Three-time Melbourne Cup-winner Damien Oliver will lock horns with the world’s leading riders including Ryan Moore, Ryusei Sakai and Maryline Eon later this month in the International Jockey Challenge held on the Friday of The Saudi Cup weekend.
Fifty-one-year-old Oliver ended a glittering career in the saddle with victory in a race named in his honour in Perth on December 16, but has now been enticed back into competitive action and will go up against 13 of the planet’s best in the four-race competition on February 23.
The Hall of Famer will be looking to add to the 3,168 winners he rode during his 34-year career and emulates fellow countryman Glen Boss, who had also hung up his saddle before heading back to the weighing room for the competition in 2022.
The Australian, whose three Melbourne Cup wins came aboard Doriemus (1996), Media Puzzle (2002) and Fiorente (2013) faces competition from jockeys out of the UK, France, USA, South Africa, New Zealand and Japan – in what promises to be a high-class international showdown.
HRH Prince Bandar Bin Khaled Alfaisal, Chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia extended a warm welcome to all jockeys competing in the International Jockeys Challenge.
“The jockeys challenge on the Friday of Saudi Cup weekend is always one of the event highlights for me,” he said.
“We are justifiably proud of the variety of racing showcased across the two days. To be in a position to offer a global stage to 14 of the world’s best jockeys, seven men and seven women, is highly gratifying.
“We wish the best of luck to all the jockeys competing and hope that their feats on the racecourse serve to inspire new generations of riders both in Saudi Arabia and beyond.”
Joining Oliver in the starting gates is the three-times UK champion Moore, who was once again voted the Longines World Best Jockey at a ceremony in Hong Kong at the end of 2023.
Moore competes in the IJC for the first time, having won races at the highest level in the UK, France, America, Japan, Hong Kong, UAE, Ireland, Germany, Canada and Australia.
He is one of five international men recruited to the competition, alongside two domestic stars in the form of eight-times Saudi Champion, Camilo Ospina, and current title holder Adel Alfouraidi.
The female jockeys include France’s Eon, who was in 2017 the first female to participate in the French Oaks, a year after being voted the country’s top female rider.
She is joined by New Zealand’s returning Lisa Allpress who starred in 2020 when she became the first woman to win a flat race in Saudi Arabia.
Allpress is a four-times leading rider in her home country, with further antipodean interest coming from the Sydney-based Alysha Collet – who boasts more than 700 wins to her name.
The USA is represented by Katie Davies, a rider hailing from a legendary family of jockeys. She had a breakout year in 2023 upon returning from becoming a mother. The US challenge is boosted by Luis Saez – winner of more than 3000 races and more than $165million who returns to defend his 2023 IJC crown.
Current French champion jockey Maxime Guyon and Japan’s Ryusei Sakai, a jockey no stranger to success in Saudi Arabia having steered Bathrat Leon to victory in last year’s 1351 Turf Sprint will also take part in King ABdulaziz Racecourse’s fifth IJC.
Rachel Venniker rode 70 winners in 2021/22 to become South Africa’s champion apprentice and is currently the only woman riding in that jurisdiction. The KwaZulu-Natal native will line-up alongside Brazil’s Victoria Mota. Mota, the 24-year-old daughter of top Brazilian jockey, Alex Mota and won on her very first ride she was champion apprentice in 2016/17 and has now ridden over 250 winners.
Bred along similar lines to Mota, Britain’s Saffie Osborne is the final name to be announced and the daughter of UK trainer and former jockey, Jamie. She has more than 160 wins to her name and was part of the female team which triumphed at last year’s Shergar Cup competition at Ascot.