Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting
Princess Zoe winning the 2020 running of the Group 1 Prix du Cadran at ParisLongchamp. (Focus on Racing)
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Updated 25 February 2022

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting
  • Princess Zoe to have “mini race” before tackling $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh

Tony Mullins will give star stayer Princess Zoe a novel “mini race” in preparation for the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap at next month’s Saudi Cup meeting.

The hugely popular Irish mare will gallop at Leopardstown after the track’s Dublin Racing Festival jumps fixture on the first weekend in February.

She will then have three weeks before running in the 3000m contest – the longest race at the world’s richest race meeting – on Saturday, Feb. 26. The Group 3 handicap is one of the supporting prizes on the Saudi Cup card at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t want Saudi to be her first run of the season so I’m inventing my own little mini race. It’ll only be two or three horses, but it will give her that feel that she’s got a run under her belt,” Mullins said.

“We’ll be going genuine racing pace and it depends on the ground how far we’ll go. If there’s a good cut in the ground, we’ll go 1m 4f (2400m) and if it’s a bit quicker we might go 1m 6f (2800m).

 “There was nowhere for her to run because we have not got a winter programme suitable for horses of her calibre here in Ireland. We’re treating this as a run to put her spot on for Saudi,” he added.

Since joining Mullins from Germany a couple of years ago, Princess Zoe has been transformed from a low-grade handicapper into one of Europe’s best stayers.

She completed a stunning five-timer in 2020 when landing her first Group 1 success in the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp on Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe weekend.

Last season she put up the best performance of her career when finishing second behind Subjectivist in the Group 1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. The defence of her Prix du Cadran crown in early October did not go to plan but she returned lame after finishing only fifth behind Trueshan.

Mullins said: “We were always worried about fast ground, but she seemed to handle it very well in Royal Ascot. The minute that happened I said: “Saudi is the place I want to go”.

“In our opinion the Saudi Cup is the new go-to race meeting of the year. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the prize money.

“I’ve only seen videos of the track in Riyadh – I haven’t actually stepped out on it. It looks like a beautiful track, albeit a little bit sharp for staying horses. Maybe that will suit her – I certainly don’t see any reason why the track won’t.

Despite failing to win in five runs last season, Mullins said, the now 7-year-old grey mare performed better than she had done the previous year. He’s confident she has improved again over the winter months.

“I keep saying this but I think she’s actually a better mare again this time round, which is unbelievable at her age,” he said.

Princess Zoe has developed a cult following during her rise through the ranks. Despite having competition from some of the world’s best for the affections of the racing public, she is one of the most popular horses in Ireland and Mullins realises how important she is for the horse-loving nation.

He said: “I think Irish people like to see the underdog come up and take on the big boys. She’s done it and we’ve done it – both of us together. She’s a very pretty mare and grey, I don’t know what it is but they love her as much as I do.

“We’ve had a lot of nice winners in 30 years of training, but Princess Zoe is in a different stratosphere.

“It’s nice to know that, if we get the material, we can do the job. It’s a good feeling,” he said. “There’s no team around here that could take on Man Utd but, in racing, you can always do it. It’s the one sport in the world that from humble places you can reach the top. It’s like a small kid from around here in Gowran getting to play against Ronaldo.

“We’ve been lucky and blessed to get a mare like Princess Zoe. We’re now right at the top table – I shake myself everyday thinking about it.”

Regular rider Joey Sheridan is another part of the Princess Zoe fairy tale. The 20-year-old apprentice jockey will be on board again as she attempts to add another chapter to her incredible story in the Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap. The race offers more than five times the prize money of last year’s Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Mullins said: “Joey is out there now so he’ll be riding in Riyadh in early February. He’s going to have a few rides out there before the big meeting, which is huge. I love that – having our jockey out there knowing the track.”


Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games

Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games
Updated 31 sec ago

Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games

Mixed results for Saudi Arabia’s futsal teams at GCC Games
  • Women’s team defeated hosts Kuwait 2-1, while men lost 3-2 to same opponents

RIYADH: There were mixed results for the Saudi Arabian women’s and men’s national futsal teams as they both took on hosts Kuwait on day three of the GCC Games.

