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

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By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport
Female jockeys will be encouraged to take part in a brand new $27m horse racing meeting in Saudi Arabia.
Next year, the Saudi Cup is going to be the planet’s richest race and is scheduled to take place in the country’s capital on 29 February.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar said feminine jockeys are“most welcome“ – the country has faced criticism over its record on women’s rights.
He told BBC Sport case was a part of efforts to“change“ the country.
„Men and women will be treated equally,“ he explained when asked about jockeys.
A event at London was attended by key British racing characters, such as jockey Frankie Dettori and high trainers like John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute.
It’s the hottest in a string of athletic events set to be held in Saudi Arabia, with Anthony Joshua advised to take place in December and boxing’s world heavyweight title rematch between Andy Ruiz.
This has resulted in accusations of“sportswashing“ – the oil-rich country is using sport to divert criticism elsewhere.
Amnesty International has emphasized the nation’s“abysmal“ human rights record.
Restrictions on the rights of women and freedom of expression have been increased, as has the use of the death penalty for offences.
Prince Bandar, whose great uncle Prince Khalid Abdullah has possessed leading racehorses like Frankel and Enable, suggested the country was preparing for a“more open“ era.
„We are moving through a transformation from the kingdom. We’re studying, but we’re opening up and there is a political will to really go there,“ he said.
Jamie Osborne, who trains in Lambourn in Berkshire and saddled Toast Of New York to acquire the UAE Derby five years ago, welcomed the invitation.
„When we’ve got a runner, Nicola [Currie] can ride,“ he said.
It is the major race, with prize money of $20m (#16.1m), in King Abdulaziz racetrack where five other races may have extra prize money totaled $6.8m.
The bud to the main race is three times that of Europe’s wealthiest contest.
Run onto a one-turn dirt circuit, it will have a maximum of 14 starters, using $10m going to the winner and even the 10th-placed finisher making $200,000.
Two of those supporting races will happen with others on a turf program that is brand new, on precisely exactly the same track.
One of those races on bud is a’staying handicap‘ over under two miles and may attract the sort of runners who compete in the Melbourne Cup of Australia and also the Ebor Handicap at York.
Organisers anticipate a crowd of around 12,000 people for its opening year, together with ticket buyers guaranteed visas for a nation that has traditionally limited visitors from abroad.
A group of specialists that were racing was established fast.
Tom Ryan, a man credited with helping Naas racecourse in Ireland, was recruited to become tactical director.
The National handicapper who put the weights which horses would take from the Aintree race, phil Smith, was drafted in for a similar role.
Harry Herbert, a racing amount, is ambassador.
Leading the job is part of the Saudi royal family – Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
„Our objective is for everyone who attends to delight in their time, enjoy the race and return the year after,“ said the prince, who is a fantastic grandson of King Abdulaziz, founder of the modern Saudi Arabia.
Though markets have been fuelled by oil, there’s a demand for income streams – where amusement and tourism comes in which is.
Motorsport’s Race of Champions, an European Tour golf event and boxing match comprising Britain’s Amir Khan are held in Saudi.
Horse racing, and sport more typically, has been down that path before – profiting financially from the interest of Dubai and Qatar, where questions have also been increased about equality and liberty of speech.
The political situation in the Middle East may have made for some interesting talks.
But although Qatar and Saudi might not be on speaking terms, it is known that Prince Bandar has dealt with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed over the project.
The Saudi Cup takes place a month before the Dubai World Cup, which for years was the world’s richest race. Horses may be well kept by trainers in the area.
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