Godolphin’s Harry Angel leads Arab bid
Godolphin’s Harry Angel leads Arab bid
The marketing suits will tell you that at £4.3 million ($5.66 million) it is Britain’s most valuable race day. The jewel in the crown is the Qipco Champion Stakes, and at £1.3 million it is Europe’s richest race over 2,000 meters. There is not a more valuable mile contest in Europe over 1,600m than the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, either. If it is handicaps you are looking for the Balmoral Handicap, that brings the six-race card to a close, before singer George Ezra struts his stuff in a specially-arranged concert to the crowd of 30,000, has a £250,000 purse that is the envy of foreign racecourses.
If Champions Day is billed as an autumn blockbuster, then the producers, through no fault of their own, have failed to lure an A-List cast.
Europe’s star filly, Enable, who capped a memorable season for owner Prince Khalid Abdullah with victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe three weeks ago, is enjoying a well-earned rest. So, too, Ulysses, the Eclipse Stakes and International Stakes winner, who has been saved for the Breeders’ Cup in Del Mar in a fortnight. Winter will most likely be over before the future of Aidan O’Brien’s dual Classic-winning filly of the same name has been decided, after the Irish trainer decided not to run her in midweek.
Without that trio, the limelight naturally falls on others. There are 21 Group 1 winners among the 81 runners and of them all it is Godolphin’s Harry Angel, the world’s best sprinter on international ratings, who commands top billing in the Qipco British Champions Champions Sprint Stakes.
In the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Godolphin’s Ribchester, a four-time Group One winner, will try to better last year’s second to Coolmore’s Minding by taking on that same stable’s dual Guineas winner Churchill. Order Of St. George, rated the world’s best stayer, has skipped an engagement in next month’s Melbourne Cup to run in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup in order to avenge his narrow defeat to Big Orange in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in June. To illustrate the paucity of true stars, however, Cracksman, Enable’s stable companion but without a top-level win to his name, will start as favorite in the Champion Stakes ahead of Godolphin’s Barney Roy, a horse who is yet to break through over the distance.
“It has been one of the most significant successes of modern times for our industry,” Nick Smith, Ascot’s director of racing, told the Racing Post, the British trade daily, this week of the Champions Day idea.
He added: “Internationally there are few racedays that host five pattern races with as high an average rating as these five attain collectively.
“You have to regard Champions Day as a great success. It is a genuine industry success, designed by many people, conducted by British Champions Series, with the commitment of Qipco, the BHA, the Jockey Club and other partner courses, and Ascot is proud to be its home.”
It has been some achievement to staple together the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes card to the Champion Stakes card, which used to take place at Newmarket. In world terms, however, British Champions Day still has a mountain to climb, though that is not to say it is an insurmountable one.
Last month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on its own boasts more prize money than the entire Champions Day card at €5 million ($5.9 million). The Breeders’ Cup Classic is worth $5 million and all eyes continuously look in admiration at Dubai World Cup day at Meydan, with its $30 million prize money across the nine races which featured horses from 13 different countries in March.
Qipco British Champions Day has not been without its charms so far. Frankel showed twice why he remained unbeaten throughout his 14-race career. The searing pace and power of champion sprinter Muharaar illustrated why Dubai-based owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid packed the colt off to the breeding sheds two seasons ago – there was nothing left to prove after his mesmerizing performance. On the same day Solow underlined there was no better miler in the world in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
And then there is the romance and emotion. The yeomanry charms of Cirrus Des Aigles, who won the first repackaged Champion Stakes in 2011 and Noble Mission, Frankel’s full brother who struck for Lady Cecil, the widow of Frankel’s trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, in 2014.
If the biggest equine stars are somewhere else, the human ones make up for their absence. Unsung British champion jockey-elect Silvestre De Sousa will be crowned for the second time in his career this afternoon, while internationally-acclaimed jockeys Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori will take center stage. Aidan O’Brien, who could be level withBobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group One wins after Johannes Vermeer runs in the Caulfield Cup in Australia this morning, has sent over a record 12 runners from Ireland as he bids to cement his champion trainer status in Britain.
“Champions Day has been a great initiative and something we really look forward to,” O’Brien said. “It’s a very special day with tremendously competitive racing at an unbelievable venue.”
O’Brien is always the perfect template of humility when asked about what it might feel like to break Frankel’s long-standing record. De Sousa’s humble roots in Brazil and quiet public persona make sure he downplays his significant achievements. If the Irish maestro reaches or surpasses Frankel’s landmark today, the humans have stepped in to the breach.
Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly
- Mohamed Salah's record-breaking season has focused attention on the Premier League's Muslim players and fans.
- Past three players to win Player of the Year have all been Muslim.
LONDON: The face of English football has changed unimaginably since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — not least in terms of the number of Muslim footballers plying their trade in the most popular league in the world.
Twenty-six years ago, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nayim was the league’s only practicing Muslim. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 40 Muslim players gracing England’s top flight — many of them global stars such as Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
This is a hugely welcome development for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and its education adviser, Riz Rehman, who is himself a Muslim.