The Saudi women recorded their first win of the tournament by beating the Kuwaitis 2-1 thanks to goals from star player Al-Bandari Mubarak, and Reem Abdullah.

The players were visibly delighted with the performance as they put their opening day 4-1 defeat to Bahrain firmly behind them.

The men’s team did not fare as well despite a positive start to their match.

Goals by Osama Abdullah and Nasser Al-Harthi gave the Saudis a 2-1 half-time lead, but Kuwait came back strongly in the second half to claim a 3-2 win.

The Saudi men’s team now has a win and a loss from two matches having kicked off their campaign on Monday with a 3-1 victory over Bahrain thanks to goals from Mohsen Fakihi, Fahad Al-Rudaini, and Moaz Asiri.


Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project

Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project
Updated 34 min 4 sec ago

Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project

Saudi Arabian Football Federation appoints Nasser Larguet as new technical director to oversee ambitious grassroots project
  • Ex-Marseille and Morocco national team technical director set to lead strategic transformation program addressing youth development, training national coaches and activating international partnerships to develop Saudi football

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced the appointment of Nasser Larguet as technical director, who will be taking on the responsibilities previously held by Ioan Lupesco.

The Moroccan joins SAFF after spending the past three years at French club Olympique de Marseille, where he contributed as a director to the development of one of the world’s most successful youth academies.

Prior to that, Larguet led the Moroccan national team as a technical director from 2014 to 2019, achieving the first World Cup qualification in 20 years for the North African nation. During his career, he held multiple positions within renowned French youth academies, including Cannes, Rouen, Caen, Strasbourg and Le Havre.

In September 2021, SAFF announced a seven-pillar strategy that aims to position Saudi Arabia among the elite football nations by the time World Cup 2034 arrives. Larguet will be playing a central role in the execution of this strategy as he will oversee a high-performance pathway with a comprehensive plan for every Saudi footballer, starting from the age of 6 through to turning professional. This is to be obtained through optimizing the existing regional centers and developing new grade-A centers across different regions in the Kingdom.

Commenting on the appointment, Yasser Al-Misehal, SAFF president, said: “The Saudi football landscape is currently witnessing a massive transformation, as our set ambition is to become genuine contenders on the global stage.

“The hiring of Larguet builds on our success so far and represents an important milestone in the path we are forging. His vast experience in youth development will provide us with the necessary guidance to develop our infrastructure and upgrade our processes to untap the great potential of Saudi youth.”

The Saudi national team is set to take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, in what will be the Green Falcons’ sixth World Cup participation. This follows consistent improvement shown by the Saudi national men’s team over the past few years, moving up the FIFA ranking from 70 in 2019 to 49 this month.

“The transformation is already showing results, as we have opened a total of 22 regional centers across the country, which will support us in scouting and developing Saudi talent. Our national teams are also enjoying unprecedented success at every level, as the U23 Olympic team were present at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time after 24 years, and our men’s team just delivered the best Saudi World Cup qualification campaign ever,” said Al-Misehal.

“We have also established our women’s team, and they are already starting to show a lot of promise. We are moving forward with a strong foundation, but we expect Nasser’s experience and know-how to help us further accelerate our progress,” he added.

The new technical director will lead the efforts to construct a new uniform coaching curriculum tailored to Saudi strengths, which will be adopted in developing and training Saudi national coaches. These coaches will in turn play a key part in driving the success of the Saudi youth structure program. In his new role, Larguet will also be leveraging his network to establish and activate international partnerships that can support Saudi football development.


Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener

Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener
Updated 19 May 2022

Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener

Curry, Warriors outgun Doncic, Mavs in West finals series opener
  • Dallas had rained in buckets against Phoenix in Arizona on Sunday, but the scoring dried up against the six-time NBA champions
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr was able to withdraw his starters with five minutes left in the game, earning valuable rest for what could be a long series

SAN FRANCSCO: Stephen Curry scored 21 points as the Golden State Warriors bottled up Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to win their Western Conference finals series opener 112-87 on Wednesday.

