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.


Scenarios for a potential return of the Premier League

Updated 01 April 2020

Scenarios for a potential return of the Premier League

  • One option is for clubs to converge on a neutral location in which all remaining games are played behind closed doors

LONDON: English football's major stakeholders will meet on Friday to discuss their options to rescue a season derailed by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Premier League campaign has been postponed until at least April 30 because of the pandemic, but the chances of a return in May look bleak.

AFP Sport takes a closer look at the various scenarios that are likely to be considered in the talks over if and how to finish the season:

One option is for clubs to converge on a neutral location in which all remaining games are played behind closed doors, with only essential personnel and broadcasters allowed to attend.

There is believed to be growing support among clubs for this plan, with nine rounds of matches potentially in line to be staged in June and July.

Fixtures would reportedly be played in one or two locations in the Midlands and London.

That could mean players and coaches being quarantined away from their families in World Cup-style camps to avoid infection, with stadiums, hotels and training facilities undergoing a deep clean.

A radical upturn in testing for the virus in the UK over the next two months is the key to this plan for a number of reasons.

Firstly, to ease players' concerns of contracting COVID-19 while playing, but also to avoid criticism of privileged professional players being tested with mild or no symptoms if that is not available to the general public and in particular frontline workers.

FASTFACT

Given the massive impact of the virus on society in general, it is seen in some quarters as morally inappropriate for football to return too soon.

If the curve of cases is not significantly flattened come the summer the optics for the Premier League to have medical officials at nonessential events would also not be good.

Given the massive impact of the virus on society in general, it is seen in some quarters as morally inappropriate for football to return too soon.

Instead of rushing back to action, waiting until the virus is completely under control before play resumes is the preferred strategy in this scenario.

With the virus reportedly set to peak in the UK in June, that could mean remaining in sporting lockdown until August or September.

Waiting would allow the current season to be completed in full, ensuring the Premier League does not have to repay an estimated £750 million ($930 million, € 842 million) to television companies for breach of contract.

But it would have a huge knock-on effect for next season, potentially leading to a shortened schedule in 2020-21 in a bid to be ready for the delayed European Championship.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane believes the campaign should be canceled if it cannot be finished by the end of June.

"Playing into July or August and pushing next season back, I don't see too much benefit in that," Kane said.

"Probably the limit for me is the end of June. If the season's not completed by the end of June we need to look at the options and just look forward to next season."

In what would be the worst-case scenario for the Premier League, some clubs reportedly want to abandon the current season immediately.

Senior figures in English club football believe there is "no place for sport at the moment,"  according to a recent report in the Athletic.

FA chairman Greg Clarke reportedly told the Premier League earlier this month he does not believe the season will be completed.

Declaring the season over could trigger legal action from a host of clubs, regardless of whether or not the standings are allowed
to count.

Liverpool need only two more wins to confirm their first league title since 1990 and hold a 25-point lead over Manchester City.

Canceling the season would scupper their hopes of ending a 30-year title drought, unless it was agreed to declare them champions anyway.

Manchester United, Wolves, Sheffield United and Tottenham, all currently outside the top four, would surely claim they had been unfairly been denied a chance of Champions League qualification.

Aston Villa would be relegated along with Norwich and Bournemouth, but Dean Smith's team would point to the game in hand that would lift them above Watford to safety if they won it.

In the Championship, the current top two are Leeds and West Bromwich Albion and they would be furious if a 'null and void' ruling robbed them of a lucrative promotion.