Rachel – Pride Of SA In Riyadh!

French rider Maryline Eon wins

A rapid start saw accomplished French rider Maryline Eon lift first prize in the Invest Saudi International Jockeys Challenge at King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Friday.

A second-place finish in Round 1 behind eventual runner-up Camilo Ospina was followed by a victory in Round 2, an event over 1400m, with a fine hold-up ride on Mo Aela (KSA).

Winning jockey Maryline Eon and Saleh Al Kabti, Deputy Minister of Investment (Pic -JCSA/Erika Rasmussen)

Eon ended on 25 points from four rides and despite being out of the places in the last two rounds, her early efforts were enough to secure the largest share of the US$100,000 prize.

Visiting Brazilian rider Victoria Mota could not manage a win on the evening but reached the podium to place third.

“I didn’t know at first I’d won, I thought I would need to get points in the last race,” Eon said.

“I’m very proud. I try every day to win races in France and ride against very good jockeys but to win this against the very best jockeys in the world – I’m very grateful.”

Ryusei Sakei and Mostakmelah (KSA) had made a bold move from home closer to the fair rail in Round 2 but Mo Aela was being wound up for his challenge.

In the end, it wasn’t a contest as Eon, who has already claimed a prize for a similar jockey competition in Sweden and was the first woman to ride in the historic Group 1 French Oaks, flew three and three-quarter lengths clear of Sakei.

“I’m very proud, I’ve been riding for 15 years and to win a race against all these amazing jockeys here is very rewarding,” Eon said after the win.

“I’m living the dream. To win a race on The Saudi Cup weekend in front of this crowd that is so welcoming is just amazing.”

Saudi Arabia’s multiple title-winner Ospina knows every metre of the dirt track and he delivered a perfectly-timed ride to lift Round 1 over 1600m.

The Colombian-born rider held Altawhidi (KSA) up well off the pace and moved into the centre of the track to deliver his challenge half-way down the straight.

As Saffie Osborne’s mount Hatm (KSA) and eventual third Ibn Hadhbaan (KSA) and Mota began to fade, Ospina powered away to win fairly easily by a length and a quarter from Eon’s mount Shibl Lat’taam (KSA).

“This is the best week for me, it’s my home here and it was a great experience,” Ospina said. “The year is going well and I also have a ride in The Saudi Cup on Carmel Road, so hopefully he can run well.”

Luis Saez was last year’s Challenge winner and the brilliant American-based Panamanian struck again aboard Pagan (IRE) in Round 3, on turf over 1200m.

Ospina and Beehive (GB) set the gallop but Saez was on his shoulder and set sail for home with 400m left, leaving enough in hand to to pass the line a length in front of Mota and Monaasib (GB), who had to wait for a gap.

“I’m truly grateful to be back,” Saez said. “I love riding around here, I love the place and I love the people. “It was super exciting, last year was a great day and today I wanted to enjoy it. I got a winner and was back in the game.”

Rachel Venniker – making a name for herself (Pic -Candiese Lenferna)

South African trailblazer Rachel Venniker saved her best until last in Round 4, on the turf over 2100m, with a positive ride on Cliffs Of Fury (GB) paying off as her mount lasted home, a quarter of a length in front of Prefontaine (IRE) and Alysha Collet.

“I didn’t know I had won, I was just roaring him across the line, hoping I had held on. And we did!” Venniker said.

“It is phenomenal! It is my first time to ride outside of South Africa and I have so many people to thank. Michael Roberts [top-class jockey-turned trainer] has helped me so much back home, but thank you to everyone who has supported me. I would also like to thank the owner and trainer of this horse Cliffs Of Fury.”

“It sends a message to aspiring jockeys to just keep trying,” Venniker, who is South Africa’s only active female jockey, told the Racing Post.

“It was a bit of a rough time for me until the last but if you have determination, keep going, you can be successful,” she added.

Saez and Venniker eventually tied for fourth.

Further jockey quotes:

Victoria Mota – “I didn’t have much luck in one of the races but it happens, it’s a jockey’s life. It was very great, really happy to be here, my first time in Saudi Arabia. I saw friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time, made new friends, it was a great experience. The Brazilians are taking over the world!”

Damien Oliver – “It was brilliant. The track rode beautifully and it was very competitive racing with all the jockeys. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were close, around there, couldn’t quite crack it, but they had their chance.

See the press conference here:

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