William Muir hopes to lead Pyledriver to the Saudi Cup in February

William Muir hopes to lead Pyledriver to the Saudi Cup in February
Pyledriver on its way to winning the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Epsom in June 2021 (The Saudi Cup)
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Updated 18 November 2021

William Muir hopes to lead Pyledriver to the Saudi Cup in February

William Muir hopes to lead Pyledriver to the Saudi Cup in February
  • The British trainer saw his horse win the Churchill Stakes on Saturday and now has the world’s most valuable race in his sights

British trainer William Muir is aiming to get recent Lingfield winner Pyledriver to the Saudi Cup meeting next year, where he would be up for the $20million Group 1 showpiece race and the $1.5million Group 3 Neom Turf Cup.

The four-year-old landed the Listed Churchill Stakes at the all-weather track on Saturday on his first run since winning the Coronation Cup on Oaks Day at Epsom in June.

Muir, who trains in partnership with Chris Grassick, will now send Pyledriver for the Hong Kong Vase on Dec. 12 before a possible tilt at the world’s most valuable race at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Feb. 26.

Pyledriver missed his intended big-race summer targets with a pulled muscle, meaning he heads into a worldwide campaign as a relatively fresh horse.

“His Lingfield win was exactly what we wanted to happen, probably a little bit more,” Muir said. “Our plan, to start with, was to go to Germany for the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Bayern the previous week. We knew he would be competitive but we also knew he wasn’t 100 percent fit. With the long journey on a horse box and the race, it might just have taken the edge off him.

“The Churchill Stakes wasn’t ideal – we had to give away a 7lbs penalty – but we thought it would be better as a prep race,” he said. “The race went perfectly – it was a great performance. He’s taken it well and come out of the race fantastically.”

The frustrations of his summer campaign – when he was ruled out of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes just days before the prestigious Ascot contest – could turn out to be a blessing in disguise as Pyledriver embarks on his globetrotting adventures.

“It was frustrating but it wasn’t worrying because it wasn’t really an injury, it was more of a niggle,” said Muir. “Because he’s such a good horse, you could have turned a niggle into a big problem if we hadn’t done exactly what was right to do.

“I think he’d have gone very close in the King George. The last piece of work he did before the race was unbelievable, the way he looked and travelled. Maybe, it was meant to be, and this winter campaign is where it happens.

“We had planned in our minds that we would give him a break after the King George but it would’ve still been very tight. If we’d have won that, we would’ve probably said ‘we’ll have a go for the Juddmonte International at York,’ so we’d have had to stop then in August to give him a break. Would we have got back for Hong Kong? I don’t know. This way, we’re definitely on target, we’re in great shape and we’re ready to go.”

Pyledriver had a successful season last year when he won the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot before landing the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York in August.

His biggest victories have come over distances around 2400m but he had little trouble dropping down to 2000m for the Churchill Stakes. The Saudi Cup, at 1800m on dirt, is shorter still, but Muir is not overly concerned about a possible switch of surface.

“They reckon it’s the nicest dirt track in the world,” he said. “I talked to David Egan and Ted Voute (Prince Faisal’s racing manager) who was out there last year and they both said it was a lovely surface. It’s not like the dirt tracks in America and Ted said our horse would love it.

“Everything we’ve thrown at Pyledriver, he’s taken, so I would be confident enough that he’d handle it. The nine-furlongs (1800m) of the Saudi Cup is the only sort of nagging concern.

“After we finished third in the St Leger last year, I was at pains to say that we would have rather dropped back to a mile-and-a-quarter (2000m) than step up to a mile-and-three-quarters (2800m). He’s got so many gears, but we had a go, it was a British Classic and we had a go.

“The Saudi Cup meeting fits in with our time plan. At this moment in time, we’re looking to go to Hong Kong, Saudi, then we’ll go on to the Sheema Classic in Dubai. The Saudi Cup is attractive as it’s the richest race in the world but it’s one step at a time.”


