Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
The John Gosden trained Mishriff won this year’s $20 million The Saudi Cup, the world’s most valuable race. (www.thesaudicup.com.sa)
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Updated 28 October 2021

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
  • Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, highlights rapid progression of the sport as newly promoted Group 1 Saudi Cup headlines $35.1 million two-day meeting in February

The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia has announced that total prize money for the two-day Saudi Cup meeting on Friday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, will increase to $35.1 million, making it the most valuable fixture in global racing.

The Saudi Cup, which will be run as a Group 1 event for the first time, remains the world’s most valuable horse race at $20 million, while five thoroughbred races on the Saturday card have been awarded Group 3 status.

Prize money for both the Group 3 Neom Turf Cup and Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint has increased by $500,000 to $1.5 million. The Obaiya Arabian Classic, a $1 million contest for purebred Arabian horses, was this week promoted to a Group 2 race by the IFAHR.

At a series of press events held via video link from King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, spoke of the rapid progression of racing in the region.

“We could never have imagined the immediate impact the Saudi Cup would have on the international racing landscape, or indeed on our domestic racing product,” Prince Bandar said.

“In 2020 we launched our first ever international meeting and less than three years later we enter our first racing season as a Part II racing nation, having been promoted by the IFHA earlier this month. We are now looking forward to hosting the world’s most valuable race, the Saudi Cup, as a Group 1 for the first time, as well as five Group 3 races on the undercard.

“None of this would have been possible without the buy-in and support of the international racing community and, on behalf of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, I would like to thank everyone within the industry for the way they have embraced the Saudi Cup,” he said.

“As the Saudi Cup makes advances, so does our domestic racing offering,” Prince Bandar added. “We continue to focus not only the international aspects of this sport but also understand that building strong foundations upon which a sustainable industry can be built is a vital element to securing the future of this incredible and unique sport for generations to come, both in Saudi Arabia and overseas.”

The highlight on the opening day of the meeting, the STC International Jockeys Challenge, won last year by Ireland’s Shane Foley, will incorporate a turf contest into its four-race format, while a new international turf race, the Listed Al Mneefah Cup, worth $1 million for purebred Arabians, is also being added.

“Despite the global challenges, the 2021 Saudi Cup was a huge success, attracting a truly international field,” said Tom Ryan, the JCSA’s director of strategy and international racing. “We had a brilliant winner in Mishriff who is the perfect example of the high-class horse the race can attract, and his victory showed how well-placed the race is in the calendar.

“Following his subsequent two Group 1 wins, he has proved to be one of the best horses in the world,” he added. “We then had Saudi Cup fourth Knicks Go land the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August, while 11th-placed Max Player was also successful at Saratoga last month in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.”

Ryan said that one of the things the JCSA is most proud of is the versatility of the racing surface at King Abdulaziz Racetrack, with the 2021 Saudi Cup proving conclusively that turf horses can perform on the dirt track and that their form on dirt translates back to turf.

“Mishriff had only run once on dirt before in last year’s Saudi Derby, while this year’s Saudi Derby winner, Pink Kamehameha, had previously only raced on turf in his native Japan,” he said. “We hope this shows owners and trainers all over the world that they can come to Saudi and compete in both our dirt and turf races.”


Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy
Updated 27 January 2022

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy
  • After completing their own training, Eddie Howe’s players put aspiring footballers through their paces at Al-Ittihad’s training ground in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Members of Newcastle United’s squad on Wednesday took part in a training session at Al-Ittihad club, after which they held drills for aspiring footballers from Saudi Arabia’s Mahd Academy.

The club are currently on a warm-weather training camp in Jeddah as they do not have a Premier League match this weekend.

Eddie Howe’s team will take part in a training match against Al-Ittihad on Friday behind closed doors, before heading back to the UK the following day.

The session began with stretching and fitness exercises for a period of 20 minutes, after which the players did some running around the training pitch, before moving onto ball practice.

After concluding their own training, the Newcastle players put some of Mahd Academy’s talented youngsters through their paces with technical exercises such as one-touch possession play and long-distance shooting.

The players ended the afternoon by signing shirts and posing for photos with the youngsters.


World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Updated 27 January 2022

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
  • Further 8 members of world’s top 20 will take part including 2021 champion Aslan Karatsev, semifinalists Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov

DUBAI: Novak Djokovic will head a strong line-up of the world’s best next month when the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships men’s tournament celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Among those joining the five-time Dubai champion and world No. 1 will be a further eight members of the top 20, presenting an intriguing mix of exciting young talent and experienced veterans, including Dubai 2021 champion Aslan Karatsev, 2021 semifinalists Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov, and former champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We are thrilled to welcome so many top players to our 30th-year celebrations of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. We are delighted to see Novak back in Dubai for the 12th time when he will be seeking his sixth title and we wish him the best of luck.”

