Mike Smith wins Jockey Challenge, as female riders make history ahead of Saudi Cup extravaganza

The second Jockeys Challenge, and fourth race of the day, followed shortly afterwards with Mike Smith on Sun Hat leaving the rest of the field in his dust to claim an easy 15 points. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 29 February 2020

Mike Smith wins Jockey Challenge, as female riders make history ahead of Saudi Cup extravaganza

  • Smith also praised the dirt course ahead of the Saudi Cup the following day

RIYADH: The International Jockeys Challenge proved the perfect curtain raiser to the Saudi Cup as eight races brought some of the world’s best female and male riders to the King Abdulaziz Racetrack for the first time.
On a fine sunny day in Riyadh, the action started at 3.20pm with 1400m (7f) Saudi Bred Maiden, which was won by Etsaam, ridden by Aldaham. Abu Thamer came second with Dayaan third.
The second race of the day, the Equestrian Club Award, saw Saodad, ridden by Irad Ortiz, come home ahead of second place Ibtahej, and Rabiae Blaady.
But it was the the first International Jockeys Challenge of the day that got the swelling crowd going. Run over 1400m (7f), it saw Lisa Allpress, riding Matmon, storm to a win and create history as the first female winner in Saudi Arabia.
“I honestly came here with a very open mind,” Allpress said. “We’ve been very looked after…like I said I had no expectations. I decided to come out with open mind and just enjoy it.”
The win saw her take the early lead of Jockey’s Challenge with 15 points while Olivier Pesilier on Motayammen came in second with Sibylle Vogt on Dolma in third . Crowd favorite Frankie Dettorie, on Moshaghebah, came fifth, behind A Alfouraidi in fourth.
The second Jockeys Challenge, and fourth race of the day, followed shortly afterwards with Mike Smith on Sun Hat leaving the rest of the field in his dust to claim an easy 15 points. Mickaelle Michel on Seif Alsharq came second with Vogt on Laurence in third.
“Really loved this dirt course, I hoping that America takes look at it, it’s a really nice course,” Smith said after the race. “I was blessed to come here many, many years ago at the old track, so I hadn’t been back since. To get started for the big day tomorrow, it’s good way to get started.”
The Equestrian Club Award, Saudi-bred fillies was won by Jennifer, giving jockey Alfouraidi his second win of the day. Shadawah and Qaatefah came in second and throw respectively.
The Jockeys Challenge was hotting up and a familiar name was about to make a break from the rest of field in the sixth race of the day.
The third Jockeys Challenge saw Smith win again, this time riding Paris, to lead the table with a maximum of 30 points. Yutaka Take came second on Makhbour and Camilo Ospina third on Walad Almeterfah.
The fourth and final Jockeys Challenge race of the day went to Vogt, riding, Sabeq’hom, followed by Emma-Jane Wilson on Alshatherwan in second and Frankie Dettori on Sha’erah in third. The results meant that Smith, who came in fifth, won the overall challenge with 33 points.
“It was fun way to start with the International Jockeys Challenge,” Smith said. “The first time that women given the opportunity to ride here and they proved that they belong here, they’re brilliant riders.
Smith also praised the dirt course ahead of the Saudi Cup the following day.
“It’s probably one of the best dirt courses I’ve ever been on, and I’m not just saying that,” he added. “I’m telling you, America should take a page out of you book and do something like this.
Vogt couldn’t hide her delight at claiming her 97th career win, especially as it meant beating a very special opponent.
“My idol is Frankie Dettori and I’m so happy he was behind me,” she said.
In the day’s final race, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman Universty Prize, Angel Moreno finished victorious on AlHajjrafee in a very tight race with Mohammed Alnefzi on Heloo Algharam and Morales and Yeshrah Albaal breathing down his neck.


