Returning trainers set sights on Saudi Cup’s $20 million prize

Returning trainers set sights on Saudi Cup’s $20 million prize
Maximum Security was the winner of the inaugural $20 m Saudi Cup race on Feb. 29, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 16 February 2021

Returning trainers set sights on Saudi Cup’s $20 million prize

Returning trainers set sights on Saudi Cup’s $20 million prize
  • The world’s richest horse race takes place at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack in Riyadh on Feb. 20
  • Maximum Security was the winner of the inaugural $20 m Saudi Cup race on Feb. 29, 2020

DUBAI: With the Saudi Cup less than three weeks away, the field vying for horse racing’s biggest prize is starting to take shape.

The second running of the Saudi Cup will take place at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack on Feb. 20, and after the massive success of the inaugural event last year, trainers and owners are hoping their horses are peaking at just the right time.

One of them, Hall of Fame American trainer Bob Baffert, believes the $20 m Saudi Cup, run over 1800m on a dirt track, is the ideal race for his improving four-year-old star Charlatan.

“The Saudi Cup is perfect timing for Charlatan,” Baffert said.

“It’s the perfect distance, we know he ships well and he’s a good gate horse. I think The Saudi Cup fits the bill perfectly for him.

“He’s a really talented horse, he’s maturing and getting really good now,” the trainer added.

“I think his talent makes up for his inexperience. He doesn’t know what it’s like to lose and I think that’s a good trait.”

Charlatan’s career has been blighted by injury, but he roared back with an easy victory in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita over Christmas.

“It’s very challenging to go somewhere like Saudi,” said Baffert.

“You need a horse who has a really great mind and he’s got that. To win these races you need to be way the best when you’re travelling that far. I won the Dubai World Cup because I had way the best horse.”

Baffert confirmed that his horse is ready and that he would not have considered sending him to Saudi if he was not 100 percent fit.

The American is well acquainted with the King Abdul Aziz Race Track having had two runners in last year’s Saudi Cup, with Mucho Gusto finishing in fourth.

“It was exciting last year,” Baffert said. “The facilities were very good and it’s a very, soft and kind racetrack, one of the kindest racetracks I’ve seen. It was a great experience. That night there was a lot of buzz in the air, it was a great atmosphere."

“I think The Saudi Cup is great because it gives these older horses a chance to stay in training an extra year and run for that kind of money. It’s great but it is a challenge.

“In the Middle East they have a passion for racing. I have a few owners from Saudi who want to get more involved in American dirt racing, which is very good. We need to be a part of The Saudi Cup.”

Another American trainer, Bill Mott, is looking to have another crack at the Saudi Cup after his horse, Tacitus, finished fifth in last year’s race.

“He’s been a little frustrating in that he always flirts with winning a top Grade 1 - he’s been placed in a lot of prestigious races in the US,” Trainer’s son and assistant Riley Mott said. “For him to win one of these big Grade 1s would mean the world for him in his next career as a stallion.”

Tacitus is owned by Juddmonte Farms, whose founder Prince bin Khalid Abdullah Al Saud died on Jan. 12, 2021.

Mott is looking forward to returning to the Kingdom after the support his horse received last year.

“Any time we run a horse in the Juddmonte silks it’s very special,” he added.

“Every trainer in the world desires to train for such an operation. Last year when we brought Tacitus to Saudi Arabia he had a nice little following locally due to the fact he was a Juddmonte horse. He had a lot of fans there on race day.”

“Just to be in Prince Khalid Abdullah’s home country was very special,” Mott said. “To bring Tacitus back this year is something we’re very much looking forward to, it was a big reason why he was kept in training.”

Meanwhile, another trainer returning to Riyadh, John Gosden, has his sights set on the Saudi Cup $20 million prize with last year’s Prix du Jockey Club hero Mishriff.

The four-year-old was runner-up in The Saudi Derby, run on the same dirt track as the world’s most valuable race, before returning to Europe to complete a summer hat-trick of big-race wins.

“Mishriff has always been a grand horse and he worked nicely going into The Saudi Derby last year,” said Gosden, who is based in Newmarket.

“It was his first time on the dirt, so you never know but he did have the benefit of a wide draw.”

“I think he’s very much a 2000m horse, he’s got a great stride, great tactical speed and a powerful finish,” he added.

“This is 1800m and, if you remember from last year, the American horses break, that’s their game.

“They’re very fast over the first 400m and you really don’t want to be getting in behind all of that. If you get a basin full of dirt in your face, that’s what stops turf horses switching to the dirt as they’re not used to taking all that kickback. That’s why a wide draw would be advantageous.

