Standing at the side of a racetrack near the finishing post, you can actually feel the unmistakable sound as much as you hear it coming. The growing thunder of hooves approaching, thoroughbreds being urged to one last effort and glory. Nothing quite beats the atmosphere and spectacle of attending race days, which are now enjoying phenomenal popularity in the Middle East.
Races on dusty dirt tracks are still commonplace, in a desert region famed for its love of equestrian activities. But these days, the facilities are amongst the very best in the world, with top level racing held at beautifully tended elite venues and for the most prestigious events. Two neighboring countries in the Middle East are now vying for our attention, putting on what have become the two most lucrative horse racing events in the world.
Dubai World Cup
Held annually since the inaugural 1996 running and at the iconic Meydan Racecourse since 2010, the Dubai World Cup event encompasses much more than just one headline race. There is a whole Dubai World Cup Carnival calendar of racing fixtures from January, leading up to the showpiece event itself at the end of March. The Dubai World Cup, traditionally the final race of Dubai World Cup Night, was created by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai who also owns the Darley Stud and Godolphin Racing.
Famed as one of the richest horse races in the world, the Dubai World Cup has boasted a purse of $12 million since 2019. This Group 1 flat race is held on a dirt track and is open to Northern Hemisphere Thoroughbreds aged four and older, run over a distance of 2,000 meters, which is around 10 furlongs.
The first winner of the Dubai World Cup in 1996 was legendary Cigar, fondly remembered as “America’s Horse” and the first to win 16 straight races, including a perfect 10-for-10 season in 1995 when he also won the Breeders Cup. Subsequently, the Dubai World Cup is popular with American owners and trainers, although the Godolphin stable owned by Al Maktoum has enjoyed the most consistent success, including 2021 winner Mystic Guide.
Given the great success of the Dubai World Cup and amidst massive investment, Saudi Arabia has been keen to become an important focal point for major sporting events in recent years. Inaugurated at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh since 2020, the Saudi Cup is held at the end of February each year, featuring an incredible $20 million purse for the showpiece race. This makes it the single richest horse racing event in the world, with a lucrative purse bigger than even the Dubai World Cup or The Everest in Australia.
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Just like its famed regional counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, the first edition of the Saudi Cup was won by an American horse, Maximum Security ridden by Luis Saez. However, the prize money was later withheld after an investigation into trainer, Jason Servis, who had been indicted in the United States regarding use of prohibited substances. The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia is still investigating, with the case yet to be resolved.
Nevertheless, the Saudi Cup has quickly become one of the most famous races around, sitting nicely in the global fixture schedule, four weeks after the Pegasus Cup in Florida, USA, and four weeks before the Dubai World Cup. Four-year-old Mishriff was the 2021 Saudi Cup winner, with jockey David Egan in the saddle, trained by John Gosden and owned by Prince Abdul Rahman al Faisal.
Backing the Winners
Considering the introduction of major sports events and particularly horse racing, which attract billions of wagering dollars around the whole globe, gambling remains largely frowned upon in the Middle East and North African because of religious laws. That being said, many people do still seek out the best horse racing betting sites in Arab countries, which are dutifully reviewed by Arabian Betting, who have provided in-depth reviews.
Arabian Betting has also produced an extensive guide to all the different horse racing markets, covering which sites boast the strongest event coverage, plus where to find the best value race odds and bonus offers. There are also complete walkthroughs regarding safety and security, as understandably, most bettors in MENA countries wish to protect their privacy and identities online. Essentially, this is a great place to start when looking at wagering options for the Dubai World Cup and the Saudi Cup this year.