Saudi Arabia horse racing has a bright future, says departing top trainer

Nicholas Bachalard has spent eight years in Saudi Arabia, but he is moving to Dubai. (Liesl King)
Updated 30 March 2018

Saudi Arabia horse racing has a bright future, says departing top trainer

DUBAI: The Dubai World Cup meeting on Saturday may well be the biggest stage in international racing, but it also acts as a leg-up for those not yet in the limelight.
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.

BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa crowned champion at Saudi Arabia's Ad Diriyah E-Prix

Updated 15 December 2018

BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa crowned champion at Saudi Arabia's Ad Diriyah E-Prix

  • The Portuguese driver held on for victory ahead of Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Mahindra car
  • Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi had the best start on the grid

AD DIRIYAH, Riyadh: Antonio Felix da Costa praised his BMW garage but said there is still a lot of work for him and the team to do in this year’s Formula E season after winning the inaugural Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday.

Da Costa was on pole from the beginning of the race and led away from the line, despite lining up at the front of the grid pointing toward the outside wall at a dusty and overcast Ad Diriyah circuit.

The Portuguese driver held on for victory ahead of Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Mahindra car.

Da Costa told Arab News that the new “cooler and futuristic” Gen 2 car gives drivers more power, stability and grip, and that there was “a lot to take in” during the race.

“It is a new car, a new track, a new way of racing, (with) ‘Attack Mode’, and I got the ‘Fan Boost’ for the first time, so there were a lot of things to do and as a team and we executed so well, so I think that is why we won today because we were not the quickest car but we just had a perfect race.

“It is amazing, it’s been really tough and long months of work, but I am really happy with that,” da Costa added.

“We definitely have some work to do as the two Techeetah cars were really fast, and even with (Vergne’s) drive through penalty, he was right there at the end.

“But it’s a good start and we’ll keep working on that and try to keep it going,” he added.

When asked about BMW being involved in Formula E as a factory team for the first time, da Costa said: “It hasn’t been easy the last two years, but as I said it has been a lot work between Indianapolis with Andretti and Munich with BMW, it is great to see and I am so happy for everyone back in Munich.”

Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi had the best start on the grid after he blasted by Jose Maria Lopez around the outside of the first corner from third place.

The front four pulled away from the rest of the pack, before Vergne — who started the race in fifth — passed Lopez on lap one of what would become a 33-lap race, with his teammate Andre Lotterer also getting past the Geox Dragon driver.

As da Costa consolidated his lead, Vergne was closing in on Buemi, eventually passing him in a great move around the outside on lap nine. The Frenchman then set about reeling in da Costa, with the Portuguese offering fierce resistance.

Vergne was then forced to serve drive-through penalties – just after he had used his first “attack mode” – for going exceeding the permitted power while using his “re-gen,” which put paid to him getting a victory.

Reigning champion Vergne, while impressed with the venue, was philosophical after the race.

“I was really hungry for a victory today, but the qualifying in the morning did not go as planned.

“Unfortunately, it was a step down from where I wanted to be, I wanted to win this one. 

“I had a fantastic car, it was incredibly fast, but a big congratulations to the BMW guys and Antonio, it was a well-deserved victory.

“What I will take as a positive from this weekend is that we have a strong team and a very strong car and I am very motivated.

“Going forward, we just need to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that cost us the win today, but it’s a very encouraging first race and I’m looking forward to Marrakech now.”

On his drive through penalty, he said: “Yes, I had quite a few overtakes on the outside, on the inside, but it was a fun race, I honestly had a lot of fun. 

“I’m content with P2 today, and hoping to keep this package (on the car) and hopefully get some victories.”
Meanwhile, third-placed d’Ambrosio was delighted with his finish to the race.

“I am super happy, it was a great first race with Mahindra and a great start to the championship, I am lucky to be part of such a great team with some great people.

“I have come from two difficult years, so it’s great to start this new relationship with the team in this way. We worked very hard in the past few months to be ready, I think we were very fast but at the end of the race I didn’t have the confidence in the braking.

“But it makes a great to start to the season, with the podium and banking the points, and we’ll see what happens now.”

When asked about the new “attack mode” in Formula E, he said: “It is great, I actually wasn’t supposed to use it at that point of the race (when I did), but I had a good feeling and I saw Techeetah use it and start to build a gap, so I went for it and when the safety car came in I used it again.”