The Kingdom’s new tourist visa scheme, launched last September, is being described as path breaking
Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, is bathed in sunshine, but there is a nice chill in the air. The weather is a cool 23 degrees but it is the winds of change that are blowing which is changing the landscape.
The Kingdom’s new tourist visa scheme, launched last September, is being described as path breaking – tourism’s “last untouched frontier.” The project’s slogan goes: “Saudi, open hearts, open doors.”
Indeed, it has and it cannot be missed. It is quite visible with young Saudis as well as the older ones, driving it forward.
The Kingdom has opened its doors to world class sporting events, be it boxing, golf and motorsport, but they will be hosting the biggest one yet, and with a distinctive Saudi flavour.
Over the weekend, the first ever Saudi Cup, the world’s most valuable horse race, will play out at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in the Kingdom’s capital.
Top horse racing connections as well as horses have arrived during the week with American and French horses landing on Sunday. Irish connections came on Tuesday, while a strong UAE contingent arrived on Wednesday.
It is a two-day affair with the ‘Kingdom Day’ witnessing the International Jockeys Challenge on Friday and the raceday on Saturday featuring eight races, with the main Saudi Cup worth an astonishing $20 million alone. The overall prize purse for the night is $29.2 million.
It is set for a truly tantalizing weekend and the man behind it says it will spawn many more and adds that it will strengthen the racing calendar in the region.
“Everybody is very excited. We hope this is the first of many things to come,” said Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, Chairman, Jockey Club Of Saudi Arabia.
“This is an important addition to the big races here in this part of the world. Bahrain had an international race a couple of months ago, while Dubai has a whole Carnival season that has been going on for 25 years which has really moved the sport here to a different level. Now, as we see, the Saudi Cup is coming along,” he added.
Prince Bandar says that the Saudi Cup will work in tandem with the Dubai World Cup which will mean that it will open up more quality competition for connections, trainers and jockeys.
“We are also starting to coordinate our season with the season in Dubai which will open up more opportunities for trainers and owners in this part of the world and will attract international runners as well.
So this is very special. We are on the cusp of something very exciting for us in this part of the world,” he said.
Prince Bandar says that the passion and love for horse racing means that the sky would be the limit.
“We will be working together with Dubai and starting to align our seasons so that we can all benefit.
“His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai was one of the first people that I went to and explained the idea after I got the direction from His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman (Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud), the Crown Prince. He said you can come to me for anything you need and he has been supporting us not just to make this happen but to help give it the quality and were happy with the horses that have joined this event. We are really looking forward to welcoming him here in Riyadh,” added Prince Bandar.