Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
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With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
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(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 16 January 2021

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
  • Elite riders saddle up for $34,600 National Guard Ministry cup at Jeddah Trio Ranch

JEDDAH: The Saudi National Guard Ministry’s showjumping cup competition kicked off on Thursday at the Jeddah Trio Ranch, with Abdullah Al-Sharbatly and Dalma Malhas leading a top-class equestrian lineup.

With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day. About 130 horses were registered in the competition. The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.
Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade. Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.
“We have seven competitions under the names of seven ministries. After good international and Olympic results, support has doubled for equestrian sports, particularly showjumping,” a member of the SAEF technical committee, Ali Al-Sahli, told Arab News.
One rider, Naif Al-Sudairi, said that equestrianism in Saudi Arabia is making rapid advances on many levels.
“With Saudi Vision 2030, we now have more tournaments in all regions of the country, and the competition has heated up,” he told Arab News. “This can motivate the riders to improve and show our best in the run-up to international competitions.”
He added that he is looking forward to representing Saudi Arabia in the global equestrian events.

First day
In the small round on the first day of the competition, Khaled Al-Hady came first with 20 points. His horse, Doberlina Van de Kapel, came second with 18 points. Mohammed Hassan Al-Hadi was ranked third with 16 points, while Princess Al-Anoud Al-Saud secured fourth place with 14 points, and Waleed Al-Ghamdi was fifth with 12 points. Faisal Al-Ouda and Abdul Aziz Al-Hamazani came sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the medium class, Mohammed Al-Malki topped the ranking with 30 points followed by Khalid Al-Mobty, who collected 28 points. Badr Al-Fard came third with 26 points, and Abdullah Al-Sheikh was fourth with 24 points. Ahmed Bakarman came fifth with 22 points.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day.

• The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.

• Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade.

• Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.

Malhas, who secured an individual bronze at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, after completing the round in 38 seconds without a single penalty, came ninth with 14 points. She is also the first Saudi female equestrian to take part in the individual hurdles at the 2018 World Equestrian Championship held in the US city of Tryon.


In the big round, Al-Sharbatly, who won the individual silver medal at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, came first with 40 points, followed by Abed Sanosy with 38 points. Fahad Al-Ghamdi was third with 36 points, while Badr Al-Fard was fourth with 34 points, and Talal Al-Juaid came fifth with 32 points. Sultan Al-Qarza’e and Khaled Al-Mobty came sixth and seventh, respectively.

Riders’ journey
Muneer Al-Ayoubi, who has been riding for over 20 years, told Arab News that showjumping requires understanding between rider and horse.
“I have been participating in showjumping (activities) for more than two years. It is the most difficult type of horse-riding activities,” he said. “Unlike horse racing and endurance riding, contestants have to keep training their horses. The rider and the horse should appear as if they were one soul.”
Arwa Mutabagani, owner and managing director of Jeddah Trio Ranch, said that they have riders of different levels from all over Saudi Arabia.
Speaking about the preparation to host the competition, Mutabagani said: “The horses arrive a couple of days before the competition, so we have to be ready. On-site, we have 150 horses participating, so we have different locations to host all these numbers. We made the warm-up arena ready for the riders to prepare their horses for the show.”
An Italian equestrian expert was brought in to handle the timing and ensure there are no complaints, she said. Mutabagani said that she is training a number of female riders to become champions. Family support is essential in this type of sport, she added.
“To reach a top position, dedication, family and team support, and sacrifices are all elements that should go together. You also have to have a good instructor, a good horse, and you have to have the right competition that can help you move to higher levels,” she said.
She mentioned her daughter, Dalma Malhas, as an example, saying: “When she was competing, she was young and spent weekends at the shows and not with her peers. So, you have to sacrifice being a normal teenager to reach the top.”
Meanwhile, Mohrah Faisal, a female equestrian who took part in the small round, said that she is grateful to SAEF for supporting female riders. “We did not have such an opportunity in the past. Now I hope I can represent the Kingdom at the Olympics.”
She said that her family believed in her passion for equestrianism once they saw her succeeding in many local competitions.
Wafa Hasson, another Saudi female rider, said she competed in the UAE two years ago after SAEF gave women riders the green light, which helped them improve.
Female riders are still looking for opportunities to learn. “I want to go as far as I can. I don’t really have a limit, I just want to see what I can achieve and I will do my best to achieve it.”
Ghalia Al-Musa, another participant, said that she has been riding for 13 years, and her mother is still her biggest supporter.
“SAEF allowed female riders to compete along with male riders in 2019, and it was good news for all female riders. In the same year, SAEF selected the best female riders to represent Saudi Arabia in the Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah, UAE. We came second as a team and I came fourth as an individual,” she told Arab News.
Al-Musa also hopes to represent Saudi Arabia in international events, including the Olympics.
Heavy rain in Jeddah on Friday forced the organizing committee of the National Guard showjumping cup to combine the second and third day of competition on Saturday (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.) when the competition will come  to an end.