Karatsev has continued to impress following his remarkable run in Dubai, a week that saw him defeat Lloyd Harris to claim the first Association of Tennis Professionals title of his career. He went on to defeat Djokovic to reach the final in Belgrade, which he surrendered to Matteo Berrettini in a final-set tiebreak. Later in 2021, he earned a second career title with victory over Marin Cilic in Moscow and began the 2022 season by beating Andy Murray in the Sydney final to win title number three.

Rublev will be among those who, along with Djokovic and Karatsev, will also be a strong contender for the title. Although he fell last year in a thrilling semifinal to fellow Russian and eventual champion Karatsev, he enjoyed a successful season.

After being a member of the victorious Russian team at the ATP Cup and then claiming the Rotterdam title shortly before arriving in Dubai, he went on to finish as runner-up in Monte Carlo where he earned a rare clay court victory over Rafael Nadal. His 2021 season then finished on a triumphant note as his four wins in five matches guided Russia to victory in the Davis Cup.

Shapovalov last year fell in Dubai to rising star Harris, but he can still look back on a wonderful year that saw him reach the Wimbledon semifinals in a run that included victory over former champion Murray, runner-up finishes in Geneva and Stockholm, and a further semifinal at Queens’s Club. He has also begun the 2022 season on a positive note, helping Canada to victory in the ATP Cup.

Among others to watch are another Canadian, current world No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, and the unpredictable and often brilliant Gael Monfils.

Auger-Aliassime will be making his Dubai debut after beginning 2022 by entering the world’s top 10 for the first time following his success with compatriot Shapovalov in winning the ATP Cup, and a 2021 season that saw him contest the finals of a pre-Australian Open event in Melbourne and Stuttgart, whilst also reaching the semifinals of the US Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

Sinner’s outstanding 2021 season propelled him into the top 10 as he claimed titles in Melbourne, Washington, Sofia, and Antwerp as well as a place in the Miami final, before finishing the year with three victories in the Davis Cup. This year he was in form again as he represented Italy in the ATP Cup, winning all three of his matches to kick off his new season.

Monfils is one of the game’s greatest entertainers and has enjoyed considerable success in Dubai, reaching the semifinals in 2019 where he fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a three-hour thriller that finished in a final-set tiebreak, and then again in 2020 when he stretched Djokovic to three sets.

Tournament director, Salah Tahlak, said: “We can once more look forward to two weeks of fantastic tennis as we not only enjoy the 30th-year celebrations of the ATP Tour event, but an incredible line-up of talent in the preceding WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) 500 tournament that features nine of the world’s top 10 and 17 of the top 20 women players, including no less than five previous Dubai winners all returning to one of their favorite tournaments.”

The tournament begins with the 22nd edition of the WTA event which takes place between Feb. 14 and 19, and then continues from Feb. 21 to 26 with the 30th anniversary staging of the men’s ATP Tour 500 tournament.


Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final
Updated 27 January 2022

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final
  • The world number one overwhelmed the 51st-ranked American 6-1, 6-3 in just 62 minutes