Gosden, who is also planning to run Global Giant in the $1million Middle Distance Turf Cup over 2100m and New Treasure in the $1.5million Saudi Derby on February 20, was impressed with the first Saudi Cup meeting last year.

“The horses were looked after properly in every way, the facilities were great,” he said. “The main track is exceptional, the American jockeys always say it’s the best they ride on anywhere, and the turf course completely blew me away, it was stunning. We all had a superb experience.”


Eddie Howe’s Newcastle edging closer to signing Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes

Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 28 January 2022

Eddie Howe’s Newcastle edging closer to signing Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes

Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Despite frustrations in efforts to get deals over the line, several other transfers, including Man United’s Jesse Lingard, could be completed in the coming days
  • Brighton’s Dan Burn is of interest and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah has also emerged as a potential target

JEDDAH: Eddie Howe has confirmed that Newcastle United are edging closer to signing a target believed to be Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes — and added that the transfer-hungry Magpies are not finished with the transfer window yet.
Speaking from the club’s Saudi base, the head coach did not mention the 24-year-old midfielder by name, but assured fans that United are on the verge of their third capture of winter trading.
It is widely expected Guimaraes will sign a long-term contract with English club this weekend, after Newcastle agreed a fee, said to be in the region of $44million, with French Ligue 1 side Lyon on Wednesday.
Howe saw his players beat Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad 2-1 in Jeddah on Friday evening. Goals from Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser in either half won it for the Magpies, who were reduced to 10-men when Ciaran Clark saw red for an altercation with home goalscorer Abderrazak Hamdallah.
Before the match, Howe confirmed that good news about transfers is just around the corner.
“I can say nothing about individual players but we are hopeful we are close to completing a transfer for a player,” he said. “We will try and give you that update when we have it. Fingers crossed, we are close to getting one over the line.”
That player is understood to be Guimaraes. When asked if that is the case, Howe responded: “You can guess; there will be no confirmation from me. It would be foolish of me to do so. We are hopeful. We are closer to getting one more in to add to the two quality additions we have brought in so far.
“From my perspective, I don’t think that will be the end of our interest in bringing new players in. If that turns into reality, who knows? Things can change very late in this window, as everybody knows. It can be quite unpredictable, with things happening in the last few days that you maybe didn’t expect.”
In terms of other specific Newcastle targets during the remainder of the transfer window, which closes on Monday night, a center forward remains high on the agenda, as does a central defender.
Brighton’s Dan Burn is of interest, and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah has also emerged as a potential target. Arab News understands Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard is also pushing hard for a deal to be brokered with the Magpies that would allow him to see out the final months of his Old Trafford contract on Tyneside.
“We are open. We are working hard to improve the squad and give this squad the best possible chance of staying in the league,” said Howe. “That was our aim at the beginning of the window and it remains the same now.”
United have had their share of frustrations during this transfer window, with moves for Sven Botman and Diego Carlos aborted late on due to the unwillingness of Lille and Sevilla, respectively, to sell.
Howe admits things have often proved not to be straightforward but did not lay any blame at the doorstep of the Magpies’ transfer committee.
“We are in a lot better place if we can get this deal done,” he said. “The frustration I felt was only at the window, not anyone connected with the club. I see what everyone is doing behind the scenes, what everybody wants.
“This window has been difficult, regardless of our situation. It has been tough to actually get clear decisions — not from our side, from others — on what we can and can’t do and what they want to do. The work has been immense and we hope it bears fruit at the end of the window.”


Nyck de Vries starts season 8 of Formula E with victory under the lights in Diriyah

Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
Updated 29 January 2022

Nyck de Vries starts season 8 of Formula E with victory under the lights in Diriyah

Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
  • The Dutchman defeated Mercedes team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to take advantage of his pole position

DIRIYAH: Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries won the Formula E season-opening Diriyah E-Prix for a second year running ahead of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to capitalize on his pole position under the floodlights in Riyadh.

De Vries, who missed almost all of the opening practice sessions because of a crash, managed to pull off a recovery that led to an impressive victory on Friday, ensuring a strong start to season eight for both him and Mercedes as they defend their championship titles.

“The result might be the same (as last year’s opener) but the way we achieved it was very different,” said de Vries. “I’m glad we were able to capitalize on our qualifying position; the way we managed to win this race and start the season strong, we worked really well as a team.”

An attack mode error by Vandoorne allowed de Vries to race to victory in Diriyah, as he failed to activate it correctly after leading the race from pole. After dropping behind his teammate, the Belgian driver was unable to close the gap, then took his second activation at the same time as de Vries on the following lap, effectively giving away the win to his counterpart.

“I messed up on my second activation; there’s only myself to blame for that,” said the runner-up. “I basically handed the position to Nyck. I’m a little bit disappointed with the way I handled the attack mode, and not handling the loop correctly, but it’s still a positive start to the season.”

