Taif horseracing season ends, with Riyadh gearing to go

Taif horseracing season ends, with Riyadh gearing to go
Prizes claimed through the Taif season totaled $8.8 million. (JCSA)
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Updated 11 October 2022

Taif horseracing season ends, with Riyadh gearing to go

Taif horseracing season ends, with Riyadh gearing to go
  • City had 348 races with $8.8m in prize money
  • Focus now on winter season, $35.35m Saudi Cup

As Great Scot romped home to victory in the final challenge of Taif’s King Khaled Racecourse on Sunday, so concluded this year’s summer horseracing season.

Situated at an altitude of 1,900 meters in the western mountains of Saudi Arabia, Taif’s year-round cool and balmy climate make it a perfect location for the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia’s summer fixtures.

Pretty much the entire Saudi equine ecosystem — along with many owners, trainers and jockeys from surrounding countries and even further afield — relocates to the pleasant environs of Taif from mid-June to early October.

Kicking off on June 16 with a significantly expanded program, the Taif Season saw a total of 48 meetings and no less than 384 races, double the number of fixtures staged in 2021.


GALLERY: Taif horseracing season ends


Several new contests were added to the calendar, including the $260,000 Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Cup for Purebred Arabian horses, and the National Day Cup fixture, which features the Taif Derby, Taif Sprint Cup and Taif Arabian Horses Derby, all worth over $100,000.

These new races were run alongside more established competitions such as the marquee King Faisal Cup for Purebred Arabians, and the Taif Cup.

Prizes claimed through the Taif season totaled $8.8 million.

Salem Binmahfooz, JCSA director of racing, told Arab News: “Our expansion of the Taif racing season at King Khalid Racecourse in 2022 signifies our continued investment in racing in Saudi Arabia and our eagerness to see the sport flourish and to engage new audiences.

“The significant increase in racing and prize money has attracted some of the best horses in Saudi Arabia as well as the region to race at this unique course.”

The King Khaled Racecourse has seen major investment in recent years, including floodlighting for races to continue after sunset, enhanced quarantining and health checks for the horses, and improved track conditions. The track now includes specialized dirt with a composition of wood pulp and three grades of sand.

“The surface the horses run on is really important, it could make the difference between a horse achieving world-class or terrible times,” JCSA Chief Marshal David Rogers told Arab News. “In many racecourses they don’t get the composition of the dirt quite right, but the JCSA is constantly improving these factors.”

All these efforts contribute to the JCSA’s and Saudi Arabia’s ongoing integration within the global horseracing circuit. The Kingdom has risen from Part III to Part II status, with ambitions to move to Part I.

A wide range of criteria influences this progress, including a consistently high average rating for both local horses competing in JCSA races and Saudi horses competing abroad, and compliance with standards and regulations laid down by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

With the wrapping up of Taif Season, the Kingdom’s equine community will now decamp back to Riyadh for the winter racing season, held at the JCSA’s King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Al-Thumamah, just north of the capital.

The annual highlight of the Riyadh Season is The Saudi Cup, launched in 2020 and the world’s most valuable. Held in the last weekend of February, the Saudi Cup will this year offer no less than $35.35 million (SR132.5 million) in prizes.

Binmahfooz continued: “Riyadh season is the lead-up to The Saudi Cup of course, but as a standalone race series it also features a number of very important Cup days in its own right.

“Racing seasons are cyclical and the racing programs across Taif and Riyadh are designed to complement each other so that horses can progress from Taif to the big stage of Riyadh and even to The Saudi Cup.”

Alongside a packed program of racing, the JCSA’s Riyadh Season will also feature a host of side activities including fashion, arts and crafts and regional and international cuisine, making it a key fixture of the Kingdom’s sporting, cultural and social agenda.

JCSA Chairman Prince Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal told Arab News: “The 2022 Taif Season has been our most significant yet, with the local racing community feeling the benefits of a number of infrastructure improvements implemented by the JCSA. We have enjoyed an extended race schedule with some very important domestic races as well as an expanded Purebred Arabian program.

“Now we will carry this momentum into the Riyadh racing season. Many of the standout horses that were campaigned through the Taif Season will be very much in evidence at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, as we build towards our major cups and of course, The Saudi Cup.

