Horse racing is a sport that is awash with money at the highest end of it. There are races that are worth vast sums to the trainers, owners and jockeys, to such an extent that it can be quite eye-watering. These are races with the sort of prizes that would make football clubs blush, such is the extent to which they have had money ploughed into them by sponsors in order to make them as prestigious as possible.
Given that horse racing is known as the Sport of Kings, there’s little surprise in races having such wealth attached to them. The interesting thing is that, at the time of writing at least, having money associated with races isn’t enough on its own to make them world famous to the average punter. Ask a horse racing fan and they’d sooner watch the Gold Cup than the Dubai World Cup, which says quite a lot, money can’t buy history or prestige – but it helps.
The Top Ten
Here’s a look at the top ten richest horse races in the world. The thing that you need to bear in mind when reading about the races, though, is the fact that the actual order can change at any moment. Races are constantly competing to be named ‘the world’s richest horse race’, so the one that takes that crown today might not still be wearing it tomorrow. Even so, we’ve done the best we can to get the information correct.
The Saudi Cup
With a prize purse of $20 million and a $10 million amount heading to the outright winner, the Saudi Cup is the new wearer of the ‘world’s richest horse race’ crown. Hosted by the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, it was inaugurated in 2020 and was created to turn heads. The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia did everything that they could in order to make the race a spectacle.
The timing of the race was crucial in allowing it to become one that owners were willing to send their horses to compete in. It is held roughly a month after the Pegasus World Cup and is the same amount of time away from the Dubai World Cup, meaning that it accepts a top class level of horse. Run over 1,800 metres on a dirt track, there are a number of ‘Win & You’re In’ races that see winners qualify for it automatically. Some of them are:
- Pegasus World Cup
- Champions Cup
- Pegasus World Cup Turf (Qualifier for the Middle Distance Turf Cup)
- Capella Stakes (Qualifier for the Riyadh Dirt Sprint)
The Dubai World Cup
The Dubai World Cup and the Pegasus World Cup with tussle with each other to be named the world’s richest race before the Saudi Cup came along and blew them both out of the water. First held in 1996 and currently run at Meydan Racecourse, the Dubai World Cup is traditionally run on the last Saturday in March. Since 2019 it has boasted a prize purse of $12 million, seeing it attract runners from all over the world.
Run over 2,000 metres, which is the equivalent of about ten furlongs, it is open to four-year-olds and over from the Northern Hemisphere and three-year-olds and over if they’re from the Southern Hemisphere. There is an entire night of racing based around the event, though there’s no question which is the meeting’s most prestigious race. Saeed bin Suroor has trained more winners than anyone else during the race’s history.
The Pegasus World Cup
Prior to the inauguration of the Saudi Cup, if the Dubai World Cup wasn’t the richest race in the world then the Pegasus World Cup would be. Officially known as the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes, the event was first run in January of 2017. The race takes place at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida and is run at a distance of just over one mile, or nine furlongs. It took over from the Donn Handicap, taking that race’s Grade 1 rating.
At its inaugural running, the race, which is open to horses aged four and over, had a prize purse of $12 million. That was raised to $16 million in 2018, dropped to $9 million in 2019 and then dropped again to $3 million for the 2020 renewal. Horses carry 124 pounds, with fillies and mares given a three pound allowance. Frank Stronach is the man credited with creating the race, initially proposing it in January of 2016.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic
A Grade 1 weight-for-age flat race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic was first run in 1984. It’s for horses aged three and over and takes place over 2,000 metres on a dirt track. Part of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, it is run at different racecourses around the United States of America. The only exception to this came in 1996 when the race was held at Woodbine Racecourse in the Canadian capital city of Toronto.
The weight that horses are asked to carry depends on their age, their gender and which part of the world they are from. Three-year-olds from the Northern Hemisphere carry 122 pounds, whilst those from the Southern Hemisphere carry 117 pounds. Four-year-olds, on the other hand, carry 126 pounds and fillies and mares are given a three pound allowance. In 2020 the prize for the race stood at $7 million.
The first of two races on the list that take place in Australia, it is a weight-for-age event that is organised by the Australian Turf Club. Run over 1,200 metres on turf, the event is hosted by Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. It was introduced to the racing world as a Special Conditions event in 2017 and is the richest race that is run in Australia. Part of the Sydney Spring Carnival in October, it was first run by Redzel.