Jaguar’s Sam Bird soars in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (SPA Sport)
Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (SPA Sport)
Updated 9 min 13 sec ago

Jaguar’s Sam Bird soars in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (SPA Sport)
  • Second Formula E night race ends prematurely after crash involving Maximilian Gunther and Alex Lynn

RIYADH: Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag, with the British driver leading Robin Frijns of Envision Virgin Racing and Jean-Eric Vergne of DS Techeetah behind him.

In the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it was Diriyah’s second race under the floodlights to conclude the opening weekend of the 2020-21 Formula E season.

With 25 points Bird is now four points behind Friday’s winner, Nyck de Vries of Mercedes-Benz EQ. Jaguar Racing also lead the Team Championship, seven points ahead of Mercedes.

“I was a bit emotional in the car,” Bird, who has now won races in every one of Formula E’s seven seasons, said.

“Big move, big step for me leaving what was my family at Envision, they were great to me for six years, joining a new team, but they welcomed me with open arms. I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning, but I’ve come not a fantastic team, great bunch of guys. They’re already my family, I’m just so happy that I could give them a result today.”

It was Bird’s first win with Jaguar Racing and 10th in Formula E, and he revealed that the race was not as simple as it may have seemed. 

“I have to say that Robin was so respectful, a pleasure to race against really,” he said. “Just what you’re expect from a man of his caliber. And it was great fun.”

The runner-up was disappointed that some tactical decisions did not work out, but was still pleased with the overall outcome.

“We had a great battle going on, but unfortunately me taking attack mode just before the full course yellow didn’t help at the end,” Frijns said. “It’s the kind of gamble you take in racing, but (finishing) eventually on the podium in P2 after such a difficult day yesterday, I’d definitely sign up for that.”

The day started in dramatic fashion when the previous day’s runner-up, Edoardo Mortara of RokiT Venturi Racing, was involved in a serious accident after his throttle locked and he lost the use of his brakes. After crashing into a barrier he was taken to hospital where he underwent scans.

Thankfully, the Swiss driver was well enough to return to the Diriyah circuit, but in the end had to sit the race out.

“I’m grateful it was not more serious,” Mortara said.

“It was not a great feeling, it’s a feeling that I’d like to forget,” he added. “I felt a little bit like a passenger, there was nothing I could do, no brakes any more and I just went into the wall. I thought that was pretty much the end of for me. Not a nice feeling.”

Frijns, having started 17th from the grid on day one, was in pole position with Sergio Sette Camara (Dragon/Penske Autosport) in second. Bird, who had collided with Alex Lynn on Friday, and Tom Blomqvist of NIO 333 Formula E Team were third and fourth in row two.

For the viewers, it provided extra excitement, with most of the favorites, and leading finishers from the first race relegated to the back of the grid.

Sette Camara’s poor start allowed Bird to overtake on the first turn, and as the race’s 45 minutes (plus one lap) ticked down the front two started to pull away from the chasing pack.

