Zedan has two major bullets to fire in the Saudi Cup

Zedan has two major bullets to fire in the Saudi Cup
Country Grammer (right) was a close second to Emblem Road in last year’s Saudi Cup. Credit: Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
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Updated 19 January 2023

Zedan has two major bullets to fire in the Saudi Cup

Zedan has two major bullets to fire in the Saudi Cup
  • Taiba and Country Grammer both on course to contest world’s most valuable race

Riyadh: Amr Zedan, the successful Saudi businessman and Thoroughbred breeder, has entered two of his star horses, both trained by Bob Baffert, in the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Taiba, a three-time Grade 1 winner who landed the 1400m Malibu Stakes impressively at Santa Anita last month, is set to be accompanied by stablemate Country Grammer, a close second to Emblem Road in the 2022 Saudi Cup, before going on to take the Dubai World Cup the following month.

Describing Taiba’s last start in the Malibu race when dropping back in distance to 1400m, Zedan said: “He’s the kind of horse that works as good as his workmate. He has his own mind, but he gives me a heart attack in every race, especially down the backstretch.

“The Malibu was an important race for him as it turned into a bit of a sprint. It was a good call by Bob to put him in the right condition to instigate that kind of speed and it was a good step.

“If you watch the Pennsylvania Derby, he was dropping back and then picked up. Mike Smith knows him well and they are a great combination. He makes Mike work — he was more exhausted than Taiba that day!”

When asked when the Saudi Cup came on the radar for the 4-year-old son of Gun Runner, Zedan said: “We really hoped we had something after he won the Santa Anita Derby in April, and we always thought he would be the perfect fit for the race going from his 3-year-old to his 4-year-old year.

“The Saudi Cup was front and center. We had to see how the rest of the year played out, but with me being from Saudi, it was always a priority. I serve on the board of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia with Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal (chairman of the club) and I’m super pumped and super excited to be a part of the Saudi Cup’s continued success.”

Country Grammer was only beaten half a length by Emblem Road before tasting success in the Dubai World Cup a month later.

Reflecting on his run in Riyadh last February, Zedan said: “It was a good effort, and it was a prelude to Dubai. We thought the extra distance at Meydan would suit Country Grammer, but Life Is Good was a significant concern.

“Country Grammer enjoyed the distance and Life Is Good probably prefers the Saudi Cup distance. He keeps grinding our horse. He’s got speed and the workmanship to get over the wire.

“It was my first appearance at the Saudi Cup, and Country Grammer was an unknown commodity. He showed great tenacity to finish second, and we were very proud of him. I was delighted for Prince Saud bin Salman (owner of Emblem Road).”

Frankie Dettori starts his farewell tour in Saudi Arabia next month, and Zedan confirmed he will maintain his partnership with the son of Tonalist, who won the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on the same day as Taiba’s Malibu victory.

“Frankie needs no testimony from me. He’s been great for the sport in every way — on the horse, off the horse or flying off the horse. His accomplishments speak for themselves. He’s a good friend and he will be missed. I hope he reconsiders his retirement by picking up mounts as he chooses over the coming months,” said Zedan.

With two such strong chances for the world’s most valuable race, who would Zedan side with?

“You don’t prefer a kid over another,” said Zedan. “We’ve had brilliant moments with both and they’re both my boys. Everyone needs to be given their best shot and as long as one of them crosses the wire first, I’ll be a happy camper.”

Zedan Racing Stables also has a possible runner in the $1.5 million Saudi Derby with Hejazi.

“He’s a great horse and just needed some time to grow into his frame. He was beaten by some very fast sprinters last year and produced a 101 Beyer Time Figure in his 2-year-old season, which is almost unheard of. He’s been a bit unlucky; he’s produced some great numbers,” Zedan said.

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory
Updated 06 February 2023

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory
  • Former UK champion booked for Neom Turf Cup contender on glittering race day
  • Missed The Cut’s trainer George Boughey: I wanted someone to create a bond with the horse

Oisin Murphy will have his first big-race rides since returning from a 14-month ban at the Saudi Cup meeting.