Three days after Doncic destroyed the Phoenix Suns with a virtuoso performance, the Slovenian star found the going harder against a ruthless Golden State at San Francisco’s Chase Center.

Dallas had rained in buckets against Phoenix in Arizona on Sunday, but the scoring dried up against the six-time NBA champions.

The Warriors started slowly but pulled clear decisively in the second half after leading 54-45 at half-time.

With Doncic appearing to be nursing a sore shoulder, the Warriors outscored the visitors 34-24 in the third quarter to lead by 19 points heading into the final period.

An 8-0 start to the fourth quarter left the Warriors cruising 27 points clear at 96-69 to effectively put the game out of reach.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was able to withdraw his starters with five minutes left in the game, earning valuable rest for what could be a long series.

Curry led the scoring with 21 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, while Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins had 19 points apiece.

“We did what we were supposed to do — we won the first game, but there’s a lot of work left,” Curry said.

“We had a specific game plan coming in and for the most part we executed it. It’s going to take that same effort three more times to beat this team.

“They’re a really good team. You’ve got to stay locked in. Hopefully we’ll come out on Friday (in game two) and get it done again.”

Klay Thompson failed to score a point in the first two quarters but got into the groove in the second half with 15 points. Seven Warriors players finished in double figures.

Doncic led the Mavericks’ scoring with 20 points, but cut a disconsolate figure after a defeat where Dallas trailed for almost the entirety of the game.

Dallas somehow had only trailed by nine points at halftime after a wayward shooting performance in the first two quarters.

The Mavs made just 14 of 44 attempts from the field in the first half, and only seven of 29 three-point attempts.

Yet they were able to remain within sight of the Warriors, who shot 22 of 39 but made only five of 18 attempts from beyond the arc.

Thompson made only four attempts from the field in the first half — and missed them all — while Curry was also off target from long range, converting only one of six three-point attempts.

The Mavericks pulled to within two points at 35-33 midway through the second quarter, but a brisk 11-2 run, with Curry setting up three-pointers for Poole and Wiggins, saw the Warriors pull clear once more to lay the foundations of victory.

Game two of the series takes place in San Francisco on Friday.

The winner of the Western Conference finals will play the winner of the Eastern Conference, either Boston or Miami, in the NBA Finals.


Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open
Updated 19 May 2022

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open
  • Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer

PARIS: At just 19, Carlos Alcaraz is bidding to become only the eighth teenager to win a Grand Slam men’s singles title at the French Open which gets underway at Roland Garros on Sunday.

AFP Sport looks at the seven men to have won majors while still in their teens:

• In 1974, Sweden’s reluctant superstar Borg won the first of his six French Opens having just passed his 18th birthday when he defeated Manuel Orantes 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1. Borg would win 11 majors, including five in a row at Wimbledon from 1976-1980 before retiring — for the first time — at 26. Borg was the first male tennis player to earn a million dollars in a season in 1979. “It’s tough when you’re No. 1. You don’t have any private life, you can’t even walk anywhere. I think that was one reason why I lost my motivation to play tennis,” said Borg when he quit.

• At 17, Sweden’s Wilander defeated Guillermo Vilas of Argentina 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4 in a marathon four hours and 42 minutes French Open final in 1982 despite being unseeded. Wilander was widely hailed for his sportsmanship in his defeat of Jose Luis Clerc in the semifinals when he requested a replay of match point after a forehand from his opponent was called long. Wilander would eventually become a world No. 1, ending his career with seven Grand Slam titles.

• Becker burst on the scene with his maiden Wimbledon triumph in 1985 at the age of 17. His 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 win over Kevin Curren made him the tournament’s youngest men’s champion and its first unseeded victor. The German served and volleyed and dived right and left, enchanting the Center Court crowd. Becker would win six majors but he fell from grace last month when he was jailed in the UK after a bankruptcy trial.

