Horse racing is a sport that carries with it a lot of pride. Winning the Kentucky Derby, for example, is considered the ultimate dream for American horse owners. Starting this year, the race is worth $3 million, but that is not even close to cracking the top five when it comes to the world’s most lucrative races.
The world’s richest race title, at least for 2019, belongs once more to the Dubai World Cup, but one way for less famous races to attract attention is to offer money — and a lot of it. New contests are trying to make their mark with the power of the dollar.
The Dubai World Cup: $12 million
When the Dubai World Cup debuted in 1996, it was a novel concept. Today, it is one of the most respected races in the world, but two decades ago, money did the talking. Specifically, it offered a $4 million purse, a record at the time.
Internationally, depending on the country, top-class horse races carry grade or group classifications, and the best of those earn a Grade or Group 1 designation. Because the Dubai World Cup was new, and the quality of its runners unknown, it was not designated Group 1 until 1998. It also was held in Dubai, meaning travel for any competitors outside the United Arab Emirates would be significant.
Cigar, the best horse in North America, showed up for the inaugural race anyway and won. His presence helped establish the Dubai World Cup, which is 1¼ miles on dirt, as a legitimate competition. The purse increased to $5 million in 1999, to $6 million in 2000 and $10 million in 2010.
The Dubai World Cup held its title as the world’s richest horse race until losing it in 2017 to the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in Florida. This year, however, it offers a $12 million purse and reigns once more. Scheduled for this Saturday, the winner will receive $7.2 million of the pot, making it the most valuable single payday for a horse. Godolphin’s Thunder Snow won last year, and he is back this year, looking to become the first repeat winner.
It is free to nominate a horse to the Dubai World Cup, which makes it significantly different than some of the other purse-heavy races.
The Everest: 14 million Australian dollars ($9.9 million)
Inspired by the Pegasus in North America, Australia created its own purse-heavy race in 2017. Held in Sydney, the Everest is the richest turf race in the world, and it is a 1,200-meter sprint.
The first Everest was worth 10 million Australian dollars, and much like the Pegasus, it required stake holders to put up 600,000 Australian dollars for a spot. Redzel won the first Everest in October 2017 and repeated in 2018. Because the race is new, it does not carry a Group 1 designation. The next Everest is scheduled for Oct. 19.
Last year, the Everest’s purse was increased to 13 million Australian dollars, and it is scheduled to be worth 14 million this year. The race is devised to have a purse increase every year until it reaches 15 million in 2020.
From its inception, the Everest has been more financially valuable than Australia’s most famous race. The Group 1 Melbourne Cup, which was first held in 1861, was worth 7.3 million Australian dollars in 2018.
The Pegasus World Cup Invitational: $9 million
The Pegasus debuted in Florida at Gulfstream Park in 2017. It was worth $12 million its inaugural year and $16 million in 2018, then dropped to $9 million this year.
Like the Dubai World Cup, the Pegasus is also a dirt race, but it is held at a shorter distance of 1⅛ mile. It was given a Grade 1 classification immediately because the race took it from the now defunct Donn Handicap, which was also run at Gulfstream. Cigar won the Donn twice, including in his final start before winning the 1996 Dubai World Cup.
The rebranded Pegasus’s first winner, Arrogate, also used it as a prep race for the Dubai World Cup, which he went on to win. The horse who finished second to him in Dubai, Gun Runner, won the second running of the Pegasus.
The Pegasus is not organized in a typical fashion. Originally, 12 shareholders were required to pay $1 million months in advance to buy a place in the starting gate. Closer to the race, if they did not have a suitable runner, shareholders could lease out their spot. That figure was dropped to $500,000 this year. City of Light won the race in January.
The Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational: $7 million
In 2019, Gulfstream Park introduced the 13/16-mile Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational to showcase grass runners on the same day as the original Pegasus. The turf race was first held in January and was worth $7 million.
Bricks and Mortar, who had never won a Grade 1 race, claimed the pot. The Pegasus World Cup Turf was able to run with a Grade 1 designation because it was previously known as the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
A Rich Pair: $6 million each
The Dubai World Cup is not only the richest horse race, but also the anchor to the richest day of racing. A full card of valuable races is held every year, and this year they are worth $35 million.
The day features six Group 1 races, and two of them, the Dubai Sheema Classic and the Dubai Turf, are worth $6 million each.
Both races have changed since they were inaugurated. The Dubai Turf was held in 1996, the first year of the Dubai World Cup, but it was known as the Dubai Duty Free through 2014 and originally run on dirt before being moved to the grass in 2000. The Sheema Classic was first held in 1998 and originally called the Dubai Turf Classic.
The Dubai Turf is the shorter of the two grass races at 1,800 meters, while the Sheema Classic is 2,400 meters.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic, which moves around North America, also has a $6 million purse and Grade 1 status. It was first run in 1984 and is scheduled to be held Nov. 2. It became worth $6 million in 2016, and it is a 1¼ mile contest on dirt.
Sitting just out of the top five are two of racing’s most respected races internationally.
The Japan Cup, which will be Nov. 24, is worth 648,000,000 yen, or just short of $6 million. The 2,400-meter grass race has been run since 1981. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s richest race with a purse of 5 million euros, or about $5.6 million, is also a 2,400-meter turf race. It was first held in 1920 and will be run this year on Oct. 6. Both are Group 1 races.