Saudi Cup double win is aim of top UK horse trainer

Saudi Cup double win is aim of top UK horse trainer
Holloway Boy won the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot on his racecourse debut in June for Karl Burke and Danny Tudhope. Supplied
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Updated 20 February 2023

Saudi Cup double win is aim of top UK horse trainer

Saudi Cup double win is aim of top UK horse trainer
  • Karl Burke targeting $1.5m and $2.5m races
  • On undercard of the $20m main contest

RIYADH: Top UK trainer Karl Burke is planning a two-pronged raid on the glittering Saudi Cup next year.

Based in Yorkshire, Burke is preparing both Holloway Boy and Al-Qareem for the world’s most valuable race meeting on Saturday Feb. 25.

Holloway Boy is being aimed at the $1.5 million Group 3 Saudi Derby, while Al-Qareem has the $2.5 million Group 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap as his target.

Both races will take place on the same evening as the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race, at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

Classic hopeful Holloway Boy became the first horse for 26 years to win at Royal Ascot on his debut when landing the Chesham Stakes at British Flat racing’s most prestigious meeting in June.

Although he failed to add to that victory in four races later in the season, he finished in the first three in all of them, including when third in the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster in October.

Burke is plotting a path to the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May with the son of Ulysses and he believes the timing of the Group 3 Saudi Derby, run over 1,600 meters on the dirt track, perfectly fits into his plans.

“It was always in my mind to give him a prep run before the 2000 Guineas. If we go out to the Saudi Derby, it still gives us the guts of two months into the Guineas,” he said.

“Timewise, it’s ideal and the prize money is huge. As long as he’s fit and well at the end of January, I would imagine that’s where we’ll go.

“He’s a horse with a lot of ability. He showed that again in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster when he probably should have been second. The winner, Auguste Rodin, is obviously a very useful horse,” he added.

The dirt surface is one unknown for Holloway Boy but Burke is confident it will not be a problem. He believes he has the right action for dirt, and he was impressed when he saw King Abdulaziz Racecourse firsthand in February at this year’s Saudi Cup.

“I went out for the big meeting earlier this year — some of my owners invited me out there. I was very impressed with everything.

“The jockeys reported the dirt track was very horse friendly compared to some others. The kickback wasn’t as severe, so it helped put it in our minds to give Holloway Boy a chance around there.

“I wouldn’t be keen to run him on ‘normal’ dirt but, from what I saw myself and listening to the jockeys, it’s a very kind surface in Saudi.

“Mishriff obviously went out there and won the Saudi Cup in 2021, so it’s proven to be friendly to the European horses so to speak.”

In a dual assault on racing’s most valuable meeting, Burke is preparing smart staying prospect Al-Qareem to join Holloway Boy in Saudi Arabia.

He progressed from handicaps to land a French Group 2 over 3,000 meters at Longchamp in October, having finished fourth behind subsequent St. Leger winner Eldar Eldarov in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot.

He has the Group 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap as his Saudi target. With $2.5 million in prize money on offer, Burke sees it as an opportunity not to be missed. “It’s huge money and a horse like Al-Qareem would go there with a chance. If he couldn’t win, he’d have a chance of picking up some big place money.

“He’s come back in and he’s cantering away steady at the moment. We’ll pick his work up now to Christmas and he’ll work through January. If he’s in good shape at the end of January, we’ll aim him at the Red Sea.

“That’s the plan in our heads at the moment but there is a lot of training to go into him over the next six weeks. When we get to the end of January, we’ll make a firm decision. I’m very pleased with him at the moment.

“We’d hope he could develop into a Cup horse next season. He’s shown a good level of form and he’s only a three-year-old. He’s only a baby really.

“He’s a big-framed horse, so he can strengthen and step up again next year. He’s obviously got to prove it yet but that’s the type of horse we’re hoping we can turn him into.”

This will be the fourth year of the Saudi Cup meeting and Burke is keen to be involved in the fixture. “With the huge prize money on offer, it’s going to make every racing jurisdiction around the world take notice,” he said. “The Japanese were unbelievably strong there last year and I’m sure they will be again this time. You’d be mad not to take notice of the Saudi Cup meeting.”

