Epic horse racingThere are no guaranteed profits in the world of horse racing, far from it. For those who own and train the leading horses around though, it is a sport that can be extremely profitable. This is because some races that take place across the globe pay out a staggering amount of prize money. Any race with a giant purse will inevitably attract a supreme array of talented runners, often making them a thrilling spectate for racing fans.

Although modern-day horse racing began in Britain, other countries across the globe have long embraced the sport and can offer even more valuable races. Today no British horse race manages to feature among the top 10 richest races globally. It is also interesting to note that all of the top 10 are flat races, with none taking place over hurdles or fences. In part, this is because jump racing is not as popular overseas as it is in the UK (the UK is responsible for around 45% of all jump races taking place worldwide). To ensure the biggest jump races are not ignored though, we will feature these as a separate section at the end of this article.

To make the comparisons easier, we have converted all prize funds into US dollars and all distance into furlongs. Additionally, we have ignored cases in which the prize funds were slashed by financial impacts during the disruption to sport in 2020/21. The Epsom Derby, for instance, went from £1.6m to £500,000 purely as a result of the crisis that swept across the globe.

Finally, it is important to remember that these standings are liable to change. Generally, there aren’t big fluctuations year-on-year but those who just manage to sneak into the top 10 can end up being knocked out at any time. So let’s kick things off with a list of the top 10, then we’ll give further details about these and other key races.

Top 10 Richest Horse Races in the World

  • 1st: Saudi Cup – $20m
  • 2nd (joint): Dubai World Cup – $12m
  • 2nd (joint): Dubai Sheema Classic – $12m
  • 4th: The Everest – $10.8m
  • 5th: Breeders’ Cup Classic – $7m
  • 6th: Dubai Turf – $6m
  • 7th: Japan Cup – $5.8m
  • 8th (joint): Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – $5.6m
  • 8th (joint): Arima Kinen – $5.6m
  • 10th: Melbourne Cup – $5.3m

Biggest Flat Races By Region – Europe

Longchamp Racecourse
Longchamp Racecourse (DPA DPA / Wikipedia.org)

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

Race Info

  • Location – Longchamp (France)
  • Prize Money – $5.6m
  • First Running – 1920
  • Distance – 12 Furlongs

The Arc is the sole European representative to feature among the top 10 richest horses races in the world. It regularly attracts the leading middle-distance horses from across the continent especially as it is open to horses aged three years and up of both sexes.

In its earlier years, The Arc, as it is commonly referred to, enjoyed state funding via a lottery. With the lottery jackpot worth as much as 50m francs, this helped increase the prize fund and prestige of the Arc itself. The lottery system disappeared completely in 1982 but by this point the race had firmly established itself as an elite contest, welcoming winners like Mill Reef, Alleged, Star Appeal and Allez France.

The Derby

Race Info

  • Location – Epsom Downs (UK)
  • Prize Money – $2.3m
  • First Running – 1780
  • Distance – 12 Furlongs

Although it does not feature among the richest top 10 races globally, we felt the UK’s richest race was still worthy of a consolation place on our list. After all, the UK is such a thriving hub for horse racing and the Epsom Derby is such a historic race, well over two centuries old. While not able to match the purse of some of its rivals, the Epsom Derby can be considered just as big thanks to its rich history.

This very race provided the inspiration to other big derbies we see today such as the Kentucky Derby, the Australian Derby and the Prix du Jockey Club. In 2020, 2.3 British viewers tuned in to watch Serpetinine’s surprise victory in the Derby. Add on top the many that watched from overseas and clearly this is one massive contest, rightly considered one of Britain’s biggest sporting events.

North America

Breeders' Cup Classic
Breeders’ Cup Classic (TheBluZebra / Wikipedia.org)

Breeders’ Cup Classic

Race Info

  • Location – Varies (USA)
  • Prize Money – $7m
  • First Running – 1984
  • Distance – 10 Furlongs

As with Europe, North America only has one representative in the top 10. The race itself is the flagship event of the Breeders’ Cup World Championship meeting, a festival that handed out a staggering $31m in prize money in 2020 across its 14 races.

As opposed to all other big races, the Breeders’ Cup Classic has no permanent home as the festival moves on an annual basis. It has once taken place in Canada but in all other instances, it has taken place on a US course such as Churchill Downs, Santa Anita or Hollywood Park.

Pegasus World Cup Invitation Stakes

Race Info

  • Location – Gulfstream Park (USA)
  • Prize Money – $3m
  • First Running – 2017
  • Distance – 9 Furlongs

Although it currently sits outside the top 10, this race is well worth talking about because not long ago it was actually the richest race on the planet. When first introduced in 2017, its purse of $12m meant it overtook the previous number one race, the Dubai World Cup.