The inaugural winner of the race is worth mentioning because he wouldn’t have even taken part in it if not for the event’s unusual entry free structure. People buy 12 slots for $600,000 each, then having the ability to either race their own horse, lease the place to someone else or sell their gate. James Harron bought a place in the race in 2017, coming up with a deal with Redzel’s owners to let the horse race from his gate. In 2020 the race’s purse was $15 million.
Prix de l’Arc Triomphe
The only race on the list that takes place in France, the Prix de l’Arc Triomphe is arguably the country’s most prestigious horse racing event. It is also one of the oldest races on the list, having been run for the first time in 1920. Often referred to simply as ‘the Arc’, the event is the most prestigious all-age horse race in Europe. From 2003, it has been known by the slogan, ‘It’s not a race, it’s a monument’.
Run on turn over a distance of 2,400 metres, which is roughly a mile and a half, the race is open to horses aged three and over but excluding geldings. Three-year-olds can carry 56.5 kilograms, whilst horses aged four and over have a weight of 59.5 kilograms and fillies and mares are given a 1.5 kilogram allowance. The prize for the race in 2020 was €3 million, making it the world’s second-richest turf race.
The Japan Cup
Run at Tokyo Racecourse in the city of Fuchū, the Japan Cup is Japan’s most prestigious horse race. Established in 1981, it is an invitational event that takes place on the last Sunday of November. Run over one and a half miles, or 2,000 metres, the event is open to horses aged three and over. Up to ten foreign-trained horses can take part in the race, with 18 horses overall tending to run in it.
The Japan Racing Association initially created the event as an opportunity for local horses to race against internationally successful horses. The race boasts a total prize pool of $5.2 million, of which around $2.5 million goes to the winner. In this race, horses are also given extra winnings if they won in one of the qualifying international races, whilst winning owners are also given a bonus.
The Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is held in Louisville, Kentucky on an annual basis. Run at Churchill Downs over ten furlongs, it’s open to three-year-olds. Colts and geldings are given a weight of 126 pounds, whilst fillies have a weight of 121 pounds. Known as ‘the run for the roses’ on account of the fact that the winning horse is draped with a blanket of roses, it is referred to as ‘the most exciting two minutes in sport’.
The race is part of the American Triple Crown, standing alongside the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. It is one of the most popular horse races in America, usually having an attendance that surpasses all other Stake races combined. The prize fund for the event is $3 million, of which just shy of $2 million is awarded to the winner. The race has been taking place since 1875, making it one of the oldest on the list.
The Epsom Derby
The Derby Stakes is most commonly referred to as the Epsom Derby or simply just the Derby. It’s a Grade 1 event that takes place at Epsom Downs Racecourse every year and is run over four furlongs and six yards. Open to colts and fillies aged three, it is easily the oldest race on the list, having first taken place in 1780. It is one of the five British Classics, being the richest race in the country, thanks to its prize pool of roughly £500,000.
One of the country’s great sporting events, it is watched all over the world and has inspired countless races. Amongst these is the Kentucky Derby, mentioned elsewhere on the list. The race was conceived of after the successful running of the Oaks Stakes the year before, with the race’s name reportedly being decided upon by the toss of a coin. Weight for the race is nine stone, with fillies given a three pound allowance.
The Melbourne Cup
The final race on this main list is also the second one that is run in Australia. The most famous race for thoroughbreds in the country, it is organised by the Victoria Racing Club and takes place at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. The race was inaugurated in 1861, meaning that it has a long and illustrious history. Traditionally getting underway at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November, it is referred to as the ‘race that stops a nation’.
Open to horses aged three and over, it is run over 3,200 metres, which is about two miles. The minimum handicap weight is 50 kilograms, with 57 kilograms being the maximum allocated weight. Additional weight is carried by horses that have won specific race types in the past. There are a host a financial hoops through which owners must jump to have a horse in the race, but the prize is AS$8 million, making it one of the richest turf races in the world.
Rich Jump Races
Whilst the above races are all well-known in the racing world and prestigious in their own rights, you’ll notice that none of them are jump races. All of the races in the list above are flat races run on either turf of dirt, meaning that there’s room for another section here in which we can tell you about rich jump races. Flat racing will always have more money involved than jump races, but jump races are often the most popular.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
What can be said about the Gold Cup that hasn’t been said already? Taking place during the Cheltenham Festival and considered the meeting’s blue riband event, the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of jump racing. Only the Grand National at Aintree can come close to the Gold Cup in terms of prestige. It is on this list because it is the most valuable non-handicap steeplechase run in the United Kingdom, with prize money of £625,000 in 2019.