Team Jayco Alula welcomes Saudi cycling talent Moroj Adil to European training camp

Team Jayco Alula welcomes Saudi cycling talent Moroj Adil to European training camp
Updated 07 June 2023

Team Jayco Alula welcomes Saudi cycling talent Moroj Adil to European training camp

Team Jayco Alula welcomes Saudi cycling talent Moroj Adil to European training camp
  • 24-year-old describes move as ‘a major step for my career’
  • Adil first met the team in Alula a few days after the UCI Saudi Tour in February, where she attended key presentations and underwent valuable training

ALULA: Professional road race cycling team Team Jayco Alula has welcomed young Saudi Arabian talent Moroj Adil to their European training camp.
The 24-year-old is in Girona, Spain, a European base for many of the team’s riders and staff. There, Adil took part in more training in the pursuit of becoming a professional rider in the women’s WorldTour peloton.
Adil first met the team in Alula a few days after the UCI Saudi Tour in February, where she attended key presentations and underwent valuable training.
She said it was a great step to join the camp in Spain, and progress for a sport she began as a hobby at just one and a half years old.
“I used to be really attached to my father and whatever he would do, I would do with him. After he passed away, I wanted to find a new hobby. I found cycling and it helped me cope with stress and allowed me to spend more time outdoors.
“As my love for cycling grew, I was determined to become a professional cyclist and compete,” she added. “Being part of the training with Team Jayco Alula is a major step for my career and I’m grateful for such a wonderful opportunity.
“It’s been an honor to be part of the growing cycling community in Alula, and I’m excited for what’s to come.”
Philip Jones, Chief Tourism Officer of The Royal Commission for Alula, said: “Moroj is an incredible talent, embodying the spirit of cycling and inspiring Saudi women and men. I’m thrilled that our collaboration with Team Jayco Alula has empowered her to experience this transformative milestone.
“Moroj’s story is a core part of what Alula is striving to achieve as a destination for cycling, with its scenic roads and mountains, historic landscape and robust infrastructure that is rapidly expanding. We hope that Alula will be a source of motivation and a dynamic hub for even more athletes.”
Brent Copeland, Team Jayco Alula General Manager said that his organization is “very excited” to work with the Royal Commission for Alula and the Saudi Cycling Federation for future camps.
“Despite her relatively recent start in cycling, the team is fully dedicated to supporting her. We all hope Moroj’s unique experience will inspire more Saudi women and men to embrace cycling not just as a potential profession but as a lifestyle choice.”
When Moroj began cycling, she was determined to participate and compete in local cycling competitions and was selected by the Saudi Cycling Racing Federation to join the Women’s Saudi National Team to compete regionally and internationally.
In 2022, her determination enabled her to enter the four-day MTB race in NEOM Titan Desert Saudi Arabia. The race covered a total of 427 km with more than 3,500 meters altitude gain.
Fares Alotaibi, Adviser Saudi Cycling Federation, said: “The Saudi Cycling Federation is proud of Moroj Adil, a young and talented woman who is passionate about cycling.
“Moroj loves cycling and wants to improve her quality of life by achieving her goal of becoming a pro cyclist.
“We, at the Saudi Cycling Federation, will continue to support Saudi cyclists to help them achieve their dreams and will extend our support to our partners in Alula, The Royal Commission for Alula and Team Jayco Alula.
“We strive to achieve common objectives such as engaging more young Saudi men and women to take up cycling and make it a lifestyle choice, while also helping them improve their performances to be able to compete like pro riders.”

Al-Ittihad’s dream becomes reality with Benzema signing

French superstar striker Karim Benzema. @SPL_EN
French superstar striker Karim Benzema. @SPL_EN
Updated 07 June 2023

Al-Ittihad’s dream becomes reality with Benzema signing

French superstar striker Karim Benzema. @SPL_EN
  • Jeddah club strengthens with French international days after celebrating first SPL title in 14 years

What an amazing week for Al-Ittihad fans. Days after winning their first Roshn Saudi League title since 2009, French superstar striker Karim Benzema was confirmed to be joining the Jeddah club from Real Madrid.