The three-time British Champion Jockey has been booked to ride Missed The Cut in the $1.5 million G3 Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi at the world’s most valuable racing fixture.

The two-day festival – featuring the $20 million Saudi Cup – kicks off on Friday, Feb. 24, just eight days after Murphy is allowed to return to racing following his lengthy ban. The 2100m Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi and the Saudi Cup take place the following day.

Missed The Cut’s trainer, Newmarket-based George Boughey, was quick to snap up the services of the Classic-winning jockey.

He said: “Oisin has only ridden one winner for me, but he’s obviously a fantastic rider and I’m delighted to have him on board.

“I wanted someone to create a bond with the horse. He’s done plenty of work on him. He went to Chelmsford to ride him the other morning and he’s delighted with him, so it’s all systems go.”

Missed The Cut did not make his debut until April last year. He quickly completed a hat-trick of wins when landing the Golden Gates Handicap at Royal Ascot before ending the year with victory in the Listed Churchill Stakes on the All-Weather at Lingfield.

The form of that most recent run in November is starting to look very good, with runner-up Algiers going on to win two Group 2 races in Dubai by wide margins.

Boughey added: “He’s been in great shape and seeing his form get franked on the world stage just confirmed what he’s been showing us for a while. We’re very excited to see him out in Saudi in a few weeks.

“He’s a horse that was sold out of Shadwell dispersal sale. He was just a standout physically from the get-go. He’s still a big baby. He’s only run six times. We’re taking on much more experienced horses, but his work is improving at a rate of knots. He is the horse that could take us to the next level.”

Missed The Cut, who is likely to head off to America after his run at the Saudi Cup meeting, will be joined by Sir Busker in the $1.5 million Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi.

His owners are dreaming of a fairy-tale win at the world’s most valuable meeting at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

The 7-year-old is owned by the 16-strong Kennett Valley Thoroughbreds syndicate and is trained by Newmarket-based William Knight.

Sir Busker has progressed from handicaps to Group company, and hopes are high he can give his enthusiastic owners another memorable payday under big-race jockey Ryan Moore.

Knight said: “He’s come up through the ranks. We always liked him as a 2-year-old, and he’s improved as he’s gotten older.

“To think five years ago I’d be sitting here now talking about going out to Saudi with him — it’s things you dream of. He’s been a star for us.

“He’s owned by a lovely group of people. They’re very passionate owners. When you stand in the paddock before these big races with the owners, who all have 1/16th, it’s great.

“They realize how lucky they are. They realize he’s the horse of a lifetime. He’s given everyone so much enjoyment.”

Sir Busker had the option of running in the G1 $20 million Saudi Cup — the world’s most valuable race — but Knight is happy they have decided to go for the Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi.

He added: “We’ve talked long and hard about this. I promise you it’s changed daily as to which race we’re going to go for. It’s such an amazing opportunity to run for that sort of money in the Saudi Cup.

“Looking at the entries for both races, I think we have a better chance of being in the first three in the Neom Turf Cup. The extra distance will really suit him, and we know he goes really well on turf.”

Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly eye unlikely FIFA Club World Cup Final showdown

Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly eye unlikely FIFA Club World Cup Final showdown
Updated 06 February 2023

Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly eye unlikely FIFA Club World Cup Final showdown

Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly eye unlikely FIFA Club World Cup Final showdown
  • Saudi and Asian champions Al-Hilal take on Brazil’s Flamengo, Cairo giants Al-Ahly face mighty Real Madrid in semifinals
  • Al-Hilal and Flamengo met at the same stage in 2019, with the South Americans winning 3-1

It was less than three months ago when Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari scored spectacular goals to defeat Argentina and set the 2022 World Cup on fire.

There is now another massive South American test for the pair as Al-Hilal take on Brazilian giants Flamengo in the semifinals of the FIFA Club World Cup in Tangier on Tuesday. The prize of a final against mighty Real Madrid or Arab rivals Al-Ahly awaits.

The Saudi Arabian and Asian champions are still recovering from an epic showdown with local heroes Wydad AC on Saturday.