The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

Updated 09 August 2020

The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

  • James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs
  • Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: This season’s NBA MVP has won the award before.
A trio of past winners of the award — reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, four-time MVP LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and 2017-18 winner James Harden of the Houston Rockets — were announced Saturday as the finalists for this season’s top NBA individual honor.
James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs. Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award, and Harden is vying for his second MVP in three seasons.
“He’s an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo last month, stating his best player’s MVP case. “And I think that’s kind of what the MVP is, so we certainly feel like he’s very deserving and we’ll be excited to support him.”
Antetokounmpo is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, while Utah’s Rudy Gobert is bidding to win that trophy for a third consecutive season.
The league announced the top three vote-getters in six individual categories. Voting has already taken place by a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
The NBA has not set specific dates when the winners will be announced.
None of the games taking place at the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World factored into the voting, because ballots were due before games began again July 30.
The league took the step of saying games played before the league suspended the season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic could factor into award consideration, out of fairness to the eight teams that were not invited to the restart.
The other finalists for NBA honors:
Rookie of the Year — Ja Morant, Memphis; Kendrick Nunn, Miami; Zion Williamson, New Orleans.
Most Improved Player — Bam Adebayo, Miami; Luka Doncic, Dallas; Brandon Ingram, New Orleans.
Sixth Man — Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers; Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers.
Defensive Player of the Year — Antetokounmpo; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gobert, Utah.
Coach of the Year — Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee; Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City; Nick Nurse, Toronto.


GASOL VS. GRIZZLIES
Marc Gasol spent parts of 11 seasons in Memphis, going to three All-Star Games with a Grizzlies jersey on his back, earning two All-NBA selections there and a Defensive Player of the Year award as well.
And now, he’ll play against his former team for the first time.
The Grizzlies face Gasol and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. It’ll be the first game between the clubs since Gasol was traded to Toronto in February 2019 — a move that helped the Raptors win last season’s NBA championship.
Gasol said facing Memphis would be emotional.
“I got there when I was 16 years old. It was my first time out of Spain,” said Gasol, who still owns his Memphis home. “I started high school there as a teenager and left as a father of two kids. ... My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep and my love for the people there, what they mean and the franchise, it’s forever.”
Gasol helped Memphis make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons including the 2013 run to the Western Conference finals. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader for minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocks and triple-doubles and is second in points — 49 behind Mike Conley.
The Raptors were supposed to have played back-to-back games against Memphis this season, going there March 28 and then playing host to the Grizzlies March 30. Those games, of course, were called off because of the season suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously it’s a little bittersweet that we couldn’t play in the city of Memphis, to get that love and feel that Iove from the fans,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to see some familiar faces and a lot of the people that he spent a lot of time with over the years.”


WORKING WIZARDS
On Friday, the Washington Wizards were eliminated from playoff contention.
On Saturday, they practiced.
The Wizards knew they were playoff longshots even before coming to the NBA’s restart at Disney, especially since Bradley Beal didn’t make the trip because of injury and Davis Bertans opted not to play because of health concerns.
But these eight games — Washington is 0-5 at Disney with three games left — were considered learning opportunities for the team’s young players, and a chance to get some high-level work in before the offseason starts. And just because the playoff chances are now gone doesn’t mean Wizards coach Scott Brooks is changing his thinking on that front.
“It’s about getting better,” Brooks said. “You know, I love our group. We want to keep improving. And the record, I’m not happy with it but I’m happy with our effort after every game that we’ve been in.”
Brooks has told his team repeatedly at Disney that the losses go on his record, not theirs.
“You can’t waste the days, you have to keep working on each day and keep improving and it’s hard,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to go through, you know, five losses in a row. But in order to get where we need to get to, you’re going to have to deal with it. You’re going to have to be able to handle it. You’re going to have to be able to get better from it, and it also has to hurt, going through it. And that’s fine.”


BUCKS CLINCH
The road to the NBA championship will go through Milwaukee’s white uniforms.
The Bucks have secured the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs for the second consecutive year, the clincher coming when the Los Angeles Lakers lost to Indiana on Saturday.
Ordinarily, that would come with the right to host Game 1 and Game 7 of every series. This year, it just means that the Bucks will be called the home team in those games in each postseason round that they reach.