part in a 27m horse racing meeting in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Cup will be the world’s richest race and can be scheduled to occur in the nation’s capital on 29 February next year.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar said feminine jockeys would be“most welcome“ – the nation has faced criticism over its document on women’s rights.
He told BBC Sport the event was a part of efforts to“transform“ the nation.
„Men and women will be treated alike,“ he explained when asked about jockeys.
A event at London was attended by British racing characters, such as trainers like Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori.
It is the hottest in a string of athletic events place to be held in Saudi Arabia, with boxing’s world heavyweight title rematch between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua scheduled to take place in December.
This has resulted in accusations of“sportswashing“ – that the oil-rich country is using game to divert criticism everywhere.
Amnesty International has highlighted the nation’s“abysmal“ human rights record.
Restrictions on women’s rights and freedom of expression have been raised, as has the use of the death penalty for offences.
Prince Bandar, whose great uncle Prince Khalid Abdullah has owned leading racehorses like Frankel and Enable, proposed the country was preparing for a“broader“ era.
„We’re moving through a transformation in the realm. We are studying, but we are opening up and there’s a political will to really go there,“ he said.
Jamie Osborne, who trains at Lambourn in Berkshire and saddled Toast Of New York to acquire the UAE Derby five years back, welcomed the invitation to jockeys.
„If we have a runner, Nicola [Currie] will ride,“ he said.
It is the principal race, with prize money of $20m (#16.1m), at King Abdulaziz racetrack where five additional races may have extra prize money totalling $6.8m.
The pot for the primary race is three times that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, of Europe competition.
Run onto a one-turn dirt circuit, it will have a max of 14 starters, together with $10m going to the winner and even the 10th-placed finisher making $200,000.
Two of those races will take place with others on a new turf course, on precisely the track.
Among these races on grass is a’remaining handicap‘ over under two miles and could pull in the kind of runners who compete at the Melbourne Cup of Australia and also the Ebor Handicap at York.
Organisers expect a crowd of around 12,000 individuals for its opening season, with all ticket buyers ensured visas for a nation that has restricted visitors from overseas.
A team of racing experts was established.
Tom Ryan, a man credited with helping Naas racecourse in Ireland, was recruited in January to be director.
The ex-Grand National handicapper that put the weights which horses would carry from the Aintree race, phil Smith, has been drafted in to get a role.
Also a racing amount, harry Herbert, is global ambassador.
Leading the project is a member of the Saudi royal family – Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
„Our goal is for everybody who attends to delight in their own time, enjoy the race and return the year after,“ said the prince, who is a excellent grandson of King Abdulaziz, creator of the modern Saudi Arabia.
Though oil has fuelled economies, there’s a need for additional income flows – that’s where entertainment and tourism comes in.
Motorsport’s Race of Champions, a European Tour golf occasion and boxing match featuring Britain’s Amir Khan have been held in Saudi.
Horse racing, and sport more frequently, has been down this track before – profiting financially in the attention of Dubai and Qatar, in which questions also have been raised about equality and liberty of speech.
The political situation in the Middle East may be made for some fascinating discussions.
But while Qatar and Saudi might not be on talking terms, it’s understood that Prince Bandar has dealt directly with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed over the project that was racing.
The Saudi Cup occurs a month. Horses may be well kept by trainers from the region to compete in both fittings.
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