Jake Dennis secured third place for Avalanche Andretti, after passing Andre Lotterer.

“Everything that I imagined happened, happened,” said Dennis. “We pulled away from the pack; it was generally a clean race.”

Lotterer dropped back several places, eventually finishing 13th, after Dennis passed him on turn 18 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the race. Five additional minutes were added due to the deployment of the safety car, meaning energy usage became critical.

In his first race with Venturi, Lucas di Grassi moved past Sam Bird on the straight to take fifth place. Rookies Dan Ticktum and former Alfa Romeo Formula One driver Antonio Giovinazzi had difficult debuts, with the former finishing 18th and the latter the last to take the checkered flag.

The safety car was deployed after Mahindra Racing’s Oliver Rowland made contact with Envision Racing driver Robin Frijns on turn 17, a collision that sent Rowland’s car into the wall. It earned Frijns a drive-through penalty, while Rowland was awarded a three-place grid drop from tomorrow’s second race in Diriyah.

Season 6 Diriyah ePrix winner Antonio da Felix Costa was forced to pit and retire after the first lap.


South Africa’s Justin Harding leads after day two of Dubai Desert Classic

Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
Updated 28 January 2022

South Africa’s Justin Harding leads after day two of Dubai Desert Classic

Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
  • Tyrell Hatton is two shots back as chasing pack eyes fresh charges

DUBAI: Overnight joint-leader Justin Harding claimed the outright lead on the second day of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic after a host of potential challengers failed to capitalize at Emirates Golf Club on Friday.

Starting the day seven under par following a grandstand opening round of 65 on Thursday, Harding carded a steady four-under-par round of 68, including a magnificent eagle on the par-four 15th hole, to reach the clubhouse with a two-shot cushion at 11 under par.

“I’ve played this golf course well over the years. I had a good final round a couple years back and was in contention last year and played badly on the Sunday. My game seems to be close. If I can control the putter and make some putts, (I’m) always going to be there or thereabouts, which is nice,” said Harding.

Leading the chase is Tyrell Hatton, who is aiming for a fifth career victory in Rolex Series events this week. The Englishman bogeyed the par-four first hole for the second day running before recovering with seven birdies en route to a six-under-par round of 66.

With Harding bidding to become only the third South African to lift the famous Dallah Trophy, compatriot Erik Van Rooyen, the world number 63, fired a 67 to finish Friday three strokes behind his fellow countryman. Van Rooyen threatened to finish even closer to Harding before a sole bogey on the iconic par-four eighth hole spoiled the 31-year-old’s otherwise blemish-free card.

“It’s what we play for — to be in contention, especially in these Rolex Series events. I can’t wait for Sunday,” said Van Rooyen, who sits at eight under par alongside Fabrizio Zanotti. The Paraguayan carded a two-under-par round of 70 following an impressive 66 on Thursday.

After his three-under-par opening round of 69, Richard Bland was on course to set the early morning pace before a late collapse saw the Englishman card a double-bogey and bogey on the final two holes. Posting a second round of 68, Bland — who become the oldest-ever first-time winner of a DP World Tour event when he clinched the British Masters at The Belfry in 2021 — is in a five-strong chasing pack at seven-under alongside two-time Dubai Desert Classic victor Rory McIlroy, world number five Viktor Hovland, Poland’s Adrian Meronk, and Denmark’s Joachim B. Hanson, who began the day as joint leader.

Following a two-under-par opening round, defending champion Paul Casey is poised to challenge at minus six after a second-round score of 68.

“I made some mistakes and I wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” Casey said. “I tweaked my neck and I’m not physically right, but I’m not unhappy. I’m actually quite happy that I did a good job of managing and getting round.”

Casey’s compatriot Lee Westwood, twice a runner-up on the Majlis Course, posted a second consecutive round of 69 to join Casey and fellow countrymen Sam Horsfield, Richard Armitage and Tommy Fleetwood on six under par.

Other high-profile players who will complete this year’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic after making the halfway cut include world number 2 Collin Morikawa at three under par, and a raft of former Majlis Course conquerors, notably 2017 champion Sergio Garcia at three under par; 2018 champion Li Haotong at one under par; and 2012 winner Rafa Cabrera-Bello at one over par.

In a boost to home hopes, UAE-based amateur Josh Hill, 17, will see out all four rounds of his maiden Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic appearance after a two-over-par round of 74 left the young Englishman sitting at level par through 36 holes.

“It was a bit of a struggle to be honest. I didn’t play that well, so I’m proud of the way I dug in and kept positive,” said Hill. “Even though it was disappointing, there are lots of positives. I dug deep which I’m pretty happy with.”

