Dubai: Less than 24 hours after the announcement that a historic first turf track will be built in Saudi Arabia for next year’s $27 million Saudi Cup race meeting, it has been revealed that female jockeys will be permitted to ride at the extravaganza that hopes to ‘transform’ the country.
With a purse of $20 million the Saudi Cup will become the world’s richest race and Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia who is steering the project said women jockeys were ‘most welcome.’
Speaking to BBC Sport Prince Bandar, whose great uncle is the legendary horse owner-breeder Prince Khalid Abdullah, implied that the country was preparing for a ‘more open’ era.
“Men and women will be treated equally,” he said when asked about jockeys. “We are going through a transformation in the kingdom. We are learning, but we are opening up and there is a political will to go there.”
The news was sweet music to the ears of British trained Jamie Osborne said: “If we have a runner, Nicola [Currie] will ride.
Currie is the current All-Weather Champion apprentice in the UK.
The Saudi Cup takes place a month ahead of the $35 million Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
It is likely that connections will keep their horses in training in the region with the aim of participating in both the $20m Saudi Cup and $12m Dubai World Cup.
The Dubai World Cup was created by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 1996.
In 2012 Canadian jockey Chantal Sutherland become first woman to ride in Dubai World Cup, when it carried a purse of $10m.
British jockey Hayley Turner also made the Meydan debut when she rode in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint.
The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia have been conducting promotional events in the build up to the February 28 six-race meeting at the Abdul Aziz Racecourse in Riyadh.
An event at London was attended by several noteworthy British racing figures, including trainers Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori.
The Saudi Cup is the latest in a series of major sporting events set to be held in Saudi Arabia, with boxing’s world heavyweight title rematch between Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr. and British champion Anthony Joshua scheduled to take place in Dariyah in December.
The country has already staged Motorsport’s Race of Champions, the Saudi International European Tour golf tournament and boxing championship featuring Britain’s Amir Khan and Billy Dib at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.