“This is a hugely exciting time to be part of the JCSA and to see the progress that Saudi Arabia is making as a racing jurisdiction, both globally and on the domestic front.

“We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more, or experiencing the thrill of the action, to come and visit us during our race meetings, ask questions and get involved.”


Tunisia dodge bottles to secure Cup of Nations place

Tunisia dodge bottles to secure Cup of Nations place
Updated 56 min 41 sec ago

Tunisia dodge bottles to secure Cup of Nations place

Tunisia dodge bottles to secure Cup of Nations place
  • Haythem Jouini scored the match-winner on 16 minutes in the eastern city of Benghazi
  • Victory assured Tunisia of a top-two finish in Group J and a place at the 24-nation African football showpiece

JOHANNESBURG: Tunisia qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations by winning 1-0 in Libya on Tuesday while dodging dozens of plastic bottles flung on the pitch by home supporters.
Haythem Jouini scored the match-winner on 16 minutes in the eastern city of Benghazi, powerfully heading an Ali Maaloul corner into the net.
By the final whistle the pitch was littered with bottles as Libyans vented their anger after Tunisia dominated for long periods and inflicted a second loss in five days on their neighbors.
Victory assured Tunisia of a top-two finish in Group J and a place at the 24-nation African football showpiece in the Ivory Coast next January and February.
They are likely to be joined by Equatorial Guinea, who are six points ahead of Libya with two rounds remaining in June and September.
Tunisia are the seventh qualifiers after the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, South Africa and Burkina Faso.
Elsewhere, veteran forward Cedric Bakambu scored for the Democratic Republic of Congo and was later sent off as they drew 1-1 with Mauritania in Group I.
Bakambu netted after nine minutes in Nouakchott, Mohamed Soueid levelled 12 minutes into the second half, and the 10 Congolese then repulsed endless Mauritanian attacks.
All four teams remain in contention with Gabon having seven points, Sudan six, Mauritania five and DR Congo four.
The last of 44 matchday three and four fixtures is scheduled for Wednesday in Kigali, where Rwanda can climb above Mozambique into second place if they defeat Benin in Group L.


Ronaldo’s embrace of Saudi Arabian adventure could pave the way to Messi reunion

A few months ago, the notion of Lionel Messi signing for Al-Hilal would have been fanciful to say the least
The word is that, for Messi, a deal with Al-Hilal is a preferred option to returning to former club Barcelona. (FILE/AFP)
Updated 29 March 2023

Ronaldo’s embrace of Saudi Arabian adventure could pave the way to Messi reunion

A few months ago, the notion of Lionel Messi signing for Al-Hilal would have been fanciful to say the least
  • The Portuguese superstar’s successful start to his Al-Nassr career could also lead to the signing of Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric

The rumor won’t go away. In fact it’s getting stronger by the day.

A few months ago, the notion of Lionel Messi signing for Al-Hilal would have been fanciful to say the least. But Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr, and above all, his embrace of his new home, has altered things dramatically.

So much so, the word is that, for Messi, a deal with Al-Hilal is a preferred option to returning to former club Barcelona, a new adventure in the US or a homecoming in Argentina.

An enticing precedent has now been set.

Let’s face it, few people believed that Ronaldo would make the move to Saudi Arabia when rumors began swirling during the World Cup, particularly as no specific club was initially mentioned.

Surely a move from Manchester United to a Champions League club in Europe would be his preferred choice?

But on Dec. 30, 2022, the rumors became a reality. Ronaldo was presented as an Al-Nassr footballer to millions of fans, many of them disbelieving, around the world.

While many have cast doubts about the reasons behind his move, and his future intentions, the Portuguese legend has gone about his business in exactly the professional manner you’d expect, on and off the pitch.

“I did everything in Europe, and it’s time to share my experience in Asia,” he said.

Ronaldo, like Messi, has had a successful international break, scoring doubles in the 4-0 win over Liechtenstein and the 6-0 defeat of Luxembourg. He returns to Riyadh in buoyant mood, having reminded the world that his golden touch remains intact since his move to Saudi.

Looking at his Al-Nassr spell so far, accusations that his prime motivation was money seem off the mark.

