Horse racing has long been called the Sport of Kings. Bolstered by royalty who’ve gained wealth thanks to centuries of class structure, colonialism and, of course, black gold, the Thoroughbred racing industry is oozing with wealth.
And team roping? Well… it’s cowboy golf, for lack of a fancier description. And roping, as we know it today, is the sport of the weekend warriors: ropers who are doctors, day workers, roughnecks, teachers, insurance agents … you name it.
Team roping is every man’s game (and every woman’s, too), yet thanks to decades of ingenuity through the handicapping system, the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale is breathing the thin air at the top of the payout list alongside the richest horse races in the world.
What’s more, team roping is the only recreational sport—equine or otherwise—with a payout anywhere near the $14 million the 2022 Finale will pay. Amateur golfers are only eligible to win up to $1,000 to cover expenses. The Amateur Bowlers Tour—also held in the South Point, coincidentally—pays out $1,000,000 across its national and regional tournaments. The Pink Buckle is the highest-paying Open barrel race, where non-pros can compete alongside the best trainers and rodeo contestants, but that payout, while still a big deal for the industry, only hit $3.3 million guaranteed in 2022.
The Saudi Cup
The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia founded The Saudi Cup in 2020, making it the newest and richest member of this elite club.
The two-day spectacular’s premier race is the $20-million Saudi Cup—a nine-furlong, 14-horse, invitation-only race. An American horse—Maximum Security—won the first-ever event, but his purse is still held pending an investigation into his trainer by the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia. Irish-owned, British-trained horse Mishriff won the event in 2021, and Kentucky-bred but now Saudi-owned Emblem Road won it in 2022.
Horse racing in Saudi Arabia has grown exponentially since the turn of the 21st century, with the number of races held annually growing by 130% in the last two decades. Horses come from 22 countries to compete at the international racing festival held with The Saudi Cup in February each year.
Founded in 1984 and held in November each year, the Breeders’ Cup is one of the richest two days in sports, with $31 million paid out in purses and awards over the weekend. The money goes to owners, stallion nominators and foal nominators, with horse owners paid through 10th place. Jockeys and trainers share in the owners’ profits on their own terms, with first place taking 52% of the payout, second getting 17%, third getting 9%, on down.
John Gaines—owner of Gainesway Farms in Lexington, Kentucky—first hatched the idea for the Breeders’ Cup first in 1982, spending two years wrangling enough support for the multi-million-dollar concept, backed by breeding and foal-enrollment incentive money. Alternating tracks across the country and supported by international brands like Longines, Maker’s Mark, NetJets and FanDuel, the Breeders’ Cup is a goliath in equine sports.
Dubai World Cup
The United Arab Emirates—a country at the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula—hosts the $30.5-million Dubai World Cup. Produced by the Dubai Racing Club and held at the Meydan Racecourse, the Dubai World Cup includes nine races in a single day, with the capstone race paying $12 million.
Horse racing began in the Emirate of Dubai in 1981, turning a camel track into a Thoroughbred track to run three races: a sprint, a mile and 1.5 miles. Passion for horse racing exploded, and the UAE hosted the first Dubai World Cup in 1996 at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, where Breeders’ Cup Champ Cigar claimed the first title. The event moved to its current home at the Meydan Racecourse in 2010—an architectural masterpiece with a grandstand seating 60,000 alongside the first-class Meydan Hotel.
The TAB Everest
The TAB Everest is an Australian turf race run over 1,200 meters at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. Held the second Saturday in October since 2017, it’s a slot race with only 12 slots, initially sold for $600,000 a piece—though the trading, leasing and speculating on those slots has driven those initial prices way, way up.
The TAB Everest is the richest turf race, held on the grass during Sydney’s spring carnival. While the Everest is new, the Royal Randwick has been a part of Australian racing culture since 1833. Just completed as we sent this issue to the printer, Giga Kick, a horse just three days shy of his third birthday, won the event in front of a crowd of 46,221 at the Royal Randwick.
Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale
In just one week at Las Vegas’ South Point Equestrian Center, the Ariat WSTR pays out a massive $14 million to recreational ropers—a sum that tops all payouts for an event in Western sports, professional or otherwise.
Denny and Connie Gentry started the roping with $300,000 guaranteed payout back in 2006, and they got a little more than 150 teams in each of the two divisions—a #10 and #11. It hit $1.2 million in its first year there, making it the second or third richest roping in the country at the time.
Of course, it only grew from there. The Gentrys introduced the World Series barrier with Priefert in 2009, adding to the attraction for recreational ropers. In 2011, the WSTR became the fifth richest horse event in the world at $4.7 million, and in 2012, the Finale payoff surpassed the NFR payout. The payout in the #10 that year became the highest-paying, single-event in roping or rodeo history at $1.75 million. Since then, payouts have continued to climb, with the winners of the Yeti #10 Finale in 2018—Hank Robins and Colton Robins—winning $376,000 in the $2.19-million roping. Hank Robins, a financial advisor by trade, also won the Yeti #13 Finale and the Boehringer Ingelheim #11 consolation that same year, bringing his singular winnings to $310,250 in one week.
In 2022, the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale will mark its 16th year at the South Point. With an estimated $14 million in payout, it’s set to be the richest roping in history, hosting some 4,200 ropers. The lion’s share of the money will go to ropers with day jobs—working men and women who save up to rope for life-changing money at the South Point.
Richest Sporting Events of 2022
1) Soccer’s UEFA Champions League: $1.3 Billion
2) Formula 1 Racing: $797.7 Million
3) Soccer’s FIFA World Cup: $576 Million
4) Soccer’s UEFA Euro Prize Money: $245 Million
5) Baseball’s World Series: $102 Million
Estimated Total Team Roping Payout in 2022
According to Global Event Management Software (GEMS), the calculated payout to anyone and any association—including Ariat WSTR, USTRC, and NTR—using the system in 2022 comes in at a whopping $90,909,260. A few associations do not use GEMS, so it’s estimated that team ropers across the board earned more than $100 million in 2022 when considering payouts from those associations.