By Jon Lees
Saudi Arabia: With the result of the 2020 Saudi Cup, won by Maximum Security, still under scrutiny, next year’s event has been launched with a new date and more prize-money.
The two-day meeting, which showcases the $20 million world’s richest horse race, has been moved forward a week to February 19-20 2021 and total prize-money for the eight-race card raised to $30.5m from $29.2m.
Yet still overshadowing the inaugural running of the Saudi Cup, in which Maximum Security defeated Midnight Bisou and Benbatl, is the controversial aftermath involving the the winner’s then-trainer Jason Servis.
Servis was subsequently charged in the United States – alongside a number of others including fellow trainer Jorge Navarro – with participating in manufacturing, distributing and administering illegal substances to horses.
He has pleaded not guilty and Maximum Security, jointly owned by Gary and Mary West and the Coolmore partnership, has been moved to Bob Baffert.
However following the developments the Saudi Jockey Club launched its own investigation and has withheld the distribution of the $10m first prize-money until inquiries have been concluded.
The issue was addressed by Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, at the 2021 Saudi Cup launch on Tuesday.
He said: “This is a very unusual situation, not something any of us predicted but it has happened. On a personal level I am quite emotional about this because I was really rooting for that horse after what it went through in the Kentucky Derby [in 2019, in which he finished first but was disqualified for interference].
“We are where we are and we have to have races based on our own rules and regulations. The prize-money will be paid out. We have covered all prize-money regarding the whole two days of the meet and Maximum Security is the only pending situation unfortunately.
“We are at the mercy of what’s happening legally in the US. We understand they are addressing this. Covid-19 has not helped them move things along. I have seen some movement in the past weeks regarding this, and it will be resolved one way or another. Someone will be paid out this money, the question is who.
“I am personally very encouraged that the US is taking a more active and visible stance against prohibited drugs. I am very disappointed it affected the most important horse to us, the one that won the race.
“We are looking more in the range of a couple of weeks to two months maximum before this is closed on their end and then we can move on.”
The 2020 Saudi Cup has been rated the best dirt race run in the world over the last 12 months by Thoroughbred Racing Commentary, which Prince Bandar described as “an honour”.
Whether next year’s race can take place at the King Abdulaziz racetrack outside Riyadh with fans present is uncertain.
“It’s hard to overstate the success of Saudi Cup 2020 when you consider that in year one of a brand-new international racing event, we attracted some of the very best horses, trainers and jockeys in the world,” he said.
“We witnessed 22 individual Group or Grade 1 winners, who had accumulated an impressive 34 wins at that level between them. That would be an excellent statistic for even the most well-established race meetings in the world, let alone to have that calibre in year one.
“The only unknown factor is what is happening with Covid-19. We are quite confident this event will run very smoothly. The big question mark is will the global situation allow for spectators to come and enjoy this event or will it be a made for TV event and that is something none of us can answer at this point. We will take direction from the health authorities and go from there.”
Next year’s card will remain an eight-race event with the Saudi Derby, the three-year-old only dirt race in which Japan’s Full Flat beat the subsequent French Derby winner Mishriff, the chief beneficiary of the purse increases, its value rising to $1.5m from $800,000.
The International Jockeys Challenge, held the Friday before Saudi Cup, in which Lisa Allpress became the first woman to win a race in Saudi Arabia in 2020, will again feature 14 of the world’s best jockeys, seven women, five international men and two Saudi-based jockeys, compete for a championship purse of $100,000 and 15 per cent of prize money.
According to Prince Bandar there were now four women trainers operating in the kingdom and two female jockeys had started to ride on secondary tracks.