Jewel in Kingdom’s sporting crown Juddmonte Farms eyeing Saudi Cup glory

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Saudi Cup contender Tacitus completes trackwork in the lead-up to the $20 million race tomorrow. (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Neville Hopwood)
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All five stallions standing at Juddmonte Farms’ Banstead Manor Stud (from left): Bated Breath, Oasis Dream, Frankel, Kingman and Expert Eye. (Bronwen Healy)
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Updated 28 February 2020

Jewel in Kingdom’s sporting crown Juddmonte Farms eyeing Saudi Cup glory

  • Prince Khalid bin Abdullah’s horse ‘Tacitus’ to race at the Saudi Cup on Saturday
  • Saudi-owned Juddmonte Farms has bred some of the most successful horses in recent racing history

When the gates open and the runners and riders get underway in Riyadh on Saturday in the world’s richest horse race, one man will be watching the action with more pride than most.

Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, owner of the hugely successful Juddmonte Farms breeding operation, will not only be closely monitoring the performance of his own horse, Tacitus, in the $20 million Saudi Cup, but will also be celebrating the fact that such a prestigious international race meeting is taking place in the Kingdom for the first time.

Simon Mockridge, director of the UK stud operation, described the Saudi Cup as a “momentous moment” and said that victory in the inaugural event would be “vitally important” to the prince and the entire Juddmonte team.

“I think what we have to remember (is that the Saudi Cup has) an extremely strong field and Tacitus will have to step up to the plate; we’re hoping very much that he can achieve that,” Mockridge told Arab News at Juddmonte’s Newmarket headquarters.

“Prince Khalid’s breeding operation is probably one of the jewels of Saudi Arabian history. It would be very nice if he was able to win the race and I’m sure he and the family would be over the moon. I think being a Saudi he will be very excited to think that they have a race of this magnitude now in Saudi Arabia, and it’s going to create some great waves,” he said.

The Saudi Cup, a two-day meet that begins on Friday at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack, is the latest high-profile event added to the Kingdom’s growing sporting calendar. But while the country only recently embarked on its ambitious program of attracting a host of top-class international sporting events as part of its Vision 2030 development program, over the past four decades Juddmonte Farms has become one of the most recognizable global names in horse breeding and racing.

Founded in 1977 and located a world away from the desert sand of Riyadh in the rolling countryside of Suffolk in England, with further operations and bases in Ireland and Kentucky, Juddmonte Farms has quietly become one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest sporting success stories.

The inexorable rise of Juddmonte, and Prince Khalid, began when Known Fact won the 2000 Guineas Stakes in 1980, a victory that earned the prince a place in the history books as the first Arab owner of the winner of a Classic, the name given to a handful of the most prestigious, elite races in England, Ireland and France.

It marked the beginning of a long and illustrious career for the prince that includes more than 100 Group 1 winners and dozens of Classics winners. According to Mockridge, the secret to that sustained success is down to the building of a highly professional team at Juddmonte and some astute early decisions by the prince.

Frankel is led to his paddock by Juddmonte attendant Rob Bowley. (Darren Tindale, Bronwen Healy)

“I think we have to think back to when Prince Khalid was very active in the market, in the early 1980s,” he said. “He purchased very well, he was advised extremely well and he made very sound decisions. He purchased a lot of good mares and that was his primary focus at the time.

“They were wise decisions, calculated purchases at the time, which he then masterfully guided through wonderful breeding careers. I think globally, if you look at the impact he has had in the 40 years he has been in operation, he’s managed to win every English Classic and every French Classic.

“And to top it all off, he has had in excess of 500 stakes (the most prestigious, and valuable, races, contested by the best horses) winners. So you have to look at him and say that for a medium-sized breeding operation, he has certainly taken the racing and breeding operations to a very high level,” Mockridge said.

Amanda Prior is the general manager of Great British Racing International, which facilitates global investment in British racing and breeding. “It is brilliant to see Prince Khalid Abdullah’s long-serving investment in British racing and breeding continuing to reap rewards,” she said.

“Juddmonte has never had a better stallion roster, attracting world-class mares from all over the world, and will ultimately shape the breed for many years to come.”

It is hard to disagree with her prediction. Juddmonte has bred some of the most successful horses in recent racing history, including the likes of Frankel — the legendary unbeaten horse now standing at stud at the farm’s Banstead Manor base — Kingman, and Danehill, a thoroughbred Mockridge said is “arguably the most important stallion that has stood in the northern and southern hemisphere.”

All five stallions standing at Juddmonte Farms’ Banstead Manor Stud (from left): Bated Breath, Oasis Dream, Frankel, Kingman and Expert Eye. (Bronwen Healy)

And yet despite such consistent global success in the sport, the achievements of Juddmonte Farms and Prince Khalid are still more celebrated outside the Kingdom than within. This is something Mockridge hopes will change when the two-day Saudi Cup meet grabs the racing world’s attention and puts Saudi racing on the map.

He was also full of praise for event organizer Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, and the work that has gone in to bring an elite racing event to the Kingdom.

“We have to look at the race itself and say this is one of the strongest races that has been run for a great many years, so this is a phenomenal achievement by Prince Bandar and his team,” said Mockridge.

“I think the difficulty for them going forward is how they can maintain the momentum …but there is no doubt they have positioned this race incredibly well and there has been a lot of foresight here.

“I think if you imagine there is now an opportunity for a single horse to win the Breeder’s Cup and the Pegasus, then the Saudi Cup and to go on and win the Dubai World Cup, races that are worth nearly $50 million in total prize money, then I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Douglas Erskine Crum, Juddmonte’s CEO, echoed Mockridge’s thoughts about the bright future for horse racing in Saudi Arabia.

