By Bill Finley
In a press briefing held Tuesday, The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia (JCSA) announced that the 2021 running of the $20-million Saudi Cup will be held Feb. 20, one week earlier than the date for the inaugural edition of the world's richest race. The announcement was made by HRH Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al Faisal, Chairman of the JCSA, who, during a question-and-answer session with the media, also addressed the unresolved situation concerning Maximum Security (New Year's Day) and his former trainer Jason Servis.
Shortly after Maximum Security crossed the wire first in the 2020 running of the race, Servis, his trainer, was among 27 individuals indicted for allegedly giving his horses performance-enhancing drugs. Subsequently, the JCSA announced that his owners would not be paid their $10-million share of the purse pending a further investigation. Prince Bandar indicated that the JCSA will base its final decision on the outcome of the legal preceding against Servis in the U.S.
“We will have to await what are the results of this investigation (in the U.S.) and act accordingly,” Prince Bandar said. “There are only two choices ahead of us. Either Maximum Security and his team are vindicated and therefore we can pay out the prize money and this becomes history. If not, as per our rules, there will be a disqualification and the prize money will go to the horse who finished second and all of the prize money after that will be adjusted. These are the only two options available to us…We are every encouraged that the U.S. is taking a very serious position when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs and we all know what happens in the U.S. matters.”
Despite the Maximum Security situation, the inaugural running of the Saudi Cup and several supporting stakes races was widely viewed as a major success in terms of the quality of horses that came in from all over the world to participate.
“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,” Prince Bandar 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 caliber in year one.”
In an effort to continue to build the event, the JCSA has increased the purses of three races on the undercard, which will raise the total amount of prize money paid out over the two-day meet from $29.2 million to $30.5 million. The most significant increase will come in the Saudi Derby, a 3-year-old race run at 1,600 meters on the dirt. Its purse will go from $800,000 to $1.5 million.
About 10,000 fans attended the 2020 Saudi Cup, and Prince Bandar said efforts are underway to increase the attendance in 2020 by about 30 percent. He acknowledged, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic has meant those plans may be subject to change. He anticipated that, at the very least, owners will be able to attend the races come February.
“Take into account that the situation here in Saudi Arabia is a lot better picture than most parts of the world,” he said. “The question is how accessible will the Kingdom be come February to people from all over the world. That largely depends on how the COVID-19 pandemic turns out in the upcoming months. We will arrange for the teams around the horses and the owners to attend. It remains to be seen what we can do when it comes to spectators.”
JCSA Director of Strategy and International Racing Tom Ryan said it was too early to know which horses will be pointing toward the Saudi Cup. But the JCSA's presentation included a video clip from Bob Baffert, who said he would be pointing Mucho Gusto (Mucho Macho Man) to the race. Owned by Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, Mucho Gusto finished fourth this year.
The International Jockeys Challenge, to be held Feb. 19, will also return and will include seven female jockeys, five international male jockeys and two Saudi-based riders. The jockeys will compete for $100,000 plus 15 percent of prize money. The 2020 challenge featured the first ever appearances in Saudi Arabia by female jockeys.