The purse even rose to an incredible $16m the following year but then faced a huge cut to $9m in 2019. This was still more than enough for a place in the top 10 but in 2020 the purse fell massively again this time to $3m. Largely this was because the race was now free to enter, having previously cost $1m per horse.

Middle East

Meydan Racecourse in Dubai
Meydan Racecourse, Dubai (Dyson Brecht Photography / Flickr.com)

Saudi Cup

Race Info

  • Location – King Abdulaziz Racetrack (Saudi Arabia)
  • Prize Money – $20m
  • First Running – 2020
  • Distance – 9 Furlongs

Whereas most big races on this list have built up their prize fund over time, the Saudi Cup launched itself straight into the number one spot. In fact, no horse race has ever paid out close to the $20,000,000 available in the Saudi Cup. With the first running scheduled for February 2020, it took place a few weeks before almost all horse racing was shut down across the globe. Despite the intense interest from owners and trainers, the public was not quite as enthralled by it as only 10,000 showed up to view the action live. As the 2021 running took place behind closed doors, only time will tell if public interest will eventually match the prize fund.

Jason Servis trained the first-ever Saudi Cup winner, Maximum Security, a horse disqualified for interference after winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Servis was arrest a matter of days later though along with 27 others as part of a mass doping scandal. The indictment claimed he “doped virtually all horses under control” and this included Maximum Security. You can imagine that the Saudi’s might have wanted their money back after finding this out.

Dubai World Cup

Race Info

  • Location – Meydan Racecourse (UAE)
  • Prize Money – $12m
  • First Running – 1996
  • Distance – 10 Furlongs

Dubai World Cup night features a climactic finish thanks to the star of the show, the Dubai World Cup. Interestingly, the Dubai World Cup festival, which includes nine races and a purse of $27.25m purse, features a non-thoroughbred race, as the Kahayla Classic is for purebred Arabians.

Back to the World Cup though and the timing of the contest (March) led to its cancellation as organisers battled with a range of measures related to the global disruption. It returned a year later though, boasting its extremely sizeable purse, with the Goldophin-owned Mystic Guide coming out on top. This was Godolphin’s ninth World Cup win since 2000.

Dubai Turf

Race Info

  • Location – Meydan Racecourse (UAE)
  • Prize Money – $6m
  • First Running – 1996
  • Distance – 9 Furlongs

Another major player of the Dubai World Cup night is the Dubai Turf. Although it was initially run on dirt, it transferred to turf in 2000 with the distance cut by around a furlong at the same time. Two years later the race obtained Group 1 status which it has held ever since.

Yet another change followed in 2010 when the contest moved to Meydan from its former home, Nad Al Sheba. It’s one of few top races to have witnessed a fairly recent dead heat. In 2004, connections of Right Approach and Paolini were forced to share the spoils after there was nothing to separate them.

Dubai Sheema Classic

Race Info

  • Location – Meydan Racecourse (UAE)
  • Prize Money – $12m
  • First Running – 1998
  • Distance – 12 Furlongs

As you can see, the Middle East is responsible for a very large chunk of the richest horse races on the planet. This is yet another race that forms part of the Dubai World Cup Night too, so you can really tell what a high-profile and lucrative event it is.

UK racing fans especially will recognise a lot of the recent winning trainers and jockeys with the likes of Charlie Appleby, John Gosden, Roger Varian, Aidan O’Brien, Ryan Moore and William Buick all featuring. It is certainly a contest with lots of European appeal and many hoses have fared well on the Meydan turf. It can be a fully worthwhile trip when this happens as this is the joint second richest turf race in the world.

East Asia

Tokyo Racecourse
Tokyo Racecourse (Goki / Wikipedia.org)

Japan Cup

Race Info

  • Location – Tokyo Racecourse (Japan)
  • Prize Money – $5.8m
  • First Running – 1981
  • Distance – 12 Furlongs

The Japan Cup has some similarities with the Sheema Classic in that they are both run over the same distance, have a similarly sized purse and have an international reputation (albeit to a lesser extent). Organisers actually provided additional incentives to international trainers/owners in 2012 by offering bonus money for any foreign horse that won a major race and finished above third in the Japan Cup.

Strangely though, this has almost no effect with the past decade one of pure Japanese dominance. Between 2010 and 2020, every single winning horse was born and trained in Japan. Compare this to 1990 and 2000 for instance when five winners were foreign-trained and six were foreign-born.

Arima Kinen

Race Info

  • Location – Nakayama Racecourse (Japan)
  • Prize Money – $5.6m
  • First Running – 1956
  • Distance – 12.5 Furlongs

Marginally further in length but marginally behind in prize money is Japan’s second-biggest race, the Arima Kinen. It is however head and shoulders above the Japan Cup as a betting event. In 1996 punters spent $840m on the race back when the industry was enjoying something of a boom period. Although we do not see those kinds of outrageous numbers today, it still is a massive betting event in Japan.