Rehman’s role involves him supporting players of different backgrounds — including Muslims — and aiming to boost their participation in football. Little wonder, then, that he is delighted that the past three winners of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award were all Muslim — Salah, Kante and Riyad Mahrez.
“It’s great for the Muslim community — young people, players, aspiring players and coaches — that three Muslims have won this award and that two of them (Salah and Mahrez) are Arabs,” Rehman told Arab News.
“It’s very important because it’s created more awareness about Muslims being good at the game and sport in general. It’s important we highlight this.”
Leading Muslim footballers’ soaring success and stardom have coincided with rising Islamaphobic attacks in Britain following the Brexit vote in 2016. Regressive attitudes toward race, religion and immigration have raged in some parts of the country, as Rehman acknowledged.
“The biggest misconceptions are that Muslims are all terrorists or that they are all Asian and have long beards,” he said. “Isolated incidents are giving Muslims a bad name.”
Mercifully for Rehman and the PFA, the likes of Salah and Kante are portraying Muslims in a far more positive — and realistic — light on and off the pitch.
During his sublime 2017-18 season, Liverpool star Salah topped the Premier League goal-scoring charts with 32 goals and reached the Champions League final. His unstinting brilliance led to him being serenaded with his own song by Liverpool fans, which includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.”
Mohamed Salah has created a positive image of Muslims during his record-breaking year in the Premier League.
Many social media posts and videos showing young supporters copying the Egyptian maestro’s overtly religious goal celebration have also been posted many times. This involves him performing sujood, the Islamic art of prostration.
“Things like that are really helping to bring down barriers in the game,” Rehman said.
Likewise, he cites the fact that Salah and his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, visit a mosque every week after training for Jumu’ah, the Friday prayer.
Meanwhile, only last Saturday the humbleness of Chelsea’s irrepressible midfielder Kante — who has two Premier League winners’ medals and one FA Cup success to his name — was widely hailed.
After missing his Eurostar train to Paris, Kante — who achieved World Cup glory with France in July — was invited home for dinner by Arsenal fan Badlur Rahman Jalil after meeting him while praying at a London mosque. Remarkably, Kante duly obliged and spent the evening watching Match of the Day and playing the FIFA video game with Jalil and his friends.
“People are more aware that we have Muslim players in the game,” Rehman said. “Players are not afraid to come out and embrace the fact that they are Muslims and showing the world that they’re good people.”
But are the PFA — and clubs in the Premier League and England in general — doing enough to increase Muslim representation in English football?
“I think things are better than ever. A lot of clubs are working hard on all-inclusive programs,” replied Rehman, who was a promising youth-team player at Brentford before injury cut short his career at the age of 17 in 2000.
“We deliver workshops aimed at club staff to educate them about better engaging Muslim communities. We get staff and coaches together and tell them more about Islam, what it involves and discuss Ramadan and how it might affect performance and participation at all levels.
“On the back of that, hopefully clubs will deliver programs around the needs of the community. There are clubs like Crystal Palace who are looking to deliver Asian-specific programs to get more Asian kids playing football, more Asian coaches and look at the Muslim community as well.”
Rehman himself helped organized an Iftar event at League One outfit Portsmouth earlier this year, which “went really well.”
“We also had players come along to support the day. Clubs such as Crystal Palace, Leicester City and a few others are showing an interest in holding similar events next season.
“Leicester City are a club with a massive Asian community and we are supporting them with trying to set up some programs.”
Also high on Rehman’s agenda is encouraging more BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) coaches into the game. As well as sitting on the advisory group for the Premier Leagues Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, one key program he is involved in is “Sidelined-to-Sidelines.”
N'Golo Kante has been one of the best players in England's top-flight since he moved to the Premier League three years ago.
This was established by the Zesh Rehman Foundation — which was set up by his brother, a former Fulham defender — to address a shortage of qualified South Asian coaches.
“We are setting up sessions to try and recruit young coaches at clubs like Crystal Palace, QPR and Chelsea,” Rehman revealed. “Coaches wearing those club badges become role models and are able to influence their own communities and encourage more kids (from under-represented ethnicities) to take up the game.”
Rehman is keen to recruit more Muslim “ambassadors” at clubs “up and down the country” to emulate the likes of the inspirational Salah.
“We want them to work with the community, local groups, mosques, and get players to actually go into those communities and build links with the clubs. It’s a two-way thing.”
Progress has also been made in attracting more Muslim supporters to Premier League matches, Rehman added. Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are among the clubs that have multi-faith prayer rooms to cater for their increasingly diverse fanbases, he said.
“Some clubs sell halal food, too, so there’s something for everyone.
“It’s a worldwide game now. Mo Salah has reached out to a lot of people. I think Muslim communities themselves have to make an effort to go to matches.
“It’s not an overnight success, but you do see different communities represented on match days, week in and week out.”