If horse racing is the sport of kings, then in Saudi, Riyadh reigns supreme. The city is home to the world’s richest horse race, the $20m Saudi Cup, but it is the driver behind the kingdom’s push to become a leading player on horse racing’s world stage.
Riyadh’s racing heartland can be found at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack: an imposing oval of green and sand illuminated by giant floodlights at night. The track is a showcase of Saudi’s long and unbroken equestrian heritage — the country’s founder King Abdulaziz was the last military leader to win his battles from the saddle, and his great grandson, Prince Bandar, is today chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia — and a must-see attraction.
The 5,000-seat grandstand overlooks the racetrack and the finish line, while giant screens telegraph the crowd, close-ups of the horses and jockeys, and the races themselves. Results are flashed from a leaderboard in real time, to ensure onlookers don’t miss a beat. You can also nab a trackside spot for close-to-the-action viewing, and for proximity to the grandstand café, which offers up both on-the-go bites and a fine-dining restaurant with a birds-eye view of the track. On race days, the atmosphere is electric.
Horse racing in Riyadh typically kicks off from October to March and culminates in the dizzyingly exciting Saudi Cup. The track hosts races throughout the season, worth an average of around $30,000 each, and attended by an international crop of riders and horses. If you’re a fan of the sport, it represents a chance to see some of the world’s best racehorses in action, including Saudi-owned equines on their home turf. For those who aren’t, it’s a spectacular day out and a chance to mingle with people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds.
The Saudi Cup
Held for the first time in 2020, the Saudi Cup represents the jewel in the crown of the kingdom’s racing calendar, with a purse of $20m up for grabs. For context, that’s more than three times that of Europe’s richest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France.
The race stretches over nine furlongs (or 1,800-meters) on dirt. The winning horse takes home $10m, with horses down to tenth place sharing another $10m between them, with a maximum field of 14 runners. Over the inaugural Saudi Cup weekend 16 races featured, with several taking place on turf, a first in the kingdom’s racing history.
Free family entertainment, gourmet food trucks and a trackside view of all the action are on offer across the weekend. Gates usually open to spectators at midday.
Saudi Cup prices are SR46.88 (about $12.50) for a child (aged 6-16; must be purchased with general admission ticket) while general admission is SR93.75 ($25). A premium paddock enclosure pass can be purchased for SR150 ($40), which gives you added access. Hospitality packages are also available.
If you’re visiting Saudi outside of the regular racing schedule but are keen to catch a race, there is also a summer season that takes place in the balmy hills of Taif from June until September.