It is another dream come true for Al-Ittihad followers and a scary prospect for rivals. The team were relentless in their title-winning campaign. Not only did they have the tightest defense with just 13 goals conceded in 30 games, they also had a devastating strike force. 

Abderrazak Hamdallah topped the scoring charts with 21 and Brazilians Romarinho and Igor Coronado also stood out. Coach Nuno Santo already has a wealth of talent at his disposal.

Now there is Benzema, one of the most feared strikers in the world, even at the age of 35. He may not be at the peak of his career, but he still has plenty to offer, especially with his status as the most recent recipient of the Ballon d’Or. 

He received that coveted individual award — given to the best player in the world — in October of last year after his exploits dug Real Madrid out of a hole more than once as they went on to become the champions of Europe with the Frenchman finishing the Champions League top scorer with 15 goals.

It was the fifth time he has won the biggest prize in club football. 

“If you can’t appreciate Benzema’s greatness then you don’t understand football,” said Zinedine Zidane (also linked to a coaching move to Saudi Arabia) and few would disagree.

Benzama’s Champions League medal haul even matches that of Cristiano Ronaldo. The presence of his former Madrid team-mate in Saudi Arabia has made a difference on a personal level. He contacted Ronaldo to ask about life in the country on and off the pitch. The reply must have been positive.

Ronaldo’s move to Riyadh has had a knock-on effect across the globe, with the huge rise in interest in the Saudi Pro League. He signed with Al-Nassr in December, suddenly putting a move to Saudi Arabia on the radar of many big names in world football. He was the first but there were always going to be others following. 

The only question was whether they would be players at the highest echelons of the world game. It can safely be said that Benzema is firmly in that category. With the Ballon d’Or holder the first major signing of the summer, it is perhaps a sign of things to come.

Title rivals have to accept Al-Ittihad’s challenge. If the champions are strengthening to such an extent, so early, then others are going to have to make similar moves. Al-Nassr have Ronaldo but fell short at the end and are currently without a head coach. That is going to change soon and given the captain’s stature, the new man is going to need a serious reputation.

Al-Hilal finished third and are also on the hunt for a coach to replace Ramon Diaz. After being banned from the last two transfer windows, there is going to be a lot of activity. Lionel Messi has been heavily linked but there are others such as Sergio Busquets. 

Then Al-Shabab are going to invest to try and build on fourth and that is even before Al-Ahli, the other Jeddah powerhouse, who bounced back straight away from their shock relegation, flex their muscles.

Now all know what they are dealing with. Karim Benzema has just made the best team in Saudi Arabia better and has set the scene for a sizzling summer.

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League
Updated 07 June 2023

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League
  • Fleeting success of Guangzhou Evergrande, Tianjin Quanjian, Jiangsu Suning and others because spending was unsustainable
  • Source of investment in Kingdom’s league more secure than China’s individual-based backing

As rumors swirl linking a host of footballing superstars with a move to the Saudi professional league, including arguably the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi, fans of Asian football would be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu.

While the names are different, the sudden splurge from a nation looking to develop both its football, and standing within it, is eerily similar to what we saw from China less than a decade ago as it tried to upend the sport’s established order.

And for a period it did; the likes of Oscar, Jackson Martinez, Hulk, Paulinho, Renato Augusto, not to mention coaches including Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capelli and Manuel Pellegrini, were all tempted east as the Chinese Super League threatened to take over Asian football and become a big player on the global stage.

Guangzhou Evergrande led the charge, twice winning the AFC Champions League, while upstarts such as Shanghai SIPG, now Shanghai Port, Hebei CFFC, Tianjin Quanjian and Jiangsu Suning took the league by storm.