Barcelona sells more assets to clear Lewandowski for opener

Barcelona sells more assets to clear Lewandowski for opener
Updated 13 August 2022

Barcelona sells more assets to clear Lewandowski for opener

Barcelona sells more assets to clear Lewandowski for opener
  • The troubled Spanish club were only able to ensure that their star signing will be available against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday
  • They sold 24.5% of their Barça Studios production hub to Orpheus Media in a deal worth $103 million

BARCELONA, Spain: Working against the clock, Barcelona sold off even more of their club assets on Friday so they could meet the Spanish league’s financial rules and clear Robert Lewandowski and other summer signings to play in their season opener.
The troubled Spanish club were only able to ensure that their star signing will be available against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday after they sold 24.5 percent of their Barça Studios production hub to Orpheus Media in a deal worth 100 million euros ($103 million).
That improved their financial balance enough to satisfy the Spanish league, which added Lewandowski and fellow newcomers Raphinha, Franck Kessié and Andreas Christensen as well as the recently renewed Ousmane Dembélé and Sergi Roberto to their list of eligible players.
But, by late Friday, the league had yet to declare eligible France defender Jules Koundé, who arrived to Barcelona from Sevilla last month. The club will still need to reduce their current salary load by selling one or more current players to register Koundé.
Last month Barcelona sold an initial 25 percent stake in their production hub to Socios.com, a blockchain provider, for another 100 million euros as well as 25 percent of their Spanish league television rights for the next 25 years for nearly 670 million euros ($689 million).
All told, the heavily indebted Catalan club has mortgaged their future for 870 million euros ($895 million) to sign Lewandowski, Raphinha and Koundé for a combined 160 million euros ($165 million). Kessié and Christensen arrived as free agents.
But the Spanish league has strict financial requirements that limit the amount clubs can spend on players’ salaries and transfers based on the clubs’ financial health. Despite efforts to reduce costs and pay down their debt, Barcelona still hold 1 billion euros ($1 billion) in debt and has seen their salary cap slashed by the league in recent seasons.
Earlier on Friday, coach Xavi Hernández said he was “optimistic” that he can have his new players available for the first game of the season.
“Everyone at the club is very optimistic,” Xavi said. “We have until two hours before the match.”
The club are also pushing to sell players with big salaries like Frenkie de Jong or players unwanted by Xavi such as Samuel Umtiti and Martin Braithwaite.
Orpheus Media is run by Catalan businessman Jaume Roures, the owner of Mediapro, a major television company involved in Spanish soccer but whose 2020 broadcast rights deal for the French league collapsed. Roures was a major financial backer of Barcelona club president Joan Laporta when he returned to run the financially troubled club in 2021.
Roures said on Friday that he was not sure if the money he paid Barcelona would be sufficient.
“The league won’t have any problems with this operation,” Roures told Cadena SER radio. “If the 100 million euros are enough, I don’t know. If it isn’t, the (necessary) amount must be close to that.”
Xavi also said that Barcelona may not be done signing new players, but that any arrivals would have to come after current players were sold. Barcelona are linked to interest in Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso, who would provide competition for Jordi Alba at left back.
Laporta at least was able to avoid the embarrassment of having Lewandowski watching from the Camp Nou stands on Saturday.


Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees

Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees
Updated 13 August 2022

Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees

Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees
  • New signing Antonio Rudiger is also on the list but there was no room for the German midfielder Kroos
  • "It surprises me a bit, because Kroos had a fantastic season," quipped Ancelotti in a press conference