• Sweden’s Edberg was 19 when he won his first Slam at the 1985 Australian Open, beating Wilander 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 having seen off Ivan Lendl in a marathon semifinal 6-7, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7. The elegant serve-and-volleyer won a second Australian Open in 1987 and also captured four more Slams at Wimbledon in 1988 and 1990 and at the US Open in 1991 and 1992.

• Chang became the youngest male player in history to win a Grand Slam tournament when he claimed the 1989 French Open at 17 years and three months. Chang defeated Edberg 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 having also knocked out world No. 1 Lendl in a 4-hour and 37-minute last 16 tie in which he was cramping and forced to serve underarm. He was the first American champion in Paris since Tony Trabert in 1955. The diminutive Chang was also runner-up at the 1996 Australian and US Opens.

• Just a month past his 19th birthday, ‘Pistol Pete’ won the first of his 14 Slams at the 1990 US Open, beating American compatriot Andre Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the New York final having seen off Lendl and John McEnroe in the previous two rounds. Sampras ended his career with 64 titles, with a majors haul made up of seven at Wimbledon, two at the Australian Open and five US Open triumphs. His last major was in New York in 2002, bringing the curtain down with another victory against Agassi.

• At 19, Nadal defeated Mariano Puerta in the 2005 French Open final, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5. It was his first major title and the first of a record 13 Roland Garros triumphs. The Spaniard, who now has 21 majors, won on his Paris debut, the first man to do so since Wilander in 1982. He was also the youngest champion since Chang in 1989. Interestingly, 2005 also saw the French Open debut of Novak Djokovic who made the second round where he retired against Guillermo Coria. Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer.


Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro
Updated 19 May 2022

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro
  • Spaniard Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek) retained the leader’s pink jersey after a 203-kilometer stage which was relatively comfortable other than the heat and wind

REGGIO EMILIA, ITALY: Alberto Dainese (DSM) became the first Italian winner in this year’s Giro d’Italia when he edged the sprint to take stage 11 in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday.

Dainese, 24, who had never previously won a stage in the Giro, beat the Colombian Fernando Gaviria in the dash for the finish. Another Italian Simone Consonni took third.

On the podium, the Italian was treated to the traditional giant bottle of prosecco, like his predecessors.

But significantly, the magnum had been uncorked as a precaution against a repeat of the accident that befell Biniam Girmay on Tuesday when he was injured in the left eye by the cork and subsequently ruled out of the race.

The Spaniard Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek) retained the leader’s pink jersey after a 203-kilometer stage which was relatively comfortable other than the heat and wind.

Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, however, pocketed three bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint to climb two places into second, equal in time with the Portuguese Joao Almeida, 12 seconds behind Lopez.

“I saw Carapaz gained some time in an intermediate sprint but I’m not as fast as him. There was nothing I could do,” said Lopez who has been leading since the fourth stage.

“Anyway, I’m very happy to keep the pink jersey for at least one more day.”

Eritrean Girmay, who on Tuesday became the first black African to win a stage at the Giro, pulled out before the start following Tuesday’s cork accident.

Intermarche’s team doctor Piet Daneels said tests showed “hemorrhage in the anterior chamber of the left eye.”

With temperatures hitting 30 degrees, the peloton largely stuck together apart from one wishful breakaway by Luca Rastelli and Filippo Tagliani which was reeled in just after halfway.

Belgian Dries De Bondt embarked on a solo raid 58 kilometers from the finish, which ended just 1,300 meters from the line.

In the sprint, French rider Arnaud Demare, who already has two stage wins to his name in this Giro, attacked from deep.

He was hunted down by Gaviria before Dainese, taking full advantage of the slipstream, came through to take the third victory of his career.

Last year, he finished second in a Vuelta stage, behind Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen.

The peloton faces its longest day in the saddle on Thursday with a mountainous 12th stage of 204 kilometers which crosses the Apennines from Parma to Genoa.