“There will always be many challenges in establishing racing and breeding but I have every confidence that it will be achieved successfully in the Kingdom,” he said. “The team that has put the Saudi Cup together is very impressive.”

Mockridge conceded that some were skeptical early on about whether it was feasible for Saudi Arabia to host top-class horse racing, but he said the work done by Prince Bandar’s team has silenced the doubters.

“The wonderful thing for Saudi Arabia is that they have been able to attract such a strong field at the first time of asking,” he said. “There was a little bit of skepticism right at the beginning, but Prince Bandar and his team have been very progressive with it.

“The fact they have been able to build a turf course in such a short space of time — and apparently it’s riding very well — that’s extraordinary to me that they have been able to do that. For most of us, it would take generations to get a track up and running.

“So, I hope it’s a wonderful success for them and I would like to see lots of young Saudi people coming out of that and coming in to invest in European and American bloodstock. I think it’s important for the future of racing.”

Regardless of which horse is first past the post on Saturday, the Saudi Cup marks the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for racing in the Kingdom. And given the expertise of Prince Khalid, Mockridge and the entire Juddmonte team, their own success story is likely to run and run.


Al-Hilal march on toward Saudi title as Al-Adalah face the drop

Updated 15 min 33 sec ago

Al-Hilal march on toward Saudi title as Al-Adalah face the drop

  • For Al-Hilal, the title edges nearer by the match

DUBAI: Leaders Al-Hilal edged closer to a record 16th Saudi Professional League title after a comfortable 4-0 win over Al-Adalah left them needing two more wins to ensure they cannot be caught by closest challengers and reigning champions Al-Nassr.

The Riyadh club hardly need any help in their seemingly unstoppable march towards yet another championship, but the fixture list had for good measure thrown up a visit to the team anchored at the bottom of the SPL table in round 25 of the disrupted campaign.

Romanian coach Răzvan Lucescu’s team had all but settled this season’s title race after beating Al-Nassr 4-1 in the first match after the enforced break due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This proved another procession.

Despite facing a surprisingly high press by Al-Adalah’s forward line, Al-Hilal quickly settled into their rhythm with Govinco pulling the strings in the middle of the park while Salem Al-Dawsari worked tirelessly down the right channel. And it was the Saudi international who set up the opening goal for Al-Hilal when his low cross was side-footed by Bafétimbi Gomis on the half hour. It was the Frenchman’s 19th league goal of the season, taking him level with Abderrazak Hamdallah of Al-Nassr at the top of the scoring charts.

The same player should have doubled the lead on 58 minutes when Al-Adalah goalkeeper Ali Al-Mazidi was caught outside his penalty area, but Gomis’s clipped shot just missed the open goal.

Two minutes later Naif Hazazi should have levelled the match after being set up by the on-loan Malian winger Adama Traore, but his right-footed shot missed the target from close range. On 72 minutes Traore himself came within inches of an equaliser when his stunning left footed shot struck Abdullah Al-Mayouf’s right-hand post.

A minute later Syrian international Omar Khrbin replaced Govinco, and almost immediately Gomis doubled Al-Hilal’s lead, tapping in another precise Al-Dawsari cross, this time from the right.

Al-Dawsari sealed his man-of-the-match performance with a sensational solo goal with 11 minutes left, dancing through the Al Adalah defence before curling the ball past Al Mazidi.

There was still time for Khrbin to make it 4-0 from the penalty spot after Saleh Al-Shehri was fouled in stoppage time by Radhi Al-Radhi, who received a red card for his troubles.

“It was an important win on the way to hopefully winning the league,” said the substitute Khrbin. “Another two or three matches and we can wrap up the title, but the most important thing today was the three points.”

The striker believes that the substitutions helped settle the match in Al-Hilal’s favours while restricting any potential for exhaustion.

“The coach has picked the right team for each match, and the players have always performed in the right spirit,” he said. “Today perhaps there was a conservation of effort, and it was very important that we scored that first goal. It made the match more straight forward.”

Mohammed Jahfali, returning to Al-Hilal’s defence, agreed that the coach’s selection exploited the depth of the squad.

“In terms of rotation, that is normal especially after the long break,” he said. “It’s impossible to play with the same 11 all the time because of the weather and tiredness. Our squad complement each other, and everyone is ready to step in.”

He would not comment on the destination of the SPL title, saying that as things stand, Al-Hilal cannot assume “one percent” that it’s already won.

Al-Adalah defender Bader Al-Nakhli thought the result did not reflect how his team played and backed his coach's decision to play the high press, rather than sit back and try to hit Al-Hilal on the counterattack.

“It’s harsh defeat,” he said. “We tried our best in the first half, we tried to contain them for as long as we could.”

“I think the coach had the right idea, the tactics were right and we closed them down,” Al-Nakhli said. “Yes, the high pressing game can be tiring, but after they scored the first goal the match became more open, especially in the second half. Now we have to play the last five matches as if they’re a separate tournament. We have to try and win every match so we can stay up.”

Al-Adalah are now on 20 points almost certainties for relegation, but Hazazi refused to make any excuses for the defeat.

“We didn’t expect to lose by four to be honest, the midfielder said. “From the start the team matched Al-Hilal, a team who are going for the league title and could be crowned in the next match or two. We managed to match a team like that until about the 65th minute, but mistakes happened, but we can’t blame anyone specifically.”

“We carried out the press from the start,” Hazazi added. “But we have to be honest, in this match we had nothing to lose. We have the capabilities to score, we had some chances that had we scored would have changed the match. But then all the substitutions probably didn’t help us, Al Hilal are a very big team.”

In the day’s other matches, relegation-threatened Damac recorded a valuable 2-0 win at Al-Taawoun, while Al-Faislay closed the gap on Al-Ahli in third place to two points with another 2-0 win.

For Al-Hilal, the title edges nearer by the match.