MADRID: Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti on Saturday said he was surprised that German midfielder Toni Kroos did not feature on the list of 30 finalists for the Ballon d’Or.
Five members of the Champions League winning side were nominated on Friday in the shape of Thibault Cortois, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Vinicius Junior and favorite Karim Benzema.
New signing Antonio Rudiger is also on the list but there was no room for the German midfielder Kroos.
“It surprises me a bit, because Kroos had a fantastic season... But it’s true that it could be a problem if we named all the Real Madrid players, I can understand that,” quipped Ancelotti in a press conference ahead of Madrid’s Liga opener at Almeria on Sunday.
“But (Federico) Valverde, (Eder) Militao, (David) Alaba... all deserve to be there.
“All of them had a fantastic season. I’m not talking about winning the Ballon d’Or, but they deserve to be on the list.”
Ancelotti was particularly pleased with the inclusion of Brazilian forward Vinicius on the 30-strong list of nominees.
“He scored the winning goal in our 14th Champions League, he had an incredible season,” said the Italian.
“He doesn’t care if he finishes fourth or second. For the players, only victory matters. He will do better in the future. But unfortunately for Vini, this season, we already have the winner with us.”
Ancelotti was in little doubt, it seems, that French striker Benzema, who is hotly tipped to succeed would walk away with the award.
The Ballon d’Or will be awarded on October 17.
Real Madrid will kick off the defense of their La Liga title at newly-promoted Almería.
“We are feeling good, we have all the hope in the world as we start this season,” said Ancelotti, adding that “each game will be very difficult, starting tomorrow.”


Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games

Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games
Updated 13 August 2022

Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games

Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games
  • Kingdom’s handball team reaches semifinals after topping group

KONYA: Weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem on Friday claimed three more medals for Saudi Arabia at the fifth edition of the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey.

Al-Saleem’s three silver medals came in the 61 kilogram division after he managed a lift of 123 kilograms in the Snatch category, 154 kilograms in the Clean and Jerk, and a points total of 277 to finish second overall.

Saudi’s medal tally on Friday night stood at 15, with one gold, 10 silvers and four bronzes.

Al-Saleem’s teammate Nawaf Al-Mazeedi finished seventh overall in the under-67 kilogram competition with a points total of 296 (136 in Snatch, 160 in Clean and Jerk).

In the women’s weightlifting competition, Saudi’s Al-Anoud Al-Shehri took sixth place in the 59 kilogram division with a total of 141 points, a new personal record.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia reached the semifinals of the handball competition after playing out a 27-27 draw with Qatar in their final group match.

With that result, the Kingdom qualified to the last four as group winners on goal difference, and will now face hosts Turkey on Saturday evening.

Qatar will meet Iran in the other semifinal.


Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend

Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend
Updated 13 August 2022

Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend

Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend
  • The highest-scoring foreign striker in the league’s history has joined Al-Arabi of Qatar on loan after the Jeddah club’s relegation

Meeting Omar Al-Somah at the 2019 Asian Cup, I asked him what ambitions he had remaining in his career with his 30th birthday fast approaching.

“I just want to score as many goals as possible and help my club and country win as many games as possible,” he replied. He may feel some regret about not appearing at the World Cup with Syria, but when it comes to his club career his achievements will one day be seen as legendary.

There are always headlines and attention given to the big-name foreign strikers who come to the Saudi Professional League, and understandably so. The likes of Odion Ighalo and Bafetimbi Gomis arrived in the country with resumes full of international appearances and spells with big clubs in big leagues. Yet, there are forwards from other Arab nations that come and score more and do so for longer. Abderrazak Hamdallah is one. The Moroccan marksman has played just 82 league games in Saudi Arabia for Al-Nassr and now Al-Ittihad and has found the target an incredible 87 times.

And then there is Al-Somah, the most consistent of all. No foreign striker has scored as many in the history of the SPL and, after joining Al-Ahli in 2014, he has finally departed and joined Al-Arabi on loan for one season, a deal that will cost the Qatari club what will surely be a bargain amount of $3.2 million.

It was only following Al-Ahli’s shock relegation last season that he left.

The second tier is no place for a player of such talents and there were plenty of offers from across the region but Al-Ahli preferred a loan move.

