Saudi Arabia horse racing has a bright future, says departing top trainer
Saudi Arabia horse racing has a bright future, says departing top trainer
Nicholas Bachalard knows the opportunities that the richest night in racing at $30 million (SR 112.5 million) presents all too well, and is set to be part of the action at Meydan Racecourse by proxy.
Thirteen years ago the smooth-talking 47-year-old Frenchman was working as a key lieutenant for fellow French emigre Christophe Clement at Payson Park in Florida.
Clement came to Dubai and saddled outsider Dynever to finish second to American raider Roses, in May, in the Dubai World Cup, at Nad Al-Sheba for King Abdullah. When the Saudi royal family were looking for a trainer in Riyadh several years later, they were so impressed by Clement’s methods and performance, that they came calling, and settled for one of the key cogs in the wheel.
“They contacted me and asked me whether I was interested in coming to Saudi Arabia,” Bachalard told Arab News at morning trackwork at Meydan. “I was a bit reluctant at the beginning — I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but I spoke to a few friends there, and they helped me make up my mind, and I have now been there for eight years.”
There have been significant highs. Bachalard has won more than 270 races in Saudi Arabia and saddled three-time US Grade One winner Ron The Greek to win The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup (King’s Cup), in 2015.
There have also been some lows. For a former American star with a heart of a lion, it was disappointing that Ron The Greek, trailed in 12th in the World Cup in 2014.
From one opportunity has come another. Last year Bachalard came to Meydan on a Dubai Carnival raid, with the Saudi-owned Nashmiah. They went home with the UAE 1,000 Guineas.
When Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of Dubai was searching for a replacement at Jebel Ali Stables for Gopi Selvaratnam, who replaced his long-serving brother Dhruba, Bachalard was once again on the list. He was appointed head trainer at Jebel Ali Stables and Racecourse in February. Alongside the 50-60 horses that Bachalard will inherit over here, as the dust settles on Saturday’s action will be American import Economic Model, who will be a key player in the Godolphin Mile under Joel Rosario. Economic Model won a Group 3 race for American trainer Chad Brown, who continued to train the horse until after the race in Florida in February, after which Bachalard stepped in and bought him for his new patron.
“We bought him because we thought he would be a good fit for the Godolphin Mile,” Bachalard said proudly. “Mostly we bought him for next year. He has tactical speed. You need tactical speed here. The horse was a lightly-raced four-year-old and should improve. Once he runs here, he will stay here and get acclimatized to the weather. From there we will see.”
Godolphin have showed with African Story that a win in the Godolphin Mile can set a horse up for subsequent success in the World Cup. Were Economic Model to win the $1 million opener to Saturday’s nine-race card, the question inevitably turns to whether Bachalard might consider the new record-breaking horse race slated for next year in Riyadh.
Last month the General Sports Authority announced that the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship will carry a purse of $17 million. There was scant detail, but Bachalard believes the time is ripe in Saudi Arabia and has taken a look at the international program and believes there is little room for maneuver.
“They want to improve and promote Saudi racing, that is why they are going to have the Abdulaziz race,” he said. “Hopefully, it will get off the ground next year in February, so it does not clash with the World Cup, but they have a lot of organization to do before then. The track in Saudi Arabia is one of the nicest tracks in the world. The grounds, the way it is kept, any international visitor will have a great experience. The track is amazing, and most of the international jockeys who go there rave about the surface. It was well thought-out, and well-built, all of the turns are banked, it is very horse-friendly, with very few injuries. If they have that race, it is sure to be a good stage for it.
“It will probably stay as Saudi racing. There is little desire to have new owners or horses from abroad. Most of the horses that run in Saudi Arabia are born and raised in Saudi Arabia. They may have to bring in a few stallions to improve the breed. As long as they keep getting the support for King Salman and the royal family, it has a bright future.”
It could be a very interesting 12 months.
Liverpool's Andrew Robertson ready for Roma Champions League test
- Young Scottish star was very impressive during Liverpool's 5-1 aggregate destruction of Man City in last-eight clash.
- Robertson refuses to take Roma lightly after their shock victory over Barcelona in the last round.
