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RIYADH: Many eyes were on the thoroughbred racehorses as the annual Saudi Cup meeting began in Riyadh on Friday – but by no means all eyes.

The world’s most treasured horse racing event is a magnet for royalty, models, designers and high fashion enthusiasts, and visitors to King Abdulaziz Equestrian Square have come to see and be seen.

This year there was a twist, with many racegoers in traditional Saudi attire. “We are proud to represent our culture and the Saudi Cup is the biggest in the world. We are proud of who we are and to be able to share our culture and traditions with the world,” said Abu Turki, from Riyadh, wearing a traditional Saudi “sayah,” a long, intricately embroidered robe.

Abu Turki told Arab News that his choice was inspired by the late King Abdulaziz, who often wore similar attire to equestrian events, and that he was proud to share and celebrate the Kingdom’s culture and history with the world.

Racehorse owners Sophie Murrell Regalado from Spain and Marta Kaja Pisarczyk from Germany came from Dubai for their first Saudi Cup. “It’s my first time to Saudi Arabia and I wanted to wear something modest, so I’m wearing this long brown dress and my floral flower hat for the day,” Murrell Regalado said.

Royalty was represented by French author Princess Sophie-Audouin Mamikonian, heiress to the ancient medieval throne of the Kingdom of Armenia, who wore Valentino. “I’m thrilled to be here today, I’m filled with passion and emotion,” she said.

Saudi designer Najd Alqabbaa wore a unique abaya from her personal line, in the colors and patterns of the region.

Another designer, Nouf bin Seaidan, dressed several visitors, including Saudi model Rakan Al-Shrimy. “My outfit is inspired by Al-Ahsa, the beads are from there and the embroidery is inspired by the architecture of this region,” bin Seaidan said.

“We easily have good architecture and high fashion, it’s our identity, and it’s really good that we have an opportunity for it to stand out.”

This weekend’s event is the third meeting of the Saudi Cup. With a total purse of over $35 million, it is the most valuable horse racing event in the world. The $20 million Saudi Cup race takes place on Saturday.