Nicola Currie among women to break new ground in jockeys' challenge
History will be made in Riyadh on Friday as seven female jockeys become the first women to ride in a competitive race in Saudi Arabia.
The group includes representatives from all over the world, such as Britain-based jockey Nicola Currie, Sophie Doyle, Mickaelle Michel and three-time New Zealand champion Lisa Allpress.
They will take part in an individual points-based challenge alongside seven male riders, including Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore, in four dirt races at the newly refurbished King Abdulaziz racecourse.
"I was thrilled to be invited and looking forward to riding against some world-class jockeys," said Allpress, who has competed in similar challenges including the Shergar Cup at Ascot.
"A small part of me is proud to be one of the first women to ride competitively here. I've never had to worry about men versus women on the track as its been equal since I started. I come from a country that wouldn't have racing without female jockeys."
It is the opening act of Saudi Arabia's first international meeting and no expense has been spared, with each leg worth a staggering $400,000 (£310,480/€364,318), alongside $30,000 (£23,286/€27,324) for the winning jockey.
While other equestrian sports have long been open to both sexes, this event represents a notable development in a country that has been heavily criticised over its record on women's rights.
Organisers of the valuable two-day fixture have spoken of Saudi Arabia entering a more open era and view the jockeys' challenge as a reflection of its Vision 2030, an initiative that outlines goals for diversifying the country's economy, primarily through tourism.
Sport is considered a driving force for this and, in addition to hosting the world's richest race, the $20 million (£15.53m/€18.22m) Saudi Cup on Saturday, the country has staged a number of high-profile events, including a heavyweight title fight involving Anthony Joshua in December.
"We're delighted to welcome some of the best jockeys in the business to compete," said Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, whose great uncle Khalid Abdullah, the founder of Juddmonte Farms, bred Enable and Frankel.
"Racing routinely sees male and female riders compete on a level playing field and we're proud to continue this great tradition."
The jockeys have been assigned locally trained horses through a draw and will earn points depending on their finishing positions.
Nanako Fujita, the first female jockey to ride a Graded winner in Japan, and Wigberto Ramos were due to compete but were ruled out through injury and replaced by Coralie Pacaut and Camilo Ospina.
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