By lap eight Bird was only 0.500 sec behind Frijns, with a gap of over two seconds behind the Briton. Within two laps, Bird was leading, but by activating his attack mode, Frijns regained the lead on lap 14.

Halfway through the race Jean-Eric Vergne of DS Techeetah, moved into third place with eyes on challenging the front two, but a Full Course Yellow (FCY), rather than a safety car, meant that he could not make up the four-second difference between him and Bird.

A battle was developing in third and fourth when reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa almost collided with team-mate Vergne, allowing Frijns and Bird — themselves exchanging the lead several times — to maintain their lead with 15 minutes left.

But with 28 laps gone and over eight minutes left, the first safety car of the day came out after Maximilian Gunther (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) crashed into Alex Lynn, and in doing so wiped away the gaps. 

There would be no restart and the race was ended with Bird in the lead, and Frijns, Vergne and da Costa behind him.

After the previous day’s drama, it was an underwhelming end to the opening weekend of the Formula E season.


Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row
Updated 27 February 2021

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row
  • Al-Baltan also fined $10,660 after dispute with Al-Nassr president Safwan Al-Suwaiket

LONDON: While all is going well for Al-Shabab at the top of the Saudi Pro League, the club have been hit by twin bans following a racism row that erupted at a Feb.13 clash with Al-Nassr and shows little sign of stopping.

On Friday, the Saudi Arabia Football Federation’s (SAFF) Discipline and Ethics Committee issued club President Khaled Al-Baltan with a ban from all sporting activity for two months and a $10,660 fine for his role in an altercation with Al Nassr’s Hussein Abdulghani during a league meeting between the two Riyadh teams that ended 4-0 to Al-Shabab.

While Al-Shabab refused to comment when contacted by Arab News, Al-Nassr president, Safwan Al-Suwaiket quickly made his displeasure known on Friday, complaining that the penalties given to Al-Shabab were too light.

“Verbal abuse, insults, slander and public defamation, damaging personal reputation, inciting public opinion and insulting Saudi sport and in the end a very light penalty,” he wrote on social media, also suggesting that the club may take the matter to the courts.

Reports in Saudi Arabia suggest that Al-Suwaiket could face punishment for his comments as the fallout from the incident looks set to drag on.

The original issue started near the end of the league clash earlier this month.

As the team's Brazilian winger Sebastian Junior was being substituted, an animated Abdulghani could be seen shouting and making gestures at the player, known as ‘Seba’ to go away and the two had to be separated by officials.

While it is unclear what Abdulghani said - the legend of Saudi Arabian football with over 130 international appearances was wearing a mask - as he gesticulates towards the Brazilian, up in the mostly empty stands, television footage showed Al-Baltan shouting, “This is Saudi Arabia, we don’t call people monkeys in this country. Shame on you.”

Al-Nassr quickly released a statement denying that any racist comments had been made.

“We stand behind our executive manager, Hussein Abdulghani, in the face of these false allegations,” the club said.

The match report backed up Al-Nassr’s account according to SAFF despite the evidence given from Al-Shabab players and officials at the hearing. “The report received by the committee from match referee Turki Al-Khudair, and the match observer did not include a recording of a racist utterance from Hussein Abdulghani against Seba,” SAFF said.

Al-Baltan was punished for the language used towards an official from another team and will now miss a vital period in the season as Al-Shabab, five points clear at the top, look to win a first title since 2012.

While Abdulghani was cleared of racism, he also received a ban and a fine for his part in the melee.

To make matters worse for Al-Shabab, Seba was also banned for two games and fined $53,000 for his comments on social media that were seen by the committee, as stirring up public opinion. Al-Shabab were also fined the same amount.

Al-Shabab can take another step towards the championship on Sunday as they travel to take on lowly Damac while Al-Hilal in second take on Al-Fateh.


Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win
Updated 27 February 2021

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win
  • A 3-0 loss adds to Sharjah’s woes as Baniyas keep the pressure on in UAE’s heated title race

A few weeks from now, one team will celebrate a historic Arabian Gulf League title. Dates for the final five matchweeks of the remaining eight are yet to be announced, but whenever and wherever the coveted trophy will be lifted, the winning side will look back at the night of Friday, Feb. 26 as one that has reshaped their 2020-21 campaign.

For now, it’s Al-Jazira who are smiling.

First, there is Sharjah’s woes. Despite hitherto leading the table, the reigning champions have looked a shadow of the side that took the UAE by storm to win their first league title in a quarter of a century in 2018-19. The subsequent season was declared null and void, disrupted by the pandemic, keeping the trophy in Sharjah for a further 12 months.

Mastermind Abdulaziz Al-Anbari remains at the helm. A local lad who had pulled the strings in midfield as Sharjah won the 1995-96 title, he returned as manager two decades later to transform a mid-table squad into the most potent counter-attacking unit in the country and become the first man to win the UAE league title as a player and as a manager.

Less than two years on, he was left to watch his legacy crumble in a game he missed through illness. A 3-0 demolition at home by Al-Jazira on Friday made it five games without a win for Al-Anbari’s Sharjah, his side’s poor run culminating in the loss of the top spot that they had made effectively theirs since the beginning of the season.

Momentum cannot be created nor destroyed, but only changed through the action of forces. Isaac Newton might as well have been talking about the 2020-21 Arabian Gulf League title race. For that every bit of momentum lost by Sharjah was picked up by their Friday visitors Al-Jazira.

They may not have been present in the stands on a night to remember for the Pride of Abu Dhabi at Sharjah Stadium, but the Al-Jazira faithful were indeed the most vocal on social media as they felt the tide turning to their side in the pursuit for glory.

The stars finally aligned for manager Marcel Keizer. Young defender Mohammed Rabi powered in an early header for his first senior goal. The Dutchman’s high-press system saw his compatriot Brandley Kuwas, a January recruit from Al-Nasr, win the ball deep into the opposition half and supply talisman Ali Mabkhout who made it 2-0 before the break.

Not even a red card for midfielder Abdullah Ramadan could stop Al-Jazira’s rampant display, and the top spot was signed, sealed and delivered to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium as Mabkhout slotted home from the spot in added time for his 17th goal of the season.

By all measures, Friday night was telling of the two clubs and their contrasting trajectories. For every time Sharjah’s Caio Lucas and Saif Rashid attempted an outrageous skill only to lose the ball in their own half, there was a spell of swift, intricate passing and coordinated pressing by Al-Jazira’s well-drilled midfield. For every moment of frustrated Igor Coronado solo runs, there was a sharp exchange of positions by Mabkhout and his protege-turned-teammate Zayed Al Ameri.

Then there are the Sky Blues of Baniyas: Quietly going about their business as they have done all season, and in the process creeping into the title conversation with their 36 points placing them at third, just four behind Al-Jazira.

A decade has passed since their best league campaign; a season in which they finished runners-up behind none other than Al-Jazira. Countless managers and foreign players have passed through the revolving door at Al-Shamkha Stadium on the outskirts of the capital Abu Dhabi. There has been relegation then instant promotion, a new ambitious project and finally a season where they flew under the radar, appearing almost out of nowhere to book a place on the table for a game of cards for which they looked the unlikeliest of invitees.

On Friday, Baniyas made light work of relegation strugglers Ajman. Young Palestinian forward Ahmed Abunamous put them in front before Brazilian marksman Joao Pedro kept the pressure on Mabkhout at the top of the scoring charts with his fourteenth goal of the season to secure a third Baniyas win in their last four games.

An extended winning run, as well as other results going their way, could yet see Al-Nasr — leaders earlier in the season but fourth-placed now — make their way into the title charge.

