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The Thoroughbred Races Blazing a Trail in Asia

Top thoroughbred horse racing isn’t just popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but throughout Asia as well. From the Middle East to the Land of the Rising Sun, people are passionate about equine competition on both turf and dirt.

That has led to the creation of some major horse races in Asia with huge prize money on offer. These may lack the storied history of European, British and American races, but horses trained all around the globe descend on Asian countries with their eye on the winner’s share of the purse in these and many other events…

Indian Derby

The most valuable race in the Subcontinent is the Indian Derby, which is traditionally held in Mumbai during early February at Mahalaxmi Racecourse. First run in 1943 when India was still part of the British Empire, like the Kentucky Derby in the USA, this event models itself on the Epsom Derby.

That goes right down to the race distance of 2,400m, about a mile-and-a-half. Unlike the English equivalent, however, the Indian Derby is open to geldings as well as colts and fillies. Another key difference with Epsom and Kentucky is the age of entries.

With those Derbies, the horses are three-year-olds. However, that is based on the Northern hemisphere system of age classification. With India being below the equator and using a different method, the horses competing in the Indian Derby are four-year-olds.

Organised by the Royal Western India Turf Club, highlights that top horse racing betting sites have this as one of the biggest events held in the region. The Indian Derby is supported by the Indian Oaks, also run at Mahalaxmi, with the only Classic not hosted at that venue being the St Leger at Pune much later in the year. There are even Indian 1000 and 2000 Guineas races, completely mirroring the British and Irish model of Classics.

Saudi Cup

A much newer addition to Asian horse racing is the Saudi Cup at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its founders spotted a gap in the pattern of major dirt events between the Pegasus Gold Cup in Florida during January and Dubai World Cup Night in March.

Into the breach stepped the Saudi Cup, a conditions race over 1,800m (about a mile and a furlong) held at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack at the end of February. With the lure of a $20,000,000 total purse, some top milers and middle-distance horses came to the Middle East in search of the spoils.

Only inaugurated in 2020, the Saudi Cup has already had two international winners. Maximum Security came over from America and won the first-ever running of the race, while this year’s renewal went to Mishriff – a British raider trained by John Gosden having just his second-ever start on dirt.

Dubai World Cup

By far the richest single race meeting held anywhere in the world, Dubai World Cup Night at the end of March has become a mainstay of the annual calendar for flat racing thoroughbreds. This event combines dirt and turf races on the same card at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.

Headlining the meet is the Dubai World Cup itself. A Group 1 over 2,000m (roughly a mile-and-a-quarter) first held in 1996, Anglo-American support of the race early on its history helped legitimise this event. Back then, it was run at Nad Al Sheba, which has since closed.

With great American thoroughbred Cigar and British runner Singspiel winning the first two Dubai World Cups, the race, and meeting in general, have grown. Thunder Snow is the only horses to taste victory more than once in it.

Supporting the main event on Dubai World Cup night are a number of other valuable races in their own right. These include the Sheema Classic, Dubai Turf and Al Quoz Sprint.

Japan Cup

On the last Sunday in November, the Japan Cup over 2,400m takes centre stage in Tokyo. First held in 1981, the race has a history of international runners taking home the lion’s share of prize money. The total purse isn’t far off $6,000,000.

Singspiel took the Japan Cup for Britain in 1996 en route to his aforementioned Dubai World Cup success the following spring. Horses from Australia, New Zealand, mainland Europe and the USA have all triumphed in Tokyo too.

Notable domestic winners of the Japan Cup include Deep Impact, who had a fantastic career at stud following retirement; Gentildonna and Almond Eye. The latter pair are the only horses to have won the race twice.

Hong Kong Vase

Sha Tin Racecourse is the site of the Hong Kong Vase and many other top races in the territory. This 2,400m event run in December first took place in 1994. Current prize money levels have this race at HK$20,000,000.

As the Hong Kong Vase takes place after the end of the British, Irish and European Flat turf season, it has proved a popular contest for horses based there. For evidence of that, look no further than Aidan O’Brien winning three of the last six renewals.

Doctor Dino and Highland Reel, alongside American raider Luso, have all won the Hong Kong Vase twice. There are more valuable races in this region, but none have done more to advertise horse racing from the territory on an international scale.