Leading Irish jockey Shane Foley claimed top honours in the stc International Jockeys Challenge in Riyadh on Friday.
Riders from all over the world jetted in to Saudi Arabia for the second running of the competition, which acts as the perfect appetiser to Saturday’s high-profile card at the King Adbulaziz Racetrack, which features the $20million Saudi Cup.
Foley, who as stable jockey Jessica Harrington has enjoyed big-race success aboard the likes of Albigna, Cadillac and Lucky Vega in the last couple of years, landed two of the four races that form the challenge, first striking gold on Emblem Star.
The 3-1 favourite was drawn widest of all in the second leg of the event, but a smart start allowed Foley to navigate his mount across the track and take up a handy position before kicking clear from the home turn for a decisive victory.
Foley was soon on the mark again, with Motawariyah (9-2) similarly impressive in the following race – and after being confirmed as the winner of the competition, the Kilkenny native was keen to dedicate his success to nine-times champion jockey Pat Smullen, who died last year following a long battle with cancer.
Foley said: “It’s fantastic to be involved, and maybe I wouldn’t be here if Pat Smullen was here. He’d have probably got the invite as he was the go-to man and it’s days like today that make you think of Pat, but he’d be proud of me I think.
“When you’re competing in these races it’s a random draw, so you’ve a chance of getting on a fancied horse and I was lucky enough to draw two that had chances. I had a nice run around on both of them and they both won.
“I know they’re not Group races, but it’s on the big stage with a lot of people watching and obviously good for your career.
“It’s up there was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had for a while – it beats Dundalk, anyway!”
The first leg went to 7-2 favourite Mortajeh, with American legend Mike Smith taking over in the saddle from John Velazquez, who was unable to travel to Saudi Arabia due to travel complications.
Hall of Fame rider Smith was crowned champion in the inaugural contest last year after landing two of the four races, but was later demoted to third after one of of his winners, Sun Hat, was disqualified due to a positive test for cobalt.
“I wasn’t even meant to be riding in the jockeys’ challenge – Johnny Velazquez couldn’t make it, so I filled in for him. I only heard about two hours beforehand,” said Smith, who this year finished third in the overall competition.
“It was great to start out with a winner and I’m happy with the result. This is a great event and the prize-money is amazing.”
Smith will ride favourite Charlatan in the Saudi Cup, and said of the Bob Baffert-trained colt: “Charlatan is an extremely talented horse and I’m really excited about him running. I think he’s going to really like this surface and hopefully he runs as well as I expect him to.”
Saudi Arabian rider Adel Alfouradi landed the fourth and final leg on 14-1 shot Zhabi Alhammad, which was enough to give him the runner-up spot.
William Buick and Hollie Doyle finished out of the places in each of the races.