RIYADH, Saudi Arabias (AFP) – Saudi longshot Emblem Road came from behind to claim a shock win in the world’s richest horserace, the $20 million Saudi Cup, in Riyadh on Saturday.
The 66-1 outsider, ridden by Panamanian jockey Wigberto Ramos, stormed up the outside in the home straight to win a five-horse sprint by a head from US trainer Bob Baffert’s Country Grammer.
Saudi-based Ramos and owner Prince Saud bin Salman Abdulaziz were jubilant afterwards as they were surrounded by fans celebrating the 1,800m race’s first Saudi winner in its third edition.
The $10 million first prize capped a lavish, two-day meeting at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse dirt track where 240 horses from 16 countries competed for a total purse of $35.1 million.
Earlier, Christophe Lemaire rode four Japanese winners in the Neom Turf Cup, the Turf Sprint, the Red Sea Turf Handicap and the Riyadh Dirt Sprint.
American trainer Baffert, who is battling doping charges after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive last May, won the Saudi Derby with Pinehurst.
The Saudi Cup is part of a Saudi investment spree on high-profile events that has drawn accusations of sportswashing, or attempting to distract from its human rights record.
The deeply conservative kingdom has attracted Formula One and heavyweight boxing, and in October its Public Investment Fund snapped up Premier League football team Newcastle United.
The world’s biggest oil exporter is also courting controversy by bankrolling a new Super Golf League, intended as a rival to the US PGA Tour that has long dominated the sport.
In December, Frenchman Philippe Boutron was badly injured in an explosion while driving a support car during the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia. French investigators found the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device.
The focus on sport is part of a broad strategy under crown prince and de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman, 36, to diversify the oil-reliant Saudi economy and attract foreign investment and talent.