LIVERPOOL: With a desire stoked in the stands of Parkhead, Andrew Robertson is now fired up to fulfil a childhood dream.
While following the fortunes of Celtic, the defender’s first Champions League final memory was when Zinedine Zidane volleyed Real Madrid to success in 2002 as the contest was staged in Robertson’s home city of Glasgow. He was just eight years old.
While Robertson was deemed too small to play for his boyhood idols, released at 15 with a future uncertain, he has grown to prove his worth on Europe’s biggest club stage with Liverpool.
Now, with a semifinal encounter against AS Roma after beating Premier League champions Manchester City in the last eight, he wants to emulate those Reds heroes who lifted the trophy five times before.
“I was a big Celtic fan growing up and my heroes were Henrik Larsson and Co,” Robertson told Arab News ahead of tonight’s first-leg clash at Anfield.
“But these heroes who have won the European Cup and Champions League for Liverpool, you have to look up to them — and we want to emulate them and hopefully get a winner’s medal too.
“The club’s won it five times and the history of the club has always been this, the Champions League, where the fans create a special atmosphere and the club challenges for the trophy. It would be unbelievable to be a part of that history.
“This is the highlight for me so far and an incredible feeling, but it just makes you hungry for more. I don’t want it to end.
“As a kid, you sit back and watch how great it would be to play in this competition, let alone in the final.
“I always used to go to Celtic and we didn’t progress very far in the Champions League, but the occasions at Parkhead were always unbelievable.
“The fans at Celtic are incredible, world renowned, but Anfield was unbelievable against Man City and we have another chance for them to create that same atmosphere and hopefully we can put in another great performance.” Having beaten Pep Guardiola’s City so convincingly, 5-1 over two gripping games, Liverpool will start favorites against Roma.
That is despite the Italians upsetting Barcelona in the previous round with an epic 3-0 win in the second leg after a 4-1 loss at the Nou Camp.
But Robertson will take nothing for granted against a Roma side who last reached the final in 1984 where they were beaten by Liverpool in a penalty shootout at their Stadio Olimpico home.
“Barca are an unbelievable team,” added the Scotland left-back, 24. “But let’s not kid ourselves. For Roma to score three goals against Barcelona, that’s special.
“They’ve been unbelievable this season too in the Champions League and deserve to be in the semifinals. It will definitely not be an easy game.
“But once you get to the semis, the fear of who you are playing has gone because you know how good the teams are.
“It’s like you look forward to the possibility of playing in the final, that’s what drives you forward. We will have fire in our bellies because we are so close to getting there.”
Jurgen Klopp’s men will no doubt be looking to Mohamed Salah to conjure more magic against the club he left in the summer for £36.9 million ($51.5 million). But Robertson insisted Liverpool are no one-man team and the Egyptian, crowned PFA Player of the Year on Sunday night after scoring 41 goals in an unforgettable campaign, epitomizes a team united and ambitious in their quest for glory. “He’s just unbelievable,” said Robertson of the frontman.
“In the first half (of the second leg) against Man City we struggled to get him in the game and he wasn’t quite at it. But the second half he was different class and pops up with a goal to help us win it. That’s what he does.
“His goals have been incredible and long may that continue. He’s a great guy, so humble, and for someone who has done so much this season he’s so down to Earth.
“That’s credit to our squad because we don’t let anyone get ahead of themselves.
“Mo is no different, he’s a lovely person and stands for what we are as a team.”
HEART OF GOLD
Five years ago Andrew Robertson was playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football with Queen’s Park and earning extra money by selling concert tickets in the corporate offices at Hampden Park.
Last summer he suffered relegation from the Premier League with Hull City before Liverpool signed him for £10 million ($13.9 million).
In a career fraught with setbacks and hardships, he has been grateful, supporting foodbanks that help those in need.
“It’s all about giving something back to the less fortunate,” said Robertson.
“I’m in a fortunate position where I do a job I love and get paid well and it’s nice to give something back, especially in my hometown. I’ll always do that.
“It’s been a great journey for me in my career, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. But I don’t forget where I came from. Maybe it is rare, but a lot more people are doing it now and I hope even more will.”