William Buick and Shane Foley have joined the list of world-renowned riders poised for action in the STC International Jockeys’ Challenge, which takes place in Riyadh on February 19, the eve of the $20million Saudi Cup.
Buick, who took part in the original turf trials at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in January last year, has a number of big rides on Saudi Cup day itself and is looking forward to the challenge against the world’s best 24 hours earlier.
He said: “My first time riding in Saudi was around 12 years ago, I’ve been in and out since then. Last year I came over for the turf trials, which went very well indeed.
“The Saudi Cup raceday itself was a massive success. There were winners from all over the world, and the races were really competitive. For the organisers of a big meeting, that’s your dream – competitive racing and a level playing field.
“I’m really looking forward to the international jockeys’ challenge. I love these competitions. I think I’ve won the Mauritius one once – I’ve taken part in Hong Kong a few times, and there was also one the JRA used to do on Japan Cup weekend.
“This will be my first time riding in the Saudi challenge, and I really like the look of the format – four races, everyone riding in each race and the points system. It’s simple but it works.”
Space Blues is set to be a key mount for Buick on the $30.5million Saudi Cup card, where he is pencilled in for the Turf Sprint.
The Charlie Appleby-trained five-year-old enjoyed a tremendous time of things last year, culminating with his first Group One victory in the Prix Maurice de Gheest.
Buick said: “I should have a couple of nice rides at the meeting. Space Blues will be heading out there for the Turf Sprint, all being well. He’s on the right track at the moment and is a Group One winner, so we’re excited about him.
“Secret Advisor is entered in the Long Distance Turf Handicap and he had some nice form in Dubai last winter. He backed that up with a solid campaign in Europe. The track, trip and ground should be perfect for him – so we’re looking forward to it.”
Foley finished runner-up to Colin Keane in the Irish jockeys’ championship last year – and like Buick, he is relishing the Saudi challenge.
He said: “I really enjoy riding abroad and think it’s massively important. The racing in Saudi Arabia is a big and growing operation as far as owners are concerned, and all it takes is to kick on with one there and you could bring an owner back to Ireland for your stable.
“I rode in the Japanese jockeys’ challenge in 2018 – which was a good experience – and I’ve ridden against some of these jockeys, like Pierre-Charles Boudot and Jessica Marcialis in the Arc and Breeders’ Cup weekends. It’s nice to be associated with these high-quality names and events, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Also like Buick, Foley will be in action the day after the challenge.
He added: “We have Barbados going for owner Mr Zhang in the Long Distance Turf Handicap on Saturday, and if he can reproduce his (Irish) St Leger run then he will be bang there. I’m just hoping the ground is not really firm. He’ll handle nice quick ground – if it gets too firm that will be the only negative, but I’ve heard the ground last year was beautiful.
“It would be massive, and for the owner as well. He’s a big supporter of mine, and I’ve been retained by him for the last couple of years. He’s always stood by me and he has invested quite heavily in the game.
“Last year he had his first Group One winner with Lucky Vega, and it would be great to have a winner out on Saudi Cup day for him because he’s a proud and competitive man.”