Unlike the Cup it initially resisted any foreign-trained horses but from 2000 onwards they allowed a foreign winner of the same year’s Japan Cup to enter. Seven years later they relaxed the rules much more to allow up to four foreign runners, rising to six in 2008. As of 2020 though, no foreign-trained horse has won this contest.


Randwick Racecourse
Royal Randwick Racecourse, Australia (J Bar / Wikipedia.org)

The Everest

Race Info

  • Location – Royal Randwick (Australia)
  • Prize Money – $10.8m
  • First Running – 2017
  • Distance – 6 Furlongs

For many years the Melbourne Cup had sat comfortably as Australia’s biggest and most lucrative horse race. It was suddenly knocked off its perch in 2017 as the Australian Turf Club rolled out this weight for age event. It is the only sprint to feature among the most financially rewarding races on the planet, coming in at 1,200 metres (just under 6 furlongs).

The reason it commands such a large purse is that it adopted the Pegasus World Cup model of selling slots in the race for a large fee (A$600,000) for an unspecified horse, slots that can be re-sold, leased or shared at a later date. James Harron purchased one of the slots for the inaugural running and with this, he struck a deal with the owners of Redzel to run their horse. Redzel went on to win the race and also the following year’s Everest.

Melbourne Cup

Race Info

  • Location – Flemington Racecourse (Australia)
  • Prize Money – $5.3m
  • First Running – 1861
  • Distance – 16 Furlongs

Despite being overshadowed by The Everest in terms of money, the historic Melbourne Cup still manages to hold a place in the top 10. It is the oldest of the lot too having enjoyed its inaugural running in 1861. Unlike some of the contests to feature within this article, it is a contest with a real international feel.

Despite Australia’s geographical location, this has not dissuaded people from other nations from trying their luck in this contest. More recent renewals have seen winning trainers from the likes of Ireland (Joseph O’Brien), England (Charlie Appleby), France (Alain de Royer-Dupre) and Japan (Katsuhiko Sumii). By 2021, 57 non-Australian horses had won the Melbourne Cup, although 40 of these were New Zealand-bred.

Biggest Jump Races

Nakayama Racecourse
Nakayama Racecourse, Japan (中山競馬場スタンド / Wikipedia.org)

Grand National

Race Info

  • Location – Aintree (UK)
  • Prize Money – $1.4m
  • First Running – 1839
  • Distance – 34.5 Furlongs

It is hard to say outright that the Aintree Grand National is the richest jumps race in the world as it depends on the exchange rate between the British Pound and the Japanese Yen. It is undoubtedly among the most valuable though and what a captivating contest it is too. Forty runners battling it out over a marathon trip of four miles, two and a half furlongs with 30 fences to tackle. Such is the arduous nature of the trip that many horses do not even end up completing the test.

The sheer volume of horses involved combined with it being a handicap race means there are plenty of big odds available. The average winner of the race over the years is around 20/1 and this attracts swathes of avid and extremely casual racing fans. Subsequently, it has long been a huge betting event with some sources saying it can attract up to £250m in wagers.

Nakayama Daishogai

Race Info

  • Location – Nakayama Racecourse (Japan)
  • Prize Money – $1.3m
  • First Running – 1934
  • Distance – 20 Furlongs

Rather than a handicap, the Nakayama Daishogai is a Grade 1 event that welcomes an elite selection of steeplechasers. Originally the contest was held twice a year, unusually for a horse race, and named the Daishogai Tokubetsu.

This changed in 1999 when the spring running turned into the Nakayama Grand Jump (discussed below) while the autumn Daishogai continued. Today though, the race actually takes place in December, which is the reason why snow forced its postponement in 2003.

Nakayama Grand Jump

Race Info

  • Location – Nakayama Racecourse (Japan)
  • Prize Money – $1.3m
  • First Running – 1999
  • Distance – 21 Furlongs

Despite being a relatively new race, the Nakayama Grand Jump has quite an interesting past. First of all, the Irish-bred and Australian-trained Karasi won the race on three consecutive occasions between 2005 and 2007 with the last win coming at the ripe age of 12. He was actually prepped for a fourth effort too but a suffered a career-ending injury prior to the race start.

His achievement was soon overshadowed by Oju Chosan, two-time winner of the Nakayama Daishogai and five-time winner of the Grand Jump (2016-2020). This incredible achievement means no jumps horse has collected more career prize money than him. As of May 2021 (not yet retired) he had amassed 726,537,000 Yen, approximately $7m for his connections.