MELBOURNE: A ruthless Ashleigh Barty swept into her first Australian Open final on Thursday with the top seed outgunning a resurgent Madison Keys in a clinical, straight-sets demolition.
The world number one overwhelmed the 51st-ranked American 6-1, 6-3 in just 62 minutes to set up showdown against either Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek or American 27th seed Danielle Collins.
Barty is the first Australian woman into the decider of her home Grand Slam since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 and is aiming to become the first winner since Chris O’Neil two years earlier.
She is also looking to add to her 2020 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon 2021 titles, with the top seed on an ominous 10-match win streak to start the year.
“Honestly, it’s just incredible. I’m just happy I get to play my best tennis here,” said Barty, who is assured of retaining her world number one ranking even if she loses the final.
“The ball was a little slower tonight, heavier off the strings. I just tried to run and adapt, make as many balls as I could and keep Maddie under the pump on her serve because she has the ability to really take it away from you quickly.”
Barty paid tribute to Keys, a former top-10 player who is on the rise again after difficult couple of years.
“It’s just so nice to see her back where she belongs,” said Barty. “She’s an amazing human being.”
Barty has been unassailable in Melbourne, dropping her serve just once through six matches and is yet to drop a set.
And the top seed, who played cricket with her team on Wednesday to relax, was once more in full command of her game with an attacking forehand and lethal backhand slice.
Facing Barty on her home turf was an unenviable assignment for 26-year-old Keys, but she came into the game on a 10-match win streak, the best run of her career.
The Australian, though, immediately pressured her serve to create a break point that she converted with a cross-court winner to assert early control.
She consolidated with a serve to love as Keys struggled to get her racquet on the ball before the American gained confidence with a hold for 1-2.
The American was broken again in the fifth game, as her unforced error count mounted.
She finally won her first points on the Barty serve in the next game and gained a break point when Barty sent a looping forehand long. But the Australian saved it with an ace and stormed 5-1 in front.
Keys’ first double fault handed Barty two set points and she slammed a forehand return to take the set in just 26 minutes.
Keys had beaten top 10 players Paula Badosa and Barbora Krejcikova back-to-back to make the last four and was more composed as her nerves settled in set two.
It went with serve to 2-2 before Keys worked a break point in the fifth game only to be denied by a Barty volley, before the Australian held.
Barty then stepped up a gear in the next game, earning three break points. Keys saved two before a passing shot put her 4-2 clear and there was no way back for the American.


Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations

Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations
Updated 27 January 2022

Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations

Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt progress: 5 things we learned from round 16 of Africa Cup of Nations
  • The Tunisians stunned favorites Nigeria while Egypt and Morocco will now meet in the quarter-finals

The second round of the African Cup of Nations was a good one for Arab teams and below are five things learned by Arab News.

1. Gabaski should share Salah’s headlines as Egypt squeeze through

Egypt have now scored only two goals in 390 minutes of football in the tournament but find themselves in the last eight after a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Ivory Coast after 120 minutes ended 0-0.

This was no snoozefest, however, but a close and tense contest between two teams who both had chances. Ivory Coast grew stronger in the last quarter of the 90 minutes and the game seemed to shift in their favor just before the end of normal time as Egypt’s goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy went down injured.

It was telling that Carlos Queiroz obviously did not want to make the substitution but on came Mohamed Abou Gabal, also known as “Gabaski,” and it was almost inevitable that the Zamalek goalkeeper, who had barely played for the national team despite being 32, would star or flop. He made the only save of the shootout, and it was a fantastic stop from Manchester United’s Eric Bailly. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah came to take the last spot kick with the coolness and skill that fans have come to expect, but at least some of the headlines should be about Egypt’s number two.

2. Hakimi shining brightest of Eurostars so far

The Atlas Lions have moved quietly into the last eight and that is the way they will like it. The reward for strolling through the group stage was a second-round tie against Malawi, a team ranked 101 places lower by FIFA, all the way down at 129, and they won 2-1.

The Flames gave Morocco a scare, however, and took the lead after just seven minutes with a spectacular long-range strike. It was a bolt of lightning from nowhere and it woke the North Africans well and truly up, though it took them a while to get going.

Well before the break, however, Morocco had found their stride and were starting to create chances, and it was no surprise when they levelled on the stroke of half-time. They picked up at the start of the second half where they had finished and kept their focus on concentration, and were rewarded with a great free-kick winner from Achraf Hakimi.

The Paris Saint-Germain star had an excellent game and caused all kinds of problems down the right side. Of all the big Euro-based stars in the tournament, Hakimi has probably been the best so far, and if he continues to shine then Morocco can go all the way.

3. Tunisia come alive against Nigeria

Tunisia defeated Nigeria 1-0 but there was much more to it than that. Nigeria had been the best performer in the group stage and, to put it politely, Tunisia were not and only made it by being one of the best third-placed teams. With the Super Eagles winning all three of their games and the Carthage Eagles winning just one, Nigeria were strong favorites, especially as the North Africans had been hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak and were missing a number of players as well as their coach.

Yet Tunisia won. They had not impressed at all previously but found a solid performance from somewhere to book a winnable quarter-final against Burkina Faso. The 2004 champions have already shown they can dig deep when needed, and if they can find a little more fluency going forward then they could go all the way. Much depends on what condition the players who caught COVID-19 are in. If they have fully recovered then Tunisia will have a fresh squad going into the pointy end of the tournament.

4. Despite ending, Comoros can be proud

Football rightly retreats into insignificance when there is a human tragedy such as the eight people who died in a stadium stampede after Cameroon had defeated Comoros 2-1.

During the tournament, however, the islanders showed that they can be a force to be reckoned with. In their first appearance at this stage, they have met some real powerhouses of African football — Ghana, Morocco, Gabon and Cameroon — and they have not looked out of place at all.

