Friday, 19 February, 2021
In their determination to make The Saudi Cup one of the world’s greatest sporting events, those behind it have searched the globe for the best people to help with its development.
One of those is Bobby McEwen, the senior veterinarian for Friday and Saturday’s racedays. He is one of the UK’s most experienced and best-regarded equine vets, and perhaps chief among the accomplishments on his CV is his position as a racecourse vet at Ascot.
He said: "Prince Bandar wanted this race meeting to be like Royal Ascot, so there are a few people from the UK who have come over to try to help him develop it in that way. I was very kindly invited last year for the inaugural Saudi Cup, which went really well. This year is going even better than last year, perhaps because both sides understand more about how the other works."
McEwen, who rode in amateur jump races in the UK - even riding the late Queen Mother’s last winner (a point-to-point on a horse called Braes Of Mar) - also officiates at major equestrian events such as Badminton Horse Trials and his son, Tom, is a gold medal-winning event rider. McEwen is sent videos of each prospective international runner at The Saudi Cup in advance.
He said: “If we think from the videos they have a problem of any kind, we check it and get a local vet to go and see the horse. Those responsible for the horses must fill in two medical declaration forms about each horse’s medical history.
"If we pass the horse after those stages, an independent vet is sent to check each horse before it flies. Once they arrive here, they are in our hands. We do two trot-ups during the time the horses are here before they race and are always on-hand to watch them in their exercise and to check that all is okay."
On racedays, McEwen is the senior treating vet. His team comprises two of his colleagues from Rossdales - the distinguished Newmarket-based practice - and two local vets.
"We also have about five other vets in the racecourse hospital, which is an amazing, immaculate facility that was completed just before the race last year," he said.
"I’ve never seen a veterinary hospital like it - it has everything you could want and is within 200m of the track. Guy Alexander is the senior vet there, the surgeon, and he and his colleagues come and help as well. We also have one of their vets down in the quarantine barns, so we have a huge team ensuring that every aspect of horse welfare is as good as it can be.
"Before the first meeting last year, Prince Bandar said that his two wishes were that the horses should come back safe, and that the grooms who look after the horses should be well looked after.
"I asked him why the second one was so important, and he replied that if the grooms were happy, they would tell the trainers, and they would send horses again next year. He is looking forward to the future. This meeting is a building project, in a way, and I am lucky to have been involved since the start."