Hopes are high for a repeat victory for Bahrain at a major horse racing competition being held in Saudi Arabia this weekend.
Three horses from the Royal Stables will be taking part in the Saudi Cup 2021 competition trained by renowned horse trainer Allan Smith.
The two-day Saudi Cup which will be held at Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Friday and Saturday and is set to feature some of the world’s leading racehorses and jockeys.
The highlight of the Saudi Cup meeting will be the $20million Saudi Cup on the last day, regarded as the world’s ‘most valuable’ horse race.
Last year’s event was the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia with a $29.2 million prize pool which has gone up to $30.5 million this year.
Smith started training in 1984 after serving as an apprentice jockey at the famous Newmarket race course in the UK.
The Brit first came to Bahrain in 1994. He enjoyed a spell of success between 2000 and 2003 in Dubai before coming back ‘home’ to the kingdom in 2005.
Smith has trained horses for five generations of the Al Khalifa family, including runners belonging to Shaikh Mohammed bin Isa Al Khalifa, Al Mohammediya Racing and Al Adiyat Racing, the respective stables of Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Khalifa and Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
One of the star performers has been seven-year-old gelding, Dark Power, who won the $1 million stc 1351 Turf Sprint under Italian jockey Frankie Dettori at The Saudi Cup 2020.
The pair has teamed up again for this weekend’s big race.
“We started training quite a long way back, we were prepping for the Saudi race back in November, everything that they do is programming up to that race,” said Mr Smith.
After the summer break, Dark Power started ‘road work’ - just walking and trotting for a good two or three weeks to slowly get back into top condition - and then slow canters set the pace for up to six weeks before Smith and his team gradually introduce some fast work.
“Dark Power was an unexpected winner but before he went to Saudi he broke the 1,000m and 1,200m track records here in Bahrain, so he was on top of his form,” explained Smith.
“He’s in good form again. He’s in good order and we haven’t had any setbacks with his training. In the afternoon he’s doing an hour in the walker as well as his training in the morning and then he has his special spa treatment twice a day.
“It’s looking good but we’ll have to see as the competition is pretty hot too!”
The other two entries in action this weekend trained by Smith are the six-year-old bay colt Roman River who will compete in the 1,200m Riyadh Dirt Sprint, which boasts a $1.5 million pot, and Rayounpour, a five-year-old bay gelding taking part in the Saudi International Handicap, a 2,100m race on turf with a $500,000 prize.
Bahraini Aziz Fatah, Dark Power’s training jockey, is excited and proud to have horses representing Bahrain taking part in the prestigious event which will be watched by millions race fans around the world.
“Each horse has its own training regimen and requirements which the trainer puts them through, so that they are ready for the type of race that they are going to run in,” said Mr Fatah.
“Last year our Dark Power won, and we hope to score another victory this year. This year may be more challenging but we hope to represent Bahrain proudly.”
Dettori, the famous Italian horse racing jockey based in the UK, has been Champion Jockey on three occasions and has ridden the winners of more than 500 Group races.
As well as taking the world’s most valuable horse race first time round, his most celebrated achievement was riding all seven winners on British Champions’ Day at Ascot in 1996.
Although Dettori has not had the chance to ride Dark Power since the victory he is confident in their chances again this year.
“I absolutely loved the experience last year and it was nice to get a winner on Saudi Cup Day, and it was also exciting to be part of the world’s most valuable horse race, he added.
“Sadly, I haven’t had an opportunity to ride Dark Power since last year’s event, but I have spoken to Allan and I know that he has been really well prepared for the race, and he goes into it with an excellent chance.”
The two-day festival, staged on Friday and Saturday at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, will host 77 overseas contenders representing 13 different countries from around the world.
The galloping bonanza aims to raise awareness of horse racing in the country whilst also encouraging the participation of both men and women in the sport.
For details on entries and races, visit www.thesaudicup.com.sa/
* Place your smartphone over the QR code to watch Dark Power in training for the big race.