Australian Open qualifying begins, poor air quality from bushfires brings abandoned matches

At Melbourne Park, Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic was leading her first-round Australian Open qualifying match against Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele when she dropped to her knees with a coughing spell and was forced to pull out of the match. (Screenshot: ESPN Australia/NZ)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Australian Open qualifying begins, poor air quality from bushfires brings abandoned matches

  • Organizers said further decisions on match scheduling would be made
  • Melbourne started the day with hazardous air pollution levels

MELBOURNE: Smoke haze and poor air quality caused by wildfires temporarily suspended practice sessions for the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, but qualifying began later in the morning in “very poor” conditions and amid complaints by at least one player who was forced to forfeit her match.
At the Kooyong Classic exhibition in Melbourne, former No. 1-ranked Maria Sharapova struggled in the heat and smoke and her match against Laura Siegemund was called off late in the second set. Siegemund won the first set in a tiebreaker but players and officials decided to stop play at 5-5 in the second.
"Both players are feeling the smoke so we are going to stop the match at this point," the umpire said.
At Melbourne Park, Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic was leading her first-round Australian Open qualifying match against Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele when she dropped to her knees with a coughing spell. Ranked 180th, Jakupovic was a set up and one point away from a tiebreaker in the second set when she experienced breathing difficulties and retired from the match.

“I was really scared that I would collapse," Jakupovic told Australian Associated Press. "I don't have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat. The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn't breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor."
Jakupovic said it was "not fair" that officials asked players to take the court in those conditions.
“It's not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing today but we don't have much choice."

Former Wimbledon semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard needed some medical assistance during her first qualifying match before beating You Xiaodi 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
Organizers said further decisions on match scheduling would be made using onsite data and in close consultation with its medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology, and scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency in Victoria state.
Melbourne started the day with hazardous air pollution as smoke from wildfires in Victoria's east and in southern New South Wales state drifted through.
The central business district, close to where Melbourne Park is located, recorded overnight hazardous levels of fine particles in the air and the EPA categorized the air quality as “very poor."
Firefighters in the region spent the night being called out to fire alarms triggered by the smoke haze.

 


Saudi Cup: All eyes on Riyadh as the world’s most valuable horse race debuts

Updated 29 February 2020

Saudi Cup: All eyes on Riyadh as the world’s most valuable horse race debuts

  • As Saudi Arabia embarks on a new sporting era, a stellar line-up chases a record $29.2 million in prize money — and a place in history

RIYADH: When the gates of King Abdul Aziz Racetrack open at noon on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, it will usher in a new era for sports and entertainment in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Cup, the world’s most valuable horse race is finally here — and not for the first time in recent years the eyes of the sporting world will turn to the Kingdom.

The numbers tell their own story: Eight races, a total purse of $29.2 million.

Prize money for the main event and final race of the day, the Saudi Cup, will be a record-breaking $20 million, with the winner taking home $10 million and the rest of the field sharing $6.5 million.

The line-up features a formidable American presence, including the highly rated Maximum Security and the Bob Baffert-trained duo of McKinzie and Mucho Gusto, but there will be significant regional interest as well.

Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, owner of the Juddmonte Farms breeding operation, will watch his own horse, Tacitus, take on the strong field in the Saudi Cup. “This is like the icing on the cake to be able to be here and participate in this race,” said trainer Bill Mott of Tacitus.

“It’s exciting. The great connections I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to be involved with at Juddmonte wanted to participate in (the Saudi Cup) and they’re excited as well.”

The Saudi Cup will also feature Godolphin’s six-year-old Benbatl, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, who will also have pupil Final Song running earlier in the Samba Saudi Derby. A win for Benbatl, son of the famous Dubawi, will raise his career earnings to more than $15.7 million.

“It would mean a lot for us to win,” bin Suroor said. “It is the first-ever Saudi Cup and the first big international race in Saudi Arabia. It is a very important race and it will be important for us to see him run well and win. He has been a very good Group 1 horse for us and very versatile. I’m very happy with him and I think he will have a good run.”

In the run-up to the headline event, seven other races, with combined prize money of $9.2 million, will take place in front of the magnificent 5,000- seat main grandstand. VIPs and members of the public arriving at the Golden Entrance will have plenty of time to acquaint themselves with the different facilities and services of the track, which include the Saudi Cup Pavilion, the Red Sea Pavilion, the Main and Saudi Cup Grandstands, the food court and picnic area, a tech zone and a children’s play area.

The first race of the day, the 2,100-meter Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup, will be run on turf at 4 p.m. local time. It will be followed by the stc 1351 Cup (1,351 meters), also on turf, at 4:35 p.m.

Meanwhile, Freddy Head, who has ridden and trained major winners all over the world, is hoping to add the inaugural running of the $2.5 million Longines Turf Handicap (5:10 p.m.) to his list of triumphs when he rides six-year-old Call The Wind.

“He is a very consistent horse,” said the trainer. “Last year was a bit frustrating, though. He was unlucky a couple of times and had to carry a lot of weight.

In France, when you win a Group 1 race, you have to carry a lot of weight.”

Head said:“I think it is a worldwide thing to have these big races. It changes the way we train and plan the racing career of a horse. I remember coming here many years ago to ride. It’s nice to come back with a horse and run in a big race. Hopefully, he runs well here and then he will go back to Dubai.”

At 5:45 p.m. the Obaiya Arabian Classic, for purebred Arabian horses, will run over 2,000 meters on the dirt track before a 45-minute break.

Visitors will have the chance to observe the Maghreb prayers at 5:56 p.m. before returning in time for the fifth race of the day, the Jockey Club Local Handicap at 6:30 p.m.

This will be followed at 7:10 p.m. by the 1,600-meter Samba Saudi Derby, before the Isha prayer at 7:26 p.m.

No doubt the excitement will have built to fever pitch by the time of the penultimate race, the Saudia Sprint.

Gladiator King, Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al-Nuaimi’s Dubai-based runner, will put his unbeaten 2020 record on the line in the 1,200-meter event — the same distance at which he won both his starts this year in Meydan’s Dubawi and Al-Shindagha Sprint.

The showpiece event of the day, the Saudi Cup, will be run on dirt over one lap of the 1,800-meter King Abdul Aziz Racetrack.

The one-meter-high Saudi Cup trophy and a cheque for $10 million awaits the winner. Along with a place in history.

Decoder

Saudi Cup

Billed as the richest on the planet with a prize fund of $20 million, its inaugural run is on Feb. 29 at the King Abdul Aziz Racetrack in Riyadh. The race, over a distance of nine furlongs (1,800 meters) on the dirt track, will have a maximum field of 14 starters.