Elsewhere, fans of all ages are making the most of free entry to the event, experiencing a wide range of food and entertainment offerings in a buzzing Tournament Town, which is open until 11 p.m. daily though to Sunday.

The Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will continue its commitment to breast cancer awareness on Pink Saturday, with players, caddies, officials and fans encouraged to wear something pink for the cause.

Held in partnership with Al Jalila Foundation, Pink Saturday will see Tournament Town run a ‘Best Dressed’ competition and on-the-spot prizes for spectators. In addition, visitors are encouraged to post images of a special flower display to their social media channels to further raise awareness.


Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton
Updated 28 January 2022

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton
  • Rooney said he was approached via his agent and thought long and hard before declining the opportunity at the Premier League club
  • “I believe I will be a Premier League manager," the former England and Manchester United striker said

DERBY, England: Wayne Rooney turned down the chance to interview for the manager’s position at former club Everton, saying Friday he wasn’t ready to leave his current job at second-tier Derby.
Rooney, who started his playing career at Everton and had a second spell at Goodison Park before retiring, said he was approached via his agent and thought long and hard before declining the opportunity at the Premier League club.
“I believe I will be a Premier League manager,” the former England and Manchester United striker said. “I believe I’m ready for that, 100 percent. And if that is with Everton one day in the future, that would be absolutely great.
“But I’ve got a job here that I’m doing at Derby County which is an important job to me.”
Everton are looking for a replacement for Rafa Benitez, who was fired this month as the team slides toward the relegation zone. Everton are in 16th place and just four points above the bottom three.
Rooney has been Derby’s manager since November 2020 — previously he’d been the team’s player-coach — and has received plaudits for the job he has done at the club amid its financial crisis.
Derby entered administration — a form of bankruptcy protection — in September and have been docked a total of 21 points this season because of their financial problems. They are in next-to-last place in the Championship, eight points from safety.
Rooney said last week he was “flattered” by the speculation linking him with the Everton job.
Frank Lampard, Rooney’s former England teammate, is among the favorites to fill the vacancy.


Howe reveals motivational speech by Newcastle United chief Al-Rumayyan

Eddie Howe has revealed details of a motivational speech given to Newcastle United players by PIF chief and club chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, during their Saudi training camp. (Facebook/@newcastleunited)
Eddie Howe has revealed details of a motivational speech given to Newcastle United players by PIF chief and club chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, during their Saudi training camp. (Facebook/@newcastleunited)
Updated 28 January 2022

Howe reveals motivational speech by Newcastle United chief Al-Rumayyan

Eddie Howe has revealed details of a motivational speech given to Newcastle United players by PIF chief and club chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, during their Saudi training camp. (Facebook/@newcastleunited)
  • The PIF chairman visited players at their warm weather training camp in Jeddah, which wraps up on Friday evening with a match against SPL leaders Al-Ittihad

JEDDAH: Eddie Howe has revealed the details of a motivational speech given to Newcastle United players by Public Investment Fund chief and club chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

The Magpies take on Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad in a behind-closed-doors friendly in Jeddah this evening, a game which rounds off a six-day trip to the Kingdom, the club’s first since they were bought by majority shareholders PIF.

As part of the trip, Howe confirmed Al-Rumayyan visited the players at their Jeddah training base.

The governor of the PIF outlined his short-term vision for the team, according to Howe — and it was a speech that really resonated with the United staff.

“I’ve spoken with the chairman,” said Howe. “We met him one of the day and that was a great experience to hear his thoughts on the club, his vision and how the future looks.

“I think the players enjoyed that, I enjoyed that. A lot of people around the PIF team have been here as well so it’s been a very good experience from that side to bring everyone closer together.”

While fans are keen to look to the big picture at United, with long-term plans and dreams very much on the agenda, that’s not the thought-process from within the club or ownership group.

For now, the focus is on the short-term, and staying in the Premier League.

Of Al-Rumayyan’s talk with the players, Howe said: “It was more short-term. There is no point looking too long-term with the players at that moment.

“It was more of a motivational and inspirational talk based on the shorter-term; the collective team spirit, the collective aims we have between now and the end of the season,” the Newcastle boss said. “No (long-term) assurances, it was more a conversation based around what’s happening on the pitch and the togetherness and fight we need and the fact everyone is there to support the players.

“It was just a nice feeling rather than any big promises or assurances. It was just a nice way for us all to spend a little time together and get to know each other better,” added Howe.

“That includes everybody connected with the staff, players. It was a really nice moment and we all enjoyed it.

“We were all very impressed with what was said and how it was said. I’m sure the players feel very enthused and ready to work.”