He has fitted seamlessly into the Al-Nassr setup, and so far has scored eight league goals — including four against Al-Wehda and a hattrick against Damac — to close in on top scorer Talisca’s tally of 13. He has also been named Roshn Saudi League player of the month for February.

Off the pitch, he has embraced his new surroundings.

Many believed he would be spending his time travelling between Saudi and Europe, but his family seems to have settled in Riyadh in double quick time, and they have been seen visiting many famous spots and historical landmarks such as AlUla, while his children have been taking Arabic lessons.

He further endeared himself to the local population by celebrating Saudi Arabia’s Founding Day in traditional attire.

Since his move, the world’s press has been focused on his every move, while football fans are increasingly targeting Riyadh as a tourist destination thanks to his presence.

No doubt the support for the Ronaldo deal by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the government, as confirmed by Saudi Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki, has had a significant impact on how the Kingdom will be seen as a home for the world’s best players, with the promise that all clubs will receive similar backing.

This has led to speculation that players like Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric could be next to make the move to Saudi.

But it’s Messi’s name that has caused the most excitement, not least for the potential renewal of his rivalry with Ronaldo.

The idea, unthinkable a few years ago, is very much a possibility now, with good reason.

Over the last decade, Saudi Arabia has established itself as a hub of Middle Eastern and Asian football, with Al-Hilal claiming two Champions League titles and the national team excelling at different age-group levels.

Where the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leagues had been seen as superior in the past, the Saudi Pro League is now arguably the most competitive.

Messi’s camp will be aware of all these developments.

The Argentine captain’s father was recently in Riyadh and will have been tempted with offers that could dwarf even Ronaldo’s deal.

And should Messi make the move to Al-Hilal, Saudi football fans and media will be the big winners. From watching two of the world’s greatest ever footballers duel it out in Spain’s El Clasico, the rivalry will be there for all to witness in the heart of Riyadh.


WWE Superstars John Cena, Roman Reigns, Logan Paul set for WrestleMania 39

WWE Superstars John Cena, Roman Reigns, Logan Paul set for WrestleMania 39
Updated 29 March 2023

WWE Superstars John Cena, Roman Reigns, Logan Paul set for WrestleMania 39

WWE Superstars John Cena, Roman Reigns, Logan Paul set for WrestleMania 39
  • Event will take place at SoFi Stadium in California April 1-2

RIYADH: WWE Superstars John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Logan Paul are set for matchups at WrestleMania 39 taking place at SoFi Stadium in California on April 1 to 2.

The two-day premium live event will feature 12 matches as legendary WWE Superstars face off against the new generation on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

After passing the unprecedented 900-day milestone as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Reigns has his eyes firmly set on retaining the title against his latest challenger, Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania 39.

A victory for the champion would allow Reigns to surpass the 1,000-day streak at WWE King and Queen of the Ring, set to take place in Jeddah in May.

Meanwhile, social media sensation Paul will take on his latest opponent in a long line of rivals, as the new superstar goes head-to-head with Seth Rollins to continue his meteoric rise in the sport.

In the women’s championship battles, SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair will defend her title against Rhea Ripley. Ripley enters the match following her spectacular victory at Royal Rumble to earn her title shot at WrestleMania 39, presenting a career defining moment for the Australian as she takes on Flair, an opponent she has never conquered.

Bianca Belair will be determined to retain her Raw Women’s Championship as she heads into the ring for a mammoth clash with Asuka, who earned her place in the title match after emerging victorious at Elimination Chamber in February.

WWE fans are also set to see legends of the past with Hollywood star and WWE icon Cena bringing his two decades of experience to WrestleMania 39.

Cena will face off with the new generation of local talent in the form of US Champion Austin Theory in an unmissable moment in WWE history.

The recent feud between former allies, Scotland’s Drew McIntyre and Ireland’s Sheamus, has led to a three-way title fight for the Intercontinental Championship against German Giant, Gunther, in an explosive clash of the European heavyweights in California.

With more matches still to be announced, WWE fans in the Middle East can get ready for the epic showcase of WrestleMania 39 with weekly SmackDown and Raw episodes showing live and exclusively on Shahid.