Going into the second round clash with the host, Comoros were expected to be thrashed, especially after a COVID-19 outbreak meant that the debutants were without a recognized goalkeeper and fullback Chaker Alhadhur had to put on the gloves. Then, after just seven minutes, the influential Nadjim Abdou was sent off. Despite all the problems, Comoros took the 1990 World Cup quarter-finalists all the way and ended up losing by a single goal.

5. Algeria will still be kicking themselves

Nobody will need reminding that the defending champions exited the tournament by finishing bottom of their group with just one point and one goal. There have been the expected comments from the stars of the team such as Riyad Mahrez that they will come back stronger from the experience and focus on qualifying for the World Cup in March and then doing well in Qatar, assuming they get past Cameroon.

If any fans in the country can bring themselves to watch the Algeria-less AFCON then they will surely be thinking that this is a tournament there for the taking. There has not yet been a team to really stand out so far with everyone looking like they can beat everyone else. In short, had Algeria shown a fairly small percentage of their potential then they would still be very much in the running and the team to beat. The standards of yet have not been anything to write home about though as Algeria are also home, there is little they can do about it.


Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic

Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic
Updated 27 January 2022

Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic

Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic
  • UAE-based Ahmad Skaik and Josh Hill tee off at Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club after impressive recent showings

DUBAI: The UAE will be well represented at this week’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic with two talented young local heroes, Ahmad Skaik and Josh Hill, teeing up alongside some of the world’s best golfers on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club.

Dubai-born Hill hit the local headlines last week, making the cut in the Abu Dhabi Championship at Yas Links at the tender age of 17 and finishing just outside the top 50 on a respectable +3 after four tough days in difficult conditions.

At 24, UAE national Skaik has also been putting together some impressive recent performances, notably making the cut at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship before narrowly missing out on the weekend at the Aviv Dubai Championship, the penultimate tournament in the DP World Tour last November.

Both are raring to have a crack at the Majlis after receiving tournament invites for the $8 million Rolex Series event, which has attracted three of the world’s top 10, Ryder Cup stars, Major winners, and more.

Hill’s objectives are simple — taking things one shot at a time: “I don’t have any goals other than things like making sure I commit to every shot, making sure me and my caddie talk through the shot well, go through the process. I don’t really want to think about the result; that will come if I’m able to stick to those goals.”

On the prospect of facing the game’s big guns at a renovated Majlis course, he added: “I really like the changes to the course. The revamp of the greens has gone well and they’re running quite nicely. They’re a bit firm, but it’s the same for everyone. It’s obviously longer off the back tees, but you’ve just got to hit quality golf shots, same as last week, same as any tournament.”

Hill added: “It doesn’t really matter who you get paired with. It’s not going to change how I look at the course, or the week. It’s nice to get a good group, but it doesn’t really matter.”

Left-hander Skaik, still a student in his final year at university, is also looking forward to taking on the Majlis and testing himself against the best while playing from the tips. 

Of the Majlis, he said: “I like the Majlis off the tee, but it is different off these ones, I usually play from the blue tees for the men’s championships, but this is a great challenge. I’m hitting the ball well so that’s a positive.”

Skaik, who has been fitting in some practice while studying over the winter, had a tough weekend last time out when he missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi Championship. However, the left-hander was not too disappointed with his game overall, explaining that luck played a major part in two brutal rounds at the event’s new home at Yas Links.

“I would say I got a bit unlucky in the draw,” he said. “On day one I had a late tee time and played with a two-club wind for 17 holes. On day two, I had to come back to play the 18th to finish my round, into a 3-club wind. When I went out again for my second round the wind got up again and it was a 4-club wind all round.

“I actually played well off the tee both rounds and I hung in with my putting although it was tough, but my iron shots spun too much for the conditions, so I think I need to go to the UK to master those shots and links conditions. I need to keep these shots in my bag in case the situation arises again.”

On his ambitions for this week, Skaik just wants to contribute toward the growth of the game in the region. “It is always an honor to represent my country — and Arabs in general — and I want to inspire youngsters to show them that we can play in these tournaments, compete, and do well. I showed at the Aviv that it is possible. I’m one of them, so if I can do it they can do it as well.”

Simon Corkill, tournament director — Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, said: “The inclusion in the field of Ahmad and Josh this year underlines the commitment and investment we are making for the future of our game. Their success will elevate golf to another level in the UAE and wider Middle East region. We wish them well this weekend.”