First run in 1819, it was initially a flat race and the first ever winner, Spectre, won his owner 100 Guineas in prize money. It was first run as a jump race in 1924, which is the date that most consider to be the origin of the race. Back then, the winner won a prize of £685, which was less than the £1,000 available to the winner of the County Handicap Hurdle that also took place during the Festival.
Part of the reason why the race is able to offer a decent chunk of prize money is down to it having a commercial sponsor. The first one came in in 1972 when Piper Champagne had its name associated with the event. Since then the likes of bookmakers and alcoholic drink makers have taken on sponsorship duties, ensuring that the prize money on offer for the race has remained relatively high.
The Grand National bears the title of being the most valuable jump race in Europe, promising those horses that do well in the event a share of a £1 million prize purse. Of that, the winner takes home more than half a million, which is part of what makes it such a popular race to enter. Known as the world’s greatest steeplechase, the Grand National is seen as the ultimate test of both horses and their riders.
The Grand National is also the race that people that don’t usually like horse racing tend to bet on, with more than 600 million people across 140 countries turning in to watch it. A handicap race for seven-year-old horses and over, it takes place over four miles and 514 yards. The real joy of the event comes in the fact that it is felt as though any horse can win it, with the distance and the jumps proving a real test for all that enter it.
King George VI Chase
Traditionally taking place on Boxing Day, the King George VI Chase was first run in 1937. Hosted by Kempton Park in Surrey, in was named in honour of the then newly installed British monarch King George VI. Only the Cheltenham Gold Cup is considered to be more prestigious than the King George VI Chase in terms of steeplechase races, which is part of the reason why this race makes the list.
The other reason is the prize money of more than £200,000 that is on offer. Whilst far from the largest on the list, it’s enough to see top-class horses entered into the event by their owners. It’s run over three miles and boasts a unique combination of length and tricky jumps to mean that horses have to be at their best to win it. It’s open to horses aged four and over, with weight dictated by age and gender.
Scottish Grand National
A Grade 3 race that is run over four miles, the Scottish Grand National has prize money of £215,000 on offer. When you consider how much less prestigious flat races offer winning horses you can see just how much of a disparity between flat and jump racing there actually is in terms of prize money. It’s for horses aged five and over and weight is assigned to them according to their ability, given that it is a handicap race.
A race known as the ‘West of Scotland Grand National’ took place in Renfrewshire in 1858, boasting 32 jumps that were mainly made up of brick walls. It moved to Bogside in 1867, being transferred to Ayr when that course closed in 1965. It has remained at Ayr ever since, being moved to the same length that year too. Red Rum is the only horse to have won both Grand Nationals in the same year, doing so in 1974.
Ladbrokes Trophy Chase
Also known as the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase is the third-richest handicap race in Great Britain. Only the English and Scottish Grand Nationals come in front of it, though it’s actually the Cheltenham Gold Cup that it is most commonly associated with. That’s because the likes of Bobs Worth, Denman and Arkle all went on to win the race at Prestbury Park having won this earlier in the season.
It is scheduled to take place in late November or early December each year, run as it is over three miles, one furlong and 214 yards. It’s a handicap event that is open to horses aged four and over and was established in 1957. The first ever winner was a horse named Mandarin, who was owned by Peggy Hennessy, a member of the family that sponsored the race. The race is run at Newbury Racecourse each year.
Irish Grand National
Sponsored by BoyleSports at the time of writing, the Irish Grand National boasts a prize fund of €500,000 at the time of writing. That results in the winner taking home €270,000 and has done since 2017. The ‘race of the people’ as it is known in Ireland, is the most valuable jump race that is run on the Emerald Isle and boasts the third-biggest prize amount across the entirety of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Run at Fairyhouse over three miles and five furlongs, the race was inaugurated in 1870. Back then the winner was handed a prize of 167 sovereigns, meaning that the prize money has increased a bit over the years. During the early running of the race, winning horses had often been trained at the Curragh and ten of the winners up to 1882 ticket this box. Numerous horses have won both this and the English Grand National, though none have won both races in the same year.