Saudi football coming to terms with Herve Renard exit

Saudi football coming to terms with Herve Renard exit
Updated 29 March 2023

Saudi football coming to terms with Herve Renard exit

Saudi football coming to terms with Herve Renard exit
  • Frenchman leaves to take over his country’s women’s national team ahead of this summer’s World Cup

Saudi Arabia’s fans, players and football officials are today coming to terms with the news that Herve Renard has left his position as head coach of the national team to take charge of the women’s team of France.

Rumors of his exit have been circulating for over a week, and following his last two international matches in charge of the Green Falcons, 2-1 friendly losses to Venezuela and, last night, Bolivia, they became a reality.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation confirmed Renard’s departure with a statement posted on its Twitter account.

“The Saudi Arabian Football Federation Board of Directors has agreed on the contract termination of the Head Coach of the Saudi National Team Mr. Herve Renard upon his request,” said the statement.

“A legal settlement has been (completed) to end the contract between the two parties. The President and the Board of Directors of SAFF wish Mr. Renard every success in his future career.”

 

 

Meanwhile, Renard released his own farewell message in a three-tweet thread following the loss to Bolivia.

“Having been the coach of (the) National team of Saudi Arabia is a great pride for me. Since August 2019, I had the chance to be an integral part of the life of this beautiful country. I have seen this team grow alongside me and achieve a fabulous World Cup,” he posted.

 

 

“This fantastic and unforgettable win against Argentina. Very proud to have been able to show to the world the progress and a good image of the Saudi football. It’s time for me to fly to another horizon but with this memories engraved in me,” he added.

He also thanked the minister of sport, the head of SAFF and everyone at the national team. “Special thanks to @AbdulazizTF @Yalmisehal @SaudiNT and to all the players, the staff, and all the fans for their incredible support,” the final tweet said.

The official account of the Saudi national team also followed up with a video message from Renard.

 

 

The Frenchman has presided over a period of success during his four years in Riyadh and while that has been welcomed in the Kingdom, it has also been noticed elsewhere, not least in his home nation.

His move to France will come as a blow to the Saudi Arabia Football Federation who looked like they had a respected coach who loved the job and was in it for the long haul. After taking over in 2019, he signed a contract extension in 2022 that would have taken him to 2027.

Renard has improved the team, established a style and, most importantly, delivered on the pitch.

All of Asia was impressed during qualification for the 2022 World Cup when the Green Falcons finished above Japan and Australia in a tough group. Placed in a difficult group in Qatar, Saudi Arabia more than held their own.

The world watched in awe as Renard’s men defeated eventual champions Argentina 2-1 in their opening group game. It was not only a come-from-behind victory, and not only achieved courtesy of fine goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari but, most importantly, it was deserved. Once they took the lead, Argentina quickly ran out of ideas in the face of determined and organized defending.

It was immediately hailed as one of the best results in the history of the World Cup and it certainly sparked the 2022 tournament into life. In the end, Saudi Arabia could not quite make the second round but returned home with heads held high and reputations enhanced.

Renard’s next task was to prepare for next January’s Asian Cup. It started with friendly games at the end of March against Venezuela and Bolivia but now it has ended, and somebody else will have to continue that journey.

It could be that Renard would not have left a job he seemed to enjoy for any other nation except his homeland. The 54-year-old takes over a troubled women’s team, however.

In early March, Corinne Diacre was sacked as head coach following a revolt from players. After six years in charge, a number of senior stars said that they would not play at this summer’s World Cup as they were dissatisfied with the standard of the coaching setup. The French Football Federation had little choice but to make the change, acknowledging that changes needed to be made. It was rumored that they wanted Thierry Henry but the former French international striker is said to be interested in the US women’s national team.

It is no surprise that the FFF have turned to Renard. He has shown that he can win tournaments, leading Ivory Coast and Zambia to the African Cup of Nations titles. He impressed at the 2018 World Cup with Morocco and did the same four years later with Saudi Arabia. With just four months before the World Cup starts in Australia and New Zealand, there is not much time but Renard has demonstrated in the past that he can turn teams around and achieve success.

The Frenchman is giving up plenty, however. Not just the chance to lead Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup next January but there is the 2026 World Cup — and with the expanded tournament, it would be a surprise if the boys from Riyadh do not make it — as well as the 2027 Asian Cup that will be held in Saudi Arabia.