Not only did the Riyadh giants have to come back from a goal down against the African champions — and complete 120 minutes of a tough encounter — but they also had to deal with 50,000 intimidating fans.

Al-Hilal came through in the end thanks to a late equalizer from Mohamed Kanno and then a tense penalty shootout.

Al-Hilal and Flamengo met at the same stage in 2019, with the South Americans winning 3-1. Al-Hilal took the lead thanks to an Al-Dawsari goal after just 18 minutes. Flamengo equalized and then, with 12 minutes remaining, Bruno Henrique — not the player who now turns out for Al-Ittihad — put the Rio de Janeiro club ahead. A late own-goal from Ali Al-Bulaihi sealed Hilal’s fate.

Both Al-Bulaihi and Al-Dawsari should play this time too, with Jang Hyun-soo another survivor from that game.

Jang said: “Facing a Brazilian team such as Flamengo in the semifinals will be difficult.

“We previously faced them in the same tournament. We lost at that time but we always aim to win every game we play, and this is no different.

“We will give everything we have to reach the final and then to be champions.”

Absences make the task harder. Midfielder Kanno, sent off for two bookable offenses on Saturday, is out, while Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo is doubtful.

Given that a quartet of Saudi Arabian internationals — captain Salman Al-Faraj, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Mohammed Al-Breik and Abdulellah Al-Malki — did not even make the journey from Riyadh, then coach Ramon Diaz has a lot to think about.

With one South American triumph in the last 15 tournaments, Flamengo, led by former Al-Ahli coach Vitor Pereira, would love to take the trophy back home.

They are in decent form back in Brazil, they do not have the injury problems of their Saudi opponents, but have had a lengthy journey.

If Al-Hilal do manage to win, it would put them in a major final, and their fans in dreamland. It would be another major achievement for Arab football; it is hard to imagine what an Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly final would mean to the region.

But first the Egyptians have the matter of a semifinal against Real Madrid, arguably the biggest club in the world.

The Spaniards not only won the European title for a record-extending 14th time last year, but they are also the most successful team in this tournament, with four championships.

For Al-Hilal to beat Flamengo would be seen as a surprise, but Al-Ahly triumphing would be an even bigger shock.

But the Cairo giants are in good form. Ten wins and five draws from the first 15 games of the Egyptian Premier League season have steered them well clear at the top of the standings, and they have already progressed past Auckland City and Seattle Sounders in this tournament, by 3-0 and 1-0 respectively. 

Real Madrid, with stars such as Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior, are hot favorites, although they trail rivals Barcelona in Spain by eight points following defeat at the weekend.

Al-Ahly’s Swiss coach Marcel Koller said: “It is a great achievement to set up a date with Real Madrid in the semifinals.

“We will prepare both theoretically and technically for the game and we know it will be a big challenge.”

The Red Giants have faced European champions once before, losing 2-0 to Bayern Munich in 2020 on their way to third place — the same position they finished last year after defeating Al-Hilal in the third and fourth-place play-off.

It is possible that these two giants of Arabian football will meet at the same stage again this weekend — but there is also still time to dream that it will be in the final.

Team of the week for Roshn Saudi League round 15

Team of the week for Roshn Saudi League round 15
Roshn Saudi League players of the week by statistical website Sofascore. supplied
Updated 06 February 2023

Team of the week for Roshn Saudi League round 15

Team of the week for Roshn Saudi League round 15
  • Goalkeeper Martin Campana of Al-Batin was the only star of his category

Riyadh: Alejandro Kaku has been voted the Roshn Saudi League player of the week by statistical website Sofascore after an incredible performance in round 15 of the season.

The 28-year-old Paraguayan Al-Taawoun player ranked 9.5 following his assist for the only goal against Al-Batin, securing his team’s victory. He created four big chances and touched the ball 89 times in the match.

Goalkeeper Martin Campana of Al-Batin was the only star of his category.

As for defenders, Santos from Al-Shabab, Saad Natiq from Abha, and Hassan Kadesh from Al-Taawoun were among the top players.

Midfielder Sultan Mandash of Al-Fayha, Abha’s Saad Buguir, Alfa Semedo from Al-Tai, and Carlos Junior from Al-Shabab ranked top of their categories.

