It’s the most valuable race on the planet, worth an astonishing $10 million to the winner, and it takes place in Riyadh on Saturday.
In only three years since its first running, the Saudi Cup has grabbed the attention of the racing world and the victory last year of Mishriff, owned by a leading member of the Saudi royal family, sparked a wave of celebrations in the Kingdom.
Mishriff, trained by John Gosden in England, is back to defend his title and, should he win again, he would become the leading prize-winning horse in history, eclipsing the mark set by Winx, the Australian wonder mare.
Victory would take Mishriff’s career earnings to £18,478,059 ($24.8m). That’s not bad for a horse who started his career with a cheque for £365.65 after finishing fourth at Yarmouth in England in October 2019.
For his owner, Prince AA Faisal, the prestige and honour is immense. He bred the horse and seeing him come home first 12 months ago at the King Abdulaziz racecourse is one of the highlights of his life.
The rise of the Saudi Cup is remarkable. Not so long ago the Pegasus Cup in America, the Everest in Australia and the World Cup in Dubai were vying for global pre-eminence. But Saudi Arabia was determined to make its mark, and has rapidly succeeded.
For Prince Faisal it reinforces the symbiotic relationship the Middle East has with the thoroughbred.
“Nobody loves racing and horses like Arabs,” he says. “I just love the horse and I think that people who don’t love horses shouldn’t have anything to do with racing. This is the whole thing. If you don’t enjoy it, leave it.”
The five-year-old has extra significance for Prince Faisal, who named the horse after his former trainer, who, the Prince says, "taught me the Arab way of looking at a horse".
Mishriff was reared in Ireland but, when the Prince first saw him, he was less than impressed.
“As a foal he was horrible,” he laughs. ”I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’
“Two weeks later I saw another picture of him and he looked like a horse. When I saw him at eight months he looked like a proper horse."
He was sent to be trained by Gosden, who the Prince holds in high regard. “John is the best trainer in the world," he says.
“I have never seen anybody so good at the detail as John is. It is ridiculous. I thought I was good with detail then I sat with him and said, ‘Just do what you want!’
“I like my trainer to talk to me," Prince Faisal continued. "Whether it is bad, good or ugly. What’s the fun for me in having a horse you don’t know anything about.”
The Saudi Cup is set to be contested by champions from six different nations and winners of multiple Group One races around the world.
“It looks a mighty tough field but so it should be, “ said Gosden.
The Cup is the highlight of the two-day meeting at the King Abdulaziz track, which is hosting 16 races on the dirt and turf.
Tom Ryan, director of strategy and international racing for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, said: “We are thrilled with the list for this year’s Saudi Cup meeting. It really highlights the international appeal of the event and shows that the biggest owners, trainers and jockeys in the world are increasingly looking towards Saudi Arabia.
“After such a difficult year in 2021, we are delighted to welcome racing fans from around the globe back to the Kingdom.
“Everyone has worked incredibly hard to ensure the success of the event this year and that the Saudi Cup continues to showcase the best in world horse racing,”