They sit seven points adrift of the top, but realistically it will not be until after the matchweek 23 clash between Sharjah and Baniyas, four games before the curtain falls on the season, that we will have a much clearer picture of who the next champions of the UAE will be in a season where the traditional powerhouses of Al-Ain, Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Wahda were brushed aside by a brave new contingent of competitors.


The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 27 February 2021

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix
  • 24 drivers ready to battle again after Dutchman Nyck de Vries won Formula E’s first ever night race

RIYADH: Formula E returns to Riyadh later today for the second leg of the Diriyah-E-Prix double-header in the opening round of season 7, following an electric opening race last night which saw a maiden victory for Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries.

Completing the podium, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, was Edoardo Mortara of ROCKiT Venturi Racing, who finished second, and Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans in third.

“What an incredible race. Once again Diriyah has made sporting history with another ‘first’ and I’m so pleased Saudi Arabia has proudly opened this wonderful series to start Season 7,” said Prince Khalid.

“It’s a championship that aligns so perfectly with our future vision and commitment to sustainability as a nation. You can tell the drivers love the track and I’ve no doubt millions around the world have been thoroughly entertained.”

Speaking of his podium finish, Mortara revealed the risk in overtaking Pascal Wehrlein of TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team.

“When I am in the car doing these moves my heart stops,” the Swiss driver said.

“Wehrlein moved at the last minute so I had to go on the left as I was quite surprised. It was the key moment of the race and I was really happy to survive the chaos and finish second. It's exciting.”

He also spoke of his third experience of the Diriyah track at the world UNESCO heritage site.

“You can see that the organizers have put in a lot of time to get the track ready and it’s a pleasure coming to race in an historical place like Diriyah,” Mortara added.

“The effort they’ve put in to host the first ever night race is amazing.”

Once again, 24 drivers from 12 teams will take to the track this evening, and while race two, like the first one, will also be held without spectators, fans still can still catch the action live on KSA Sports TV or the channel’s Twitter page @riyadiyatv.

“Due to COVID we have all faced many challenges over the last year.,” Prince Khalid added.

“There have been dark moments and many felt staging the race would be impossible. But tonight, the light has shone bright and it is clear, the Kingdom is not slowing down. It is a sign of hope and a positive step forward that shows what can be achieved if we work together to overcome all obstacles.”

The Diriyah E-Prix signifies a significant milestone in the history of Formula E while building on Saudi Arabia’s continued momentum in hosting motorsport competitions.

Despite the challenges of COVID, 2021is set to see the country host four FIA sanctioned events.

Following the season opener for Formula E this weekend, April will see the first ever Extreme E race take to the breathtaking Al Ula, before the country plays host to its inaugural Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in early December.

Then finally closing out the year with the return of Formula E Season 8.


Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’

Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’
Updated 27 February 2021

Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’

Mourinho says pressure at Spurs ‘like oxygen’

LONDON: Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho said on Friday that being under pressure was “like oxygen” for him as he seeks to turn around the club’s terrible Premier League form.
Mourinho’s job has come under scrutiny after a run of five Premier League defeats in six games left them ninth in the table — nine points outside the top four.
But the Portuguese, whose team topped the table in December, said it was just part of the job.
“The problem is if you don’t have pressure,” he said. “I felt in trouble when I was at home and did not have pressure for a few months.
“That’s the problem. It comes like oxygen, it is our life; I don’t think there is any coach in the world without objectives or any kind of pressure.
“You just get used to it and also used to the way the press is at the time, you just have to adapt to it.”
Mourinho said earlier this week that he was confident he would be remembered for the right reasons at Spurs despite overseeing a collapse in their form during his first full season in charge.
The poor run in the league is unprecedented for the 58-year-old in a long and mostly successful managerial career at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
However, Tottenham’s season could still be saved by success in cup competitions.
Spurs will meet Dinamo Zagreb in the last 16 of the Europa League after completing an 8-1 aggregate win over Austrian side Wolfsberg this week.
Mourinho’s men also face Premier League leaders Manchester City in the League Cup final in April — looking to win their first silverware
in 13 years.