Forward Santi Mina from Al-Shabab, Robin Quaison from Al-Ittifaq, as well as player of the week Kaku were the best in their categories.

Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team

Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team
Updated 06 February 2023

Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team

Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team
  • New youth age group follows the footsteps of main squad and futsal side
  • Squad of 28 players selected for training camp in Riyadh after regional trials

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has launched its third women’s national team — the Under-17 squad — with 28 players set for a training camp in Riyadh this weekend.

The formation of the team demonstrates the rapid progress of the women’s game in Saudi Arabia since the inception of a dedicated women’s department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in 2019. 

The U-17 squad will hope to follow in the footsteps of their senior counterparts, who were recently victorious during their international friendly tournament debut and are well on their way to officially entering the FIFA Rankings List next month.

Today, there are two active professional leagues featuring 25 clubs and 523 players representing over 20 different nationalities. At amateur level, almost 50,000 schoolgirls took part in the inaugural schools’ league featuring 4,700 teams across Saudi Arabia. Off the pitch, 49 referees are officially registered and officiating league matches, with the first Saudi female referee — Anoud Al-Asmari — breaking into FIFA’s licensed list last month. 

Over 1,000 licensed coaches are also nurturing young female talent across clubs, academies, schools and training centers across the country.

Marking a further milestone in the women’s game, Yasser Al-Misehal, president of the SAFF, said: “Saudi Arabia has become an ambitious supporter of sport to help inspire its young population to get active and to lead healthy lives. Our investments, which include grassroots facilities, partnerships and hosting global events, reflect the country’s rapid progress and transformation.

“Women and girls are central to everything we do in sport, and we are working to provide equal access to facilities, opportunities and careers, both on and off the pitch,” he said. “In football that means our national teams, regardless of male or female, get equal pay in terms of daily allowance while on national duty. They train on the same pitches, stay in the same type of accommodation, and use the same equipment.

“The establishment of the U-17 team today is yet another sign of our strong commitment to women’s sports, and football in specific,” Al-Misehal added. “Having been selected to host (the) AFC Asian Cup 2027 … our commitment now lies on our bid to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026. We invite everyone to visit our country to see for themselves how the country’s transformation is impacting daily lives and the role sport is playing across all areas of society.”

While many sectors have benefitted under Vision 2030 — the Kingdom’s economic and social reform program — sports for schoolgirls have seen a significant boost, with thousands grasping new opportunities that previously did not exist. As a result, today 37 sports federations have a women’s national team, with four female presidents leading them. There has also been a marked increase in sports participation at all levels, with over 200,000 girls playing sport every week.

Mirroring much of the transformation happening across all areas in Saudi Arabia, the strong women’s football movement stems from a long-term strategy and commitment by the SAFF to grow interest and inspire participation at all levels of the game, with unprecedented investments in grassroots, player development, coaching, refereeing and competitions.

The U-17 squad was chosen following try-outs across the country’s three regional training centers in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, that welcome girls as young as six years old three times a week in an effort to increase participation and develop skills at an early age. The centers saw more than 300 talented players try out for the U-17 national team selection. Some players were also chosen after being spotted playing in the inaugural Schools’ League launched at the end of last year.

In a boost to future development, five players from the 28 selected are already honing their skills in front of crowds every weekend in the Women’s Premier League. The U-17 national team’s first training camp has just been completed, with the second confirm from Feb. 9-11, 2023.

Lamia Bahaian, supervisor of the Women’s Football Department and board member at the SAFF, said: “We are fortunate to see such a big turnout for the try-outs and it really shows the passion these girls have for football. They want to play, watch and participate in any way — and while that certainly makes our job easier, it also adds an additional responsibility to give the women’s game the platform it deserves.

“We’ve been working towards the establishment of the U-17 team for a couple of years now as it’s a very important element in our mission to offer a 360 degrees women’s football ecosystem. It’s great to see that five of the players are already earning minutes in the Women’s Premier League, and is indicative of how the creation of the league has benefited the all-round growth of the women