Horse racing history was made in Riyadh on Wednesday as the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia staged the first official trial to be held on a turf course in the Kingdom. The trial, run under race conditions, took place from the 2,000m (10f) marker and was overseen by Newmarket Racecourse Clerk of the Course, Mike Prosser. 

Top jockeys Frankie Dettori, William Buick, James Doyle and Daniel Tudhope made the trip to King Abdulaziz Racecourse and rode locally-trained turf gallopers for the trial. All riders were unanimous in their approval of the technologically advanced surface, grown in record time by leading sports surface specialists, STRI who have worked on Ascot Racecourse, the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon and the 2012 London Olympics.

Testing the turf track

Track passes with ‘flying colours’

Dettori, who rode Giantouch trained by Ghaith Alghaith and owned by Majed Mahal W Albugami, said the turf track passed its first official test with “flying colours”. He said: “Today we really tested the track, we went a good gallop and went as fast as we could round the turn, which was the biggest test we wanted to do. The ground is perfect, we want to have it like this race day. Today the test went with flying colours.”

Buick, who was aboard the S Al Harabi trained Surprise which is owned by Prince Faisal Bin Khaled Bin Abdulaziz added: “It was a trial run at a decent pace over a mile and a quarter, and we got a fair reading of the new track. The turns rode well and I would call it genuine good to firm. There’d be no complaints, it was very positive what we just did there.”

Highest specification

The new 1,800m track has been laid to the highest specification to produce a strong, vertical sward with no thatch to provide plenty of cushion. With the help of mapping company, TurfTrax the entire track has been analysed for consistency with Going Stick readings. Richard Stuttard, STRI Head of Consultancy said: “Since our first meeting, the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia’s leadership, drive and ambition to host this event has been contagious. STRI has pulled out all the stops to design and build a world leading track within tight deadlines. We are confident that each and every horse and jockey will be able to perform to their best and provide a true spectacle of racing on this surface.”

HRH Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, Chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, who watched the trial along with Adel Al-Mazroa, General Manager of the Equestrian Club of Riyadh said: “The successful running of Saudi Arabia’s first official turf trial today brings us another step closer to the staging of the Saudi Cup and represents a new milestone in our rapidly-developing sporting history. We are grateful to Frankie, James, William and Daniel for lending us their time and support today and to the local trainers who provided the horses. We look forward to welcoming the elite of international and local horse racing to King Abdulaziz Racetrack over the big weekend, seeing the new turf course in action and providing an enjoyable event for all to enjoy.”

King Abdulaziz Racetrack

Competitive racing

The first competitive race on the new turf will be the $1 million Neom Cup over 2,100m (1m 2 1/2f), the opening contest of an eight-race card worth $29.2 million in purses and highlighted by the inaugural running of the $20 million SAUDI CUP. The $1 million 1351 Cup, a sprint run over 1,351m (6.5f), will be the second race on the card, while the highlight of the three SAUDI CUP day races on turf is the Longines Turf Handicap, a 3,000m (1m7f) contest with a $2.5 million purse that has attracted entries from some of the best world’s best grass horses, including Melbourne Cup winner, Cross Counter trained by Charlie Appleby, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Kew Gardens, and Zulu Alpha trained in the US by Michael Maker.

Tom Ryan, Saudi Jockey Club’s Director of International Strategy said: “Saudi Cup day will feature the first turf contests in the country’s racing history, and having watched the track grow over the last few months we are very excited to soon see three races worth a combined total of $4.5m play out on the new surface. Saudi Cup race weekend will offer something for everyone, from the Kingdom Day Jockeys’ Championship on the Friday to Saudi Cup day itself. We have free family entertainment, interactive crowd activations and food trucks in the Clubhouse Gardens Area as well as five-star VIP hospitality marquees available and of course the absolute best horses in the world on the track.”

Tickets to suit all budgets are available for the Saudi Cup race weekend from thesaudicup.com.

A team of experts from IVM has been assisting with the organisation of the Saudi Cup.

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