With China’s President Xi Jinping making it a national priority for the country to become a force in world football, countless businesses, mostly real estate developers, took the opportunity to invest in football, not just at home but around the world, in an attempt to curry favor with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

By this time in their revolution, China was expected to be a powerhouse within Asia, but their reality serves as a warning for Saudi Arabian football as it embarks on its own journey for international prominence.

Less than a decade after China really started its extravagance, local football is arguably in a worse position than before it all started. The CSL has mostly been shed of all its star names, while the national team will likely struggle to qualify for the World Cup despite Asia’s allocation doubling from four to eight.

That is to say nothing of the country’s top football officials being detained on suspicion of fraud and bribery.

This is not how it was meant to be.

The once-mighty Guangzhou Evergrande, more recently renamed Guangzhou FC, has been relegated to China League One and are winless after eight games, placing them at risk of a second consecutive relegation. This is a long way from when they dominated the ACL with titles in 2013 and 2015.

Meanwhile, once-burgeoning outfits like Jiangsu, Hebei and Tianjin have all gone bust and no longer exist – standing as monuments of failure and a permanent reminder of just how quickly things can change.

“You need a vision, and then you need a strategy, and then you need to be able to put that strategy into action,” Prof. Simon Chadwick, an expert in sport and geopolitics, told Arab News.

“You need to have checks and balances within the system, that if the strategy is not working in the most appropriate way, then those checks and balances can be enacted, to keep you on the right path towards your vision.

“These are things that I sense a little more in Saudi Arabia that didn’t necessarily exist in China.”

With further details emerging this week of Saudi Arabia’s roadmap toward success, including the privatization of the country’s four biggest clubs – Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli – and a forecasted quadrupling of annual revenues, the Saudi experiment is already looking vastly different to that of China’s.

Whereas the largesse in China had the support of the ruling CCP party, it was more often than not financed by private individuals, albeit ones with links to the ruling communist party, using their own wealth accumulated through years of unsustainable growth in the real estate sector. By the time the heat came out of the real estate market, and the CCP tinkered to try and save clubs from themselves, it was too late.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the investment is coming directly from the state via its sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, the same source of funding for LIV Golf and Newcastle United. That alone makes this feel more secure and less at risk of an embarrassing collapse as was witnessed in China.

Chadwick also explained that the Kingdom needs to find its own uniqueness and not simply try to copy what is successful in Europe.

“One of the interesting things about both Saudi Arabia and China, I think, is a lot of people from outside the country advise and give guidance,” he said.

“(But) they don’t necessarily give the best advice or the best guidance, because what might work in Europe, for example, doesn’t necessarily work in Asia.

“So I think it’s really important, and I don’t think China did this, that Saudi Arabia needs to develop its own identity and its own system of governance, its own culture and its own way of working and not be overly preoccupied by replicating the experiences of what has happened in Europe.”

Al-Ittihad sign former Real Madrid star Karim Benzema

Al-Ittihad sign former Real Madrid star Karim Benzema
Updated 06 June 2023

Al-Ittihad sign former Real Madrid star Karim Benzema

Al-Ittihad sign former Real Madrid star Karim Benzema
  • The current Ballon d’Or holder will join on an initial three-year contract

JEDDAH: Saudi Pro League champions Al-Ittihad have agreed terms to sign Karim Benzema, it was announced on Tuesday. 

The Ballon d’Or holder, regarded as one of the finest strikers of the modern era, will join on an initial three-year contract, the club said.

The French superstar underwent a medical in Madrid and is set to be unveiled by the Jeddah giants later this week.

Benzema won 24 trophies with Real Madrid, including four La Liga titles, three Copa del Reys and five UEFA Champions League titles, and is the club’s second-highest goal scorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 97-cap French international is also the current UEFA Player of the Year. He last played in Saudi Arabia at the start of the year, for Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.

“I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country. Al-Ittihad has an amazing history, incredibly passionate fans and big ambitions in football to be a force in Asia after winning the league. I have been fortunate to achieve amazing things in my career and achieve everything I can in Spain and Europe,” he said. 

“It now feels the time is right for a new challenge and project. Every time I’ve visited Saudi Arabia I’ve always felt such warmth and love from the fans and people.