The Frenchman has swapped all that for the chance to take his home nation to a World Cup that will be held this summer and one that France, grouped with Brazil, Jamaica and Panama, have the potential to win.

While fans in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and elsewhere will perhaps have a passing interest in how France performs Down Under, now the focus is on finding the right person to lead Saudi Arabia forward.

After the World Cup and the improved reputation of football in the country, there should be plenty of interested parties.


Curry scores 39 to lead Warriors rally over Pelicans

Curry scores 39 to lead Warriors rally over Pelicans
Updated 29 March 2023

Curry scores 39 to lead Warriors rally over Pelicans

Curry scores 39 to lead Warriors rally over Pelicans
  • Boston Celtics’ chances of overtaking Milwaukee Bucks for the top seed in the East took a hit with an ugly 130-111 loss to the lowly Washington

LOS ANGELES: Golden State erased a 20-point deficit to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 120-109 on Tuesday, with Stephen Curry scoring 39 points as the Warriors edged ahead of Minnesota into sixth place in the Western Conference.

Curry drained five of his eight three-pointers in the second half as the reigning NBA champion Warriors came alive, surging past the Pelicans to win a sometimes sloppy, often scrappy contest and boost their chances of avoiding the play-in tournament for teams placed seventh through 10th in each conference.

Golden State star Draymond Green and New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram received double technical fouls with 3:45 left in the second quarter after they exchanged words in the wake of Green’s foul on the Pelicans player — which was upgraded to a flagrant.

Green’s collision with Herbert Jones sparked some more shoving, and with 14 turnovers in the testy first half, the Warriors were down 17 at the break.

They opened the third quarter on an 8-0 scoring run and had cut the deficit to four points going into the fourth.

“We started playing with some heart and intensity,” Green said of the difference in the second half.

Jordan Poole’s reverse layup early in the fourth gave the Warriors their first lead since the first quarter, 95-94, and they didn’t trail again.

Poole scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Klay Thompson added 17 for the Warriors.

Ingram led the Pelicans with 26 points and Trey Murphy added 21, but New Orleans coach Willie Green said his team’s lackluster start to the third quarter was fatal.

“We started, I believe it was eight-zip,” he said. “Two turnovers. You can’t give this team any life. Once they get going, once this building gets going, it’s tough to stop them.”

Elsewhere, the Boston Celtics’ chances of overtaking the Milwaukee Bucks for the top seed in the East took a hit with an ugly 130-111 loss to the lowly Washington Wizards.

Perhaps caught looking ahead to a Thursday clash with the Bucks, the Celtics were lackadaisical on defense, unable to stop a Wizards team missing two key players in Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 32 points for the Wizards and Deni Avdija added 25.

Jayson Tatum returned from a one-game absence to lead the Celtics with 28 points. Marcus Smart had four three-pointers in the first half, but overall, Boston connected on just 11 of 44 from three-point range.

They trailed by 13 at halftime and by as many as 23 in the second half.

“It was just one of those nights,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Very rarely has that happened to our team. Just one of those off nights.”

The Toronto Raptors outscored the Miami Heat 62-36 in the paint in a 106-92 victory.

Pascal Siakam scored 26 points and Scottie Barnes added 22 along with a career-high 12 assists for the Raptors — as the Heat failed to gain ground in their bid to avoid the play-in round.

With Jimmy Butler sidelined by a sore neck, the Heat dropped a second straight game.

Tyler Herro scored 33 points and Bam Adebayo added 21 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, who cut the deficit to 10 with less than four minutes to play only for their charge to stall.

Dejounte Murray starred late as the Atlanta Hawks edged the playoff-bound Cleveland Cavaliers 120-118.

Murray made three free throws to put the Hawks up 115-113 with 2:14 remaining, then came up with a steal and a basket that pushed the lead to four in the final minute.

He finished with 29 points to lead the Hawks, who remained tied with Toronto for the eighth-best record in the East.

Atlanta withstood a 44-point effort from Donovan Mitchell, who tied LeBron James’s Cavaliers franchise record of 10 games of 40 or more points in a season.