How Will Saudi Super Race Affect Pegasus?

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The start of the 2018 Pegasus World Cup | Viola Jasko

The Week in Review by Bill Finley

Run a $16 million horse race and you’d think you wouldn’t have any problem attracting the best horses in the U.S., but that may no longer be the case for the GI Pegasus World Cup. The Saudis, with their infinitely deep pockets, are set to hold a horse race that will rival any in the world, and that could spell trouble for the Pegasus.

Several important details were released last week about a multi-million dollar championship racing event that will be launched next year at King Adulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The key elements unveiled were that the centerpiece of the card will be a mile-and-a-quarter dirt race worth between $15 million and $20 million and that the races will likely be held Feb. 23. Including all the races run on the day, up to $29 million could be given away on a card clearly set to rival, if not eclipse, the G1 Dubai World Cup program.

Those details were included in a lengthy story that appeared last week in the Arab News.

It seems that the Saudis are intent on claiming bragging rights when it comes to holding the richest race in the world, so expect that the purse for the main event will be something north of $16 million.

“The big race will be something like $15-$20 million,” Saudi Arabian Equestrian Club Director General and Secretary Saleh Al-Hammadi told the Arab News. “Of course the Pegasus World Cup is $16 million, but people pay $1 million to participate, so it is different.”

That may or may not have been a thinly veiled shot at the Pegasus World Cup, but the Saudi racing official does have a point. Running in a race worth $16 million or so in which you don’t have to pay a sizeable entry fee could prove to be more attractive to people than running in a $16 million race where it costs $1 million to gain access to the field.

The Arab News suggested that the top horses and their owners will now be in a position to cash in on what could be an historic payday, participating in the $16 million Pegasus, the $15-$20 million Saudi race and the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

While that might look good on paper, it’s not practical, at least not if no one budges when it comes to where their races are on the calendar. Should the races be run on what have been their traditional dates, next year’s Pegasus will be Jan. 26, the Saudi race, presumably, Feb. 23 and the Dubai World Cup Mar. 30. That would mean three races in a 63-day period, plus the rigors of shipping from Florida to the Middle East. Even with so much money up for grabs, it’s hard to imagine any trainer willing to put their horse through such a taxing schedule.

More likely, anyone eyeing these super rich races will have to make a choice between the Pegasus and the new Saudi race. You can run in the Pegasus, get plenty of rest, then ship to Dubai, cobbling together a feasible schedule. Or you could skip the Pegasus, ship to Saudi Arabia, run there and then make an easy ship over to Dubai. Riyadh and Dubai are only 530 miles apart.

Politics could also play a part. Will Arab owners feel compelled to support a race in Saudi Arabia over a race in Florida? It’s worth noting that the inaugural Pegasus World Cup was won by Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song), owned by Juddmonte Farms. Juddmonte is owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, a member of the Saudi royal family.

The only race that doesn’t figure to get hurt is the Dubai World Cup.

Tim Ritvo, the COO of The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream, home of the Pegasus World Cup, thinks his race will be fine.

“I haven’t heard much about what they are planning to do in Saudi Arabia, but I’m not that worried about it,” he said. “I know they are talking about a lot of money, but that’s a long way to go, all the way to Saudi Arabia. We are already in a good spot and the Pegasus is a race that perfectly complements those who are also looking at racing in Dubai.”

When asked if he were worried if the Saudi race would have an edge over the Pegasus because a $1 million entry fee would not be required, Ritvo said: “Sure, there is a difference between how the two purses are arrived at, but, by the same token, anything you do has to make business sense. No matter how much money you have, to just fund a race like that out of your pocket is not an easy thing to do. At the end of the day, if something doesn’t make business sense, it’s not going to continue.”

Ritvo said he would always be open to moving the date of the Pegasus if the race did wind up being hurt by the Saudis, but where would it go? Run it any earlier and you are competing with the Breeders’ Cup. Run it any later and you take away the option of a horse running in the Pegasus and still entering stud duty in the same year.

The Stronach Group doesn’t like to lose and the Saudis have unlimited amounts of money and they aren’t putting this race together so that they can get a couple of Grade III winners out of the U.S.

This could get very interesting.

Bill Nack, the Best There Ever Was

By now, you’ve probably heard about the passing of Bill Nack and what a great racing writer he was, but this is one of those rare occasions when the word “great” falls miserably short when describing the talents of an individual.

Nack was a genius and he could do with the written word what few others could. By that, I don’t mean horse racing writers, but all writers, be they journalists, novelists, non-fiction writers, screen writers, whatever. It has become clichè to say so-and-so was the Michael Jordan of this or the Babe Ruth of that, but there are those rare individuals who are born with a gift that is rarely bestowed by the gods. When it came to writing, that was Nack. He could do things with a keyboard that we mere mortals who toil writing about this game could never dream of doing.

He will, of course, be missed, but you need not shed any tears for this man. He lived to be 77, lived one hell of a life and surely seemed to enjoy every minute of it. He just as easily could have used his talents to write about football or baseball or even politics, but as often as his editors would allow him, he chose to write about horse racing. I don’t think this sport has any idea how lucky it was that Bill Nack’s first love was racing.

Oaklawn Extends Meet

As has been the case for as long as anyone can remember, Oaklawn closed up Saturday after the conclusion of the GI Arkansas Derby Day card. But that won’t be the case in 2019, as it was announced last week that three weeks would be added on to the end of next year’s meet.

With this news, here are two things to watch:

  • How will the extended Oaklawn meet affect Kentucky racing? Horses come from several racing jurisdictions to race at Keeneland and Churchill, but a major feeder for the spring meets at Keeneland and Churchill has been Oaklawn. Now, anyone racing at Oaklawn is likely to stay put for three more weeks. That can’t be a good thing for Kentucky.
  • Will the longer meet mean that Oaklawn will finally rethink its long-standing policy of not having a turf course? Grass racing is exploding in the U.S. and Oaklawn is the only major racetrack in the country without a turf course. For Oaklawn, that’s a much bigger impediment to success than it was, say, 15 years ago. The Cella family has maintained that if they installed a turf course there would be only so much racing they could hold over it as the early months of the meet really aren’t conducive to grass racing. But now that they are set to remain open through the first Saturday in May they may want to rethink that position. Grass racing at Oaklawn from mid-March through early May would likely work just fine and would be a great addition to the meet.

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