That is because his statistics are something special. Al-Somah played 240 games in all competitions for the Jeddah giants and scored an amazing 192 goals and contributed 30 assists. His 144 league goals are a record for a foreign player. The only other non-Saudi star in the top 10 all-time goalscorers is Hamdallah. 

From 2014 to 2017, the striker from the east of Syria won the Golden Boot in three consecutive seasons. His goals played a big part in Al-Ahli winning their fourth title in 2016 as well as bringing other trophies such as the Saudi Super Cup, the King’s Cup and the Saudi Crown Prince Cup to the Red Sea Port.

It is with a heavy heart that he leaves his home of almost a decade.

“I played eight years with Al-Ahli,” he said. “During that time I helped win the league championship and was the league’s top scorer three times, but the most important thing is the collective achievement. I leave Al-Ahly after such a long time and it comes as a shock but I will try my best to adapt to my new team.”

“I know Al-Arabi Club and I am honored to play in the Qatari league and I hope to leave an imprint with the team,” Al-Somah said. 

He should do just that. Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, he scored plenty of goals for his hometown club of Al-Fotuwa before moving to Kuwaiti giants Al-Qadsia in 2011, where he continued to score almost a goal a game over three seasons.

It is testament to the quality of Al-Somah’s marksmanship that a total of 22 goals over the past two seasons seems relatively small.

By that time, Al-Ahli were fading as a force and the warnings that came with the mid-table finish in the 2020-21 season were not heeded, or at least, not dealt with adequately. With Al-Ahli struggling, there was not as much possession and control in games and fewer chances were created. The striker has slowed a little as he passed his 33rd birthday and the power is not quite as explosive. 

He will still score for a while yet but whatever happens, the Syrian leaves Saudi Arabia as a legend. Had Al-Ahli maintained their standards, he could have become the record goalscorer in the Asian Champions League though as it stands, his 25 means that he is number seven on the all-time list. 

Al-Somah also leaves a reminder that it is not all about buying players from South American, English Premier League or Ligue 1 clubs.

He arrived from Kuwait back in 2014 when few would have predicted that he would last so many seasons and score so many goals for Al-Ahli. As deals go, it wasn’t seen as the biggest or the most exciting but it has been one of the most successful.

In fact, it has been legendary and whether he returns to terrorize Saudi Arabian defenses again or not, Omar Al-Somah will never be forgotten.


Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons

Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons
Updated 13 August 2022

Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons

Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons
  • Falcon Arena and Falcon District will feature activities for gaming enthusiasts

RIYADH: Gamers8 has announced that Team Falcons, Saudi Arabia’s biggest esports outfit, will have its own dedicated space at the Riyadh event until the end of the season.

Fresh from a second-place finish in “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege,” Team Falcons are now set for more acknowledgment by having two dedicated areas at the event, which runs daily at Boulevard Riyadh City until Sept. 8.

The first area is the Falcon Arena, which features gaming tournaments, meet-and-greet activities with influencers and content creators, as well as a live cooking show. The second area, the Falcon District, features merchandise, a gaming PC center, a museum that showcases the team’s accomplishments, an academy titled “Learn to be a PRO,” as well as a streaming area.

Mosaad Al-Dossary, FIFA eWorld Cup winner and CEO of Team Falcons, said: “Team Falcons are delighted to play such a distinguished role in the unprecedented success of Gamers8. It has been an incredible season at Boulevard Riyadh City so far, packed with outstanding esports play — and not least from Team Falcons.

“The addition of the Falcon Arena and Falcon District to the plethora of entertainment activities at Gamers8 is certain to encourage those who have yet to attend the event, as well as usher back those who want more. The Saudi Esports Federation is responsible for nurturing elite gaming athletes and developing the gaming community and industry in Saudi Arabia, and Team Falcons is both honored and thrilled to be part of this latest initiative in doing so. We look forward to seeing everyone.”

Both the Falcon Arena and Falcon District are open daily from 6 p.m. until midnight.