Winner Mike Smith celebrates after his first win of the challenge
On the evening before the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup, was Kingdom Day at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, with the inaugural $1.6 million STC International Jockeys Challenge. 14 riders from around the world (7 males and 7 females) were invited to compete, and were randomly assigned mounts in 4 races on the card, all run under handicap weights around 1 turn of the dirt track with $400,000 purses, the first 3 for older horses but the 4th and final leg restricted to 3-year-olds. Points were awarded based on the jockey's placing in each race, using a 15-10-7-5-3 system, with the leader after the 4 races declared the winner of the trophy and $30,000. Conditions were ideal during the races, with clear skies and temperatures in the 70's.
New Zealand jockey Lisa Allpress won the opening leg, the $400,000 STC Cloud Handicap, becoming the first female jockey to win a race in Saudi Arabia.
The competition kicked off with the STC Cloud Handicap, a 1400 meter (7 furlong) sprint. Olivier Peslier put 8-5 favorite Motayammen on the lead and looked like he was going to steal it gate-to-wire, but Lisa Allpress, stalking the pace the whole way under 25-1 longeshot Matmon, came through on the rail in the final 1/16 to win by 1/4 length. It was another length back to Sibylle Vogt aboard 24-1 Dolma third. Allpress mde history as the first female jockey to ride a winner in Saudi Arabia. The second leg was the STC 5G Handicap over 1600 meters (1 mile). Mike Smith put 7-2 favorite Sun Hat on the lead immediately and never looked back, drawing off in the stretch to win by 7 3/4 lengths over 60-1 Seif Alsharq and jockey Mickaelle Michel. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to 16-1 Laurence and jockey Sibylle Vogt.
Jockey Mike Smith wins the second race of the competition aboard the Saleh Suliman Alhamd-owned Sun Hat.
After a break in the action, the third leg was the STC Dare Handicap, the longest race of the contest at 1800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles), the Saudi Cup distance. Mike Smith aboard 3-1 Paris and Mickaelle Michel aboard 70-1 Nawa Yef Nasaah battled for the lead down the backstretch and around the turn before Paris pulled away to win by 7 1/4 lengths over late-running 7-2 Makhbour and Yutaka Take. It was another 1/4 length back to 60-1 Waled Almetrefah and Camilo Ospina third. The final leg was the STC Pay Handicap for 3-year-olds sprinting 1200 meters (6 furlongs). Olivier Peslier aboard 7-2 Karim Maan set the pace while pressed by 18-1 Alshatherwan and Emma-Jayne Wilson. Turning for home Karim Mann tired badly but 10-1 Sabeq'hom, midpack early under Sibylle Vogt, rallied between horses to win by 1/2 a length over Alshatherwan. It was another 3/4 length back to late-runing 10-1 Sha'erah and Frankie Dettori. Smith took the title with 33 points, edging Vogt's 29 points. Michel and Allpress tied for third place with 15 points each.
Jockey Mike Smith wins the third race of the competition aboard the Sharaf Mohammed S. Al Hariri-owned Paris.
After winning the first leg, Lisa Allpress of New Zealand said, "I came here with no expectations, I just wanted to enjoy the experience, but we have been very well looked after and I want to thank everyone who has organized it. That means a lot. I'm just so thankful to get the invite to come here. Where I come from it's not a crazy thing for a woman to be riding in the big races but this means a lot. I'm just happy to be here and doing my thing. I came here with an open mind and I'm extremely thankful to be asked. I had a good chat with Mr. (Phil) Tuck and the handicapper (Phil Smith) and we went through my rides and it basically made me relax and go out there and have fun. It's very ground-breaking and I can't believe it, it's very special." Swiss-born Sibylle Vogt (who rides in Germany) said after winning the fourth leg, "It's really nice to win on a night like this. I was so excited to be here and the night was so special, and for three women to be in the top places (second and a tie for third) is great."
German-based jockey Sibylle Vogt won the fourth aboard Sabeq'hom over Canadian jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard Alshatherwan.
Winning jockey Mike Smith said, "At my age I'm stoked to win this jockeys challenge," said Smith. "I'm so happy and very blessed. I was hoping to do well in the challenge and then we have the Saudi Cup tomorrow and I'm really, really looking forward to tomorrow. I think my filly tomorrow in the Saudi Cup, Midnight Bisou is going to love this track, she acts like she will. I'm proud to start the time I'm here off by winning tonight in great fashion. I'll be back, I love this place and I love that dirt course out there. It's the best dirt course I've been on. It's very kind and very good for a horse and America should really take a look at this surface. Man, it's kind and when it feels kind it is kind. I absolutely loved it."
The jockeys who participated in the challenge pose for a group shot with Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal. From left to right: Irad Ortiz, Adel Alfouraidi, Yutake Take, Wigberto Ramos, Mike Smith, Frankie Dettori, Lisa Allpress, Prince Bandar, Olivier Peslier, Mickaelle Michel, Nicola Currie, Coralie Pacaut, Sibylle Vogt, Emma-Jayne Wilson, and Sophie Doyle.
Sophie Doyle of Great Britain said, "The event is great. They're showcasing fabulous jockeys. It's great for the women to be here. For Lisa (Allpress) to have won the first race of the jockey challenge, you couldn't have asked for anything better. (She was) the first female to ride (a race) on the track and to have won it was great." Canadian representative Emma-Jayne Wilson added, "Jockey challenges are unique, I've ridden in them all over the world, it's always a pleasure to be invited. For the first time with an event like this, to have it go like this, is fantastic. To have an event like this the day before your biggest day is not easy - hands down fantastic job. The competition itself - on a surface like this against this calibre of riders and at such a wonderful facility - just adds to the atmosphere. It's been an absolute pleasure and honour to participate and I'm really happy that I came."
Sibylle Vogt 2nd, Mike Smith 1st, and Lisa Allpress & Mickaelle Michel joint 3rd
Saudi Cup Links:
STC International Jockeys Challenge - The night before the $20 million Saudi Cup, King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh hosted the inaugural $1.6 million STC International Jockeys Challenge with 14 riders from around the world competing. Mike Smith was the winner with Sibylle Vogt second.
2020 Saudi Cup Entries - Entries closed on Wednesday and post positions were drawn that evening for the first running of the $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh. Maximum Security is the likely favorite from post 7 with Mucho Gusto and McKinzie in posts 8 and 9. Get all the horses, post positions, and odds here.