Arrangements have been concluded by the authority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosts the world’s richest horse race, with $20 million in cash prizes on offer in the latest international sports extravaganza designed to boost its battered global image.
The ultra-conservative kingdom has in recent years invested heavily in sporting events, in a soft power push designed to project a more moderate image and jettison a reputation for rights abuses and the export of hardline ideology.
The Saudi Cup, expected to attract about 10,000 spectators, takes place at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack on February 29 with the main race run over 1,800m on a dirt track with a maximum field of 14.
The winner will walk away with $10 million, second place with $3.5 million and even the 10th place finisher will go away with something.
The Saudi Cup includes another seven races on dirt and turf with prizes worth $9.2 million up for grabs.
“We are taking the first steps on a journey to bring the domestic racing product on a par with our international counterparts,” said Tom Ryan, director of strategy and international racing at the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
The event will “increase the sport’s following inside Saudi Arabia, as well as opening up the industry to international horses and connections to make our mark on global racing,” he said.
Saudi journalist Mugbel al-Zabni, who writes for Arriyadiyah sports daily, said the event plays to Saudi culture, in a kingdom where the horse is considered a symbol of its heritage.
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