“I am looking forward to joining my new teammates and, together with them, help take this amazing club and the game in Saudi Arabia to new levels,” he added.

In his first interview as an Al-Ittihad player, which will be published on the club’s social channels, he said: “It’s a new challenge for me, a new life and I can't wait to start training. I will do everything to win trophies, to score, to show my talent, to satisfy the fans, the club, the president – everyone. 

”It’s a good league and there are many good players. Cristiano Ronaldo is already there, a friend, which shows Saudi Arabia is starting to further progress its level. I am here to win, like I did in Europe.  I am excited to see you in Jeddah.”

This season saw Al-Ittihad, managed by Nuno Espirito Santo, secure a ninth overall title in the SPL – their first championship since 2009. The title qualifies them for December’s FIFA Club World Cup.

Al-Ittihad Club President Anmar Bin Abdullah Alhailae, said: “To sign the current Ballon d’Or holder from Real Madrid is another historic milestone for this special club. 

“Karim is a global football icon, he’s box office and very much at the top of his powers. He joins a club and hugely competitive league – in a country with big ambitions both on and off the pitch. 

“We know all eyes will be on him and can’t wait to see him in the number 9 shirt of Al-Ittihad Club next season as we face an incredibly exciting challenge to defend our title, compete in Asia and play on the global stage of the FIFA Club World Cup.

“When you start winning championships, you attract fans and admirers, especially from the younger generations. Having a player like Karim Benzema will have a sporting effect and presence on the streets.

He said the fans would “start wearing Karim’s shirt, they will try to move like he does on the pitch. I assure you, these will be very beautiful and historic moments. Welcome Karim!”

DGDA chief Jerry Inzerillo welcomes privatization of Diriyah Sports Club

Diriyah Sports Club's ownership has been transferred to DGDA. (Supplied/DGDA)
Diriyah Sports Club's ownership has been transferred to DGDA. (Supplied/DGDA)
Updated 06 June 2023

DGDA chief Jerry Inzerillo welcomes privatization of Diriyah Sports Club

Diriyah Sports Club's ownership has been transferred to DGDA. (Supplied/DGDA)
  • Club’s ownership transferred to Diriyah Gate Development Authority as part of initiative to help develop talent and facilities

RIYADH: Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, has commended the launch of the Sports Club Investment and Privatization Project by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the landmark project that has led to the transfer of ownership of the Diriyah Sports Club from the Ministry of Sport to the DGDA.

The initiative highlights the importance of developing Saudi sports as part of Vision 2030 and the drive to improve the well-being of all people in Saudi Arabia, Inzerillo said.

It is also indicative of the focus placed on aiding professional sports in the Kingdom to increase their competitiveness at the local, regional and global levels, he added, confirming that the club, which was established in Diriyah in 1976, will seamlessly integrate with the DGDA’s agenda of community, commercial and sports projects.

The move will help position Diriyah Sports Club as a destination for locals and tourists to enjoy a wide range of sports and social activities that the club will host.

The decision by the Ministry of Sport to transfer ownership of the Diriyah Sports Club to the DGDA will enable the organization to invest in the development of talents and facilities, said Inzerillo.

“We will be looking at developing a ground-up approach, from enhanced infrastructure to world-class athletic and athlete services, bolstering and growing the player base to enable them to compete at levels that were previously unachievable,” he added.

“This in turn will help grow our audience and fan base and encourage the youth and casual players to strive for higher levels of competition. This all feeds into Vision 2030’s underlying objectives of wellness and well-being and sports for all ages and skill levels.”

The Ministry of Sport said that the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project seeks to involve investment and development bodies directly to improve the performance of sports clubs, enhance their governance and help them achieve financial sustainability.

As part of Vision 2030 goals, the DGDA will activate promising, ambitious plans to improve the Diriyah Sports Club and fulfill its commitment to support sports and improve the quality of life in the community.

The DGDA has been heavily involved in the sports sector, hosting and organizing a variety of high-profile international, regional, and local activities and tournaments held in cooperation with local governing bodies.