Over 700 entries from 22 countries vying for Saudi Cup meeting’s $35m prize money

Over 700 entries from 22 countries vying for Saudi Cup meeting’s $35m prize money
Mishriff will become the highest earning racehorse of all time if he defends his Saudi Cup crown next month. (Douglas DeFelice/JCSA)
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Updated 25 February 2022

Over 700 entries from 22 countries vying for Saudi Cup meeting’s $35m prize money

Over 700 entries from 22 countries vying for Saudi Cup meeting’s $35m prize money
  • Last year’s winner of showpiece race, Mishriff, will become highest-earning horse of all time if he repeats his feat on Feb. 26

RIYADH: The 2022 Saudi Cup meeting has attracted over 700 entries from 22 different countries, including 71 international Group 1 winners, all vying to claim some of the $35.1 million prize money across the two-day meeting on Feb. 25-26.

Reigning Saudi Cup champion Mishriff (Ireland) has already achieved impressive career earnings of $15 million, a figure that currently leaves him ninth in the list of all-time highest-earning thoroughbreds.

If he were to record a historic second successive triumph in the third running of the Saudi Cup (1,800m), which will be run as a Group 1 for the first time, he would become the highest-earning racehorse of all time, eclipsing Australian "wonder mare" Winx.

Tom Ryan, director of strategy and international racing at the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, said: “We couldn’t be happier with the entries for the 2022 Saudi Cup meeting. Not only do we have a huge number, over 300 more than last year, but the quality is exceptional with 71 individual Group 1 winners, including last year’s Saudi Cup champion Mishriff."

He added: “We are also absolutely delighted to see that more countries have made entries, with 22 in total compared with 19 in 2021. That goes to show how quickly the Saudi Cup meeting has had an impact globally and become a key target for owners and trainers.

“It was such a proud moment for everyone at the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia when the Saudi Cup was promoted to a Group 1, as well as the supporting races achieving Group 3 status and the Obaiya Classic being upgraded from a Listed content to a Group 2. The support we have received from horsemen and women all over the world has been incredible and we look forward to welcoming everyone to Riyadh next month.”

Japan, a country that won two races on last year’s Saudi Cup card, is responsible for over 90 entries at the meeting and is set to be represented in the Saudi Cup by T O Keynes, most recently seen landing the Champions Cup, a qualifying race for the Saudi Cup. Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Marche Lorraine (Japan) is another who could take her place in the $20 million contest.

There is a strong US contingent with over 150 entries, including a number of high-profile contenders. Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and 2021 Saudi Cup fourth Knicks Go has been given an entry, along with Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion Life Is Good. Other possible runners from the US include Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon.

South American superstar Aero Trem (Brazil), currently in Dubai, has been entered, while there are some interesting European contenders, including Group 1 winners Sealiway (France), Skaletti (France) and Pyledriver (Britain).

 
Five Group 3 races and Group 2 Obaiya Arabian Classic on Saudi Cup undercard

The $2.5 million Group 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap (3,000m) has attracted entries from 15 different countries. Japan Cup runner-up Authority and Deep Bond could represent Japan, while Sisfahan (France), Sonnyboyliston (Ireland), Princess Zoe (Germany) and Nayef Road (Ireland) make up a deep European contingent.

Hollie Doyle landed the 2,100m Group 3 Neom Turf Cup ($1.5 million up from $1 million in 2021), on True Self last year and there are some strong global entries, including Lord North (Ireland, Pyledriver (Britain), Grand Glory (Britain), Square De Luynes (France) and the evergreen Lord Glitters (France) from Europe. Japan have Authority, Sanrei Pocket and So Valiant entered, while Col. Liam could run for the US.

The Japanese have a strong entry in the Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint ($1.5 million up from $1 million in 2021), where Grenadier Guards is guaranteed a spot after winning the Hanshin Cup. He could meet Ho O Amazon and Songline, with Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint runner-up Lt. Dan an interesting US entry.

In the $1.5 million Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint (1,200m), the US look to hold a strong hand with Group 1 winners Dr. Schivel and Kimari, as well as the promising Cezanne. The nine-year-old Secret Ambition (Britain) could line up, while last year’s winner Copano Kicking (US) is entered to defend his crown for Japan.

A strong Latin American entry includes both Irwin (Argentina) and Prelude Rye (Argentina) in the 1600m G3 Saudi Derby ($1.5 million).

Smile Happy, Newgrange, MacKinnon and Rockefeller are possible runners from the US, and in the $2 million G2 Obaiya Arabian Classic, last year’s one-two, the locally trained stablemates Mubasher Alkhalediah (KSA) and Mutwakel Alkhalediah (KSA) are set to take each other on again.

 

International Jockeys Challenge, Saudi International Handicap and Al Mneefah on Friday, Feb. 25

The highlight on the opening day of the meeting, Friday, Feb. 25, is the stc International Jockeys Challenge, where seven female and seven male jockeys from around the world compete against each other. Last year’s winner Shane Foley from Ireland is back to defend his crown, and other jockeys confirmed at this stage are the UK’s Hayley Turner and Glen Boss from Australia.

Friday sees the second running of the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap, a race designed for horses trained in IFHA Part II or Part III countries, with horses entered from 10 countries: Bahrain, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay.

A new addition to the Friday card is the Listed Al Mneefah Cup, an international race for purebred Arabians over 2,100m on turf with prize money of $1 million.


IOC warns Afghanistan over women’s sports and Olympics

IOC warns Afghanistan over women’s sports and Olympics
Updated 07 December 2022

IOC warns Afghanistan over women’s sports and Olympics

IOC warns Afghanistan over women’s sports and Olympics
  • The IOC said its support for Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee will depend on conditions including women being allowed to play sports

LAUSANNE: The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday warned that it could stop working with Afghanistan ahead of the next Olympics in 2024 if women are not allowed to play sports under Taliban rule.

The IOC said its support for Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee will depend on conditions including women being allowed to play sports with “safe and inclusive access” and to take part in sports administration. Afghanistan’s teams for international events must include female athletes who live in the country and not only those based abroad.

The IOC board said it “expressed its serious concern and strongly condemned the latest restrictions imposed by the Afghan authorities on women and young girls in Afghanistan, which prevent them from practicing sport in the country.”

Afghanistan’s participation and “the representation, or not, of the country” in the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024 “will depend on the progress made in relation to the fundamental issue of safe access to sport for women and young girls in the country,” the IOC said.

It was not immediately clear how soon the IOC might implement the measures.

The IOC said it will continue direct support for individual athletes from Afghanistan who aim to compete at the Olympics.

Afghanistan had a team of four men and one woman at the last Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Human Rights Watch called on the IOC on Monday to suspend Afghanistan from taking part in sports events immediately and to halt its funding. The IOC suspended the Afghanistan NOC in 1999 during the previous period of Taliban rule.

Also at the IOC executive board meeting Tuesday, a long-running standoff between the IOC and the International Boxing Association continued. The IOC said the boxing body had not achieved the “drastic change of culture” that the IOC had demanded.

The IOC has long criticized how IBA is run, its finances and a history of disputes over refereeing and judging Olympic fights.

The IOC suspended the IBA, then known as AIBA, in 2019 and excluded its officials from running the boxing tournament at the Tokyo Olympics last year. The IOC is already planning to stage the qualifying competitions for boxing in Paris in 2024 without the IBA. The dispute means boxing is not yet on the program for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, though it could be added at a later date, with or without the IBA in charge.


Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup

Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup
Updated 07 December 2022

Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup

Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup
  • One by one, Spain’s greatest generation has aged out of the national team
  • Busquets wore the captain’s armband, the leader and senior statesman

AL RAYYAN, Qatar: Sergio Busquets stood in the center circle, hands on hips, a blank look on his face.

He reached soccer’s top step with Spain and now had been stung by La Roja’s third straight elimination from a major tournament on penalty kicks, this time 3-0 to Morocco after a 0-0 draw Tuesday in the round of 16 of the World Cup.

Spain have become a team of the past, their passing game passé.

“What we did was dominate the game but we lacked the goal, that is the reality,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said through a translator, accepting defeat without anger or expressions of sorrow. “There is no point in punishing oneself.”

Now 34, Busquets contributed to Spain’s demise.

Morocco had taken a 1-0 lead in the shootout when Pablo Sarabia put his attempt off a post, and Carlos Soler’s effort was blocked by diving goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, keeping the Moroccans ahead 2-0. Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon saved Badr Benoun’s effort, and Bounoun leaped to his right and batted away Busquets’ penalty. Achraf Hakimi followed with the winner.

“It’s always a tossup. This time we got tails,” Busquets said. “We missed the first three penalties, and then it’s very difficult to go through.”

Four years ago, Busquets didn’t shoot in the penalty-kick loss to Russia, also in round of 16. Last year, he hooked a shot and hit a post with the opening kick as Spain beat Switzerland in the European Championship quarterfinals.

One by one, Spain’s greatest generation has aged out of the national team, the defensive duo of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, the steady superiority of goalkeeper “San Iker” Casillas and the dazzling duo of the midfield, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Of the 2012 European champions, only Busquets in defensive midfield and left back Jordi Alba remain.

Spain and their Barcelona core group made “tiki-taka” a style emulated around the globe and that style has lived on. Spain loves the ball, but the opponents have figured out how to neutralize.

If games were decided by passes or possession, Spain would be en route to another title. The Spaniards completed 988 of 1,063 passes to 238 of 331 for the Moroccans. They had 63 percent possession to 21 percent for Morocco with 16 percent contested.

Spain didn’t look like themselves even before the opening kickoff. Known for red jerseys, the Spaniards were the visiting team and had to wear alternate light blue jerseys because the Moroccans were in red.

Busquets wore the captain’s armband, the leader and senior statesman. He came up through Barcelona’s La Masia and made his league debut in September 2008, about 2 1/2 months after Spain beat Germany for its first European title since 1964. His national team debut was that April and he helped Spain win their first World Cup in 2010 and then another European Championship in 2012. Busquets was picked for the World Cup All-Star team and the Euro 2012 team of the tournament.

He made his 143rd international appearance against Morocco, third behind Sergio Ramos’ 180 and Iker Casillas’ 167, and with his 17th World Cup appearances he tied those two for the most among Spaniards.

Luis Enrique and a pair of Moroccans tried to console Busquets. He remained in the center circle for a full four minutes before heading to an onfield television interview. Busquets wouldn’t address his national team future.

“Now the important thing is the team and not me,” he said. “It’s a difficult night. We’ll pick ourselves up and use it as a learning experience. We’re in a good dynamic, with young people. This is going to make them stronger.”


Moroccans celebrate historic World Cup win against Spain

Moroccans celebrate historic World Cup win against Spain
Updated 07 December 2022

Moroccans celebrate historic World Cup win against Spain

Moroccans celebrate historic World Cup win against Spain
  • The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, praised the national team and sent his “heartfelt congratulations”
  • In central Paris, cars started honking almost immediately after Morocco’s surprise win Tuesday

RABAT, Morocco: Exuberant Moroccans poured into the streets of their capital and in cities across Europe on Tuesday, waving flags and honking horns to celebrate their national soccer team’s historic victory over Spain at the World Cup.

Morocco defeated Spain in a penalty shootout, making the Atlas Lions the only team from outside Europe or South America to make it to the quarterfinals in Qatar — and the first Arab team in World Cup history to make it to the last eight.

“We are so proud of our Lions, who fought hard to get us into the quarterfinals,” said Niama Meddoun, a Rabat resident. “We are delighted to be Moroccans today, since we are the first Arab country that has reached the quarterfinals.”

The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, praised the national team and sent his “heartfelt congratulations” to the players, the technical team and administrative personnel, “who gave their all and blazed a trail throughout this great sporting event,” according to a statement from the royal palace.

The king said the players represented “hopes and dreams of Moroccans in Morocco, Qatar, and all over the world.”

Morocco is the only Arab — and African — nation left in the tournament, the first World Cup held in the Middle East. Its World Cup success has reverberated across the Arab world and among Moroccan and some other immigrant communities in Europe.

In Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city, a crowd of youths waving Moroccan, Egyptian, Algerian and Palestinian flags gathered in the center, where fans of FC Barcelona traditionally celebrate big victories. People cheered to the sound of drums. Some were lighting flares.

In a Barcelona restaurant where viewers had congregated, people jumped on tables and lifted chairs in the air. Outside, cars honked horns and people lit firecrackers and red and green smoke bombs.

Youssef Lotfi, a 39-year-old construction worker who was born in Casablanca but moved to Spain as a child and said he feels love for both countries, was brimming with pride.

“Today is a day of joy for Moroccans and all the Arab world,” Lotfi said. “It was a heart-attack finish that could have gone either way.”

He called the victory “once in a lifetime” experience. “Morocco is representing all the Arab world, all the African continent, that is beyond description, it is the most glorious part,” he said.

In Ceuta, a Spanish exclave which borders with Morocco on the north African coast, the win was also celebrated with cars honking horns. Ceuta’s population is a mix of Spaniards and Moroccan residents and workers.

“What pride! What happiness! Now to celebrate with friends. I have lost my voice!” said 20-year-old Ismael Mustafa. “We were able to pull it off. For Spain? You will win next time, so no worries.”

Celebrations across Spain, which has some 800,000 Moroccan residents, were mostly peaceful, though Spanish media reported a brief scuffle between Morocco and Spain fans in a bar in the southern city of Huelva. No injuries or arrests were reported.

In Qatar, Moroccan fans clashed briefly with police outside the stadium before the game started.

Ten days ago riots broke out in Belgium and the Netherlands as Morocco fans celebrated beating Belgium in the group stage in Qatar.

In central Paris, cars started honking almost immediately after Morocco’s surprise win Tuesday, and crowds of people streamed toward the Champs-Elysees to celebrate. Men and women, in business suits or track suits, from teenage to middle-aged, cheered or raised their hands in victory. Cries of “Allez, allez!” in French rang out, and one woman asked strangers “Who has a Moroccan flag I can borrow?”

Spain fans were crushed by the loss.

“They have been very unlucky in the penalties, but it seems to me that they have also made a mistake in the players who take the penalties,” said 64-year-old Dionisio Sánchez, who was among a group of fans who trickled out of bar in Madrid.

“They shot with very little enthusiasm ... little desire to score, but the penalties, it’s luck, it’s a lottery,” he said.
 


Ramos bags hat-trick as Portugal crush Swiss to reach World Cup quarters

Ramos bags hat-trick as Portugal crush Swiss to reach World Cup quarters
Updated 07 December 2022

Ramos bags hat-trick as Portugal crush Swiss to reach World Cup quarters

Ramos bags hat-trick as Portugal crush Swiss to reach World Cup quarters
  • Goncalo Ramos, who started instead of Ronaldo, became the youngest player to strike three times in a World Cup knockout match since Pele in 1958
  • Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and Rafael Leao were also on target for a rampant Portugal, who booked a showdown with Morocco on Saturday

DOHA: Goncalo Ramos justified the shock decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo by scoring a hat-trick on his full debut as Portugal demolished Switzerland 6-1 on Tuesday to power into the World Cup quarter-finals.
The 21-year-old Ramos, who started instead of Ronaldo, became the youngest player to strike three times in a World Cup knockout match since Pele in 1958.
Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and Rafael Leao were also on target for a rampant Portugal, who booked a showdown with Morocco on Saturday for a place in the last four in Qatar.
Ronaldo, 37 and now without a club after his departure from Manchester United, has hogged the headlines during the tournament while looking a shadow of his former self.
The only man to score at five World Cups, Ronaldo was left out by coach Fernando Santos against the Swiss following his angry response to being substituted in the last group game.
It was a bold call to omit a player with a record 118 international goals in favor of giving a full debut to Ramos, the Benfica striker who had played just 33 minutes across three previous appearances.
But it took just 17 minutes for Ramos to reward Santos’ faith, and to achieve something Ronaldo has never done — score in a World Cup knockout game.
Joao Felix clipped delicately into the feet of Ramos, who quickly swivelled past Fabian Schaer and rifled into the roof of the net past a stunned Yann Sommer.
Otavio, who returned to the Portugal midfield after injury in their opening match, shot straight at Sommer before Ramos did likewise moments later.
Xherdan Shaqiri drew a fingertip stop from Diogo Costa with a dipping free-kick from distance, but Portugal soon had their second.
Bruno Fernandes whipped in a corner and the 39-year-old Pepe towered above the Swiss defense to powerfully head home.
Diogo Dalot hacked Remo Freuler’s header off the line after Diogo Costa failed to properly deal with a cross, but the Swiss simply had no answers against an irresistible Portugal.
Ramos turned in his second from close range six minutes into the second half from Dalot’s cross down the right.
He then turned provider by playing in Guerreiro to lash in another just four minutes later as the Swiss defense was ruthlessly ripped apart.
It was also Ramos who inadvertently glanced a corner toward Manuel Akanji at the far post as the Manchester City center-back pulled one back for Switzerland.
Ramos completed his treble after more outstanding work from Felix, nonchalantly dinking over Sommer with one of his final touches before making way for Ronaldo.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s introduced elicited the biggest roar of the night. Ronaldo did have the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled out for a clear offside.
Leao capped off a sensational Portugal performance with a terrific curling strike in stoppage time.


Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
Updated 06 December 2022

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
  • The Palestinian flag -- which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals -- was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players

DOHA: Morocco’s players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after the team’s stunning World Cup upset victory against Spain on Tuesday.
The Palestinian flag — which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals — was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players following the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over the Spaniards.
FIFA regulations prohibit the display of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature.” In the past, football’s governing bodies have issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside stadia.
Morocco’s players also displayed the Palestinian flag after the team’s win against Canada during the group stage last week.
World Cup host Qatar has no relations with Israel and remains a supporter of the decades-long Palestinian cause for statehood.
Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War fought with Arab nations.
About 250,000 Palestinians live in Qatar which has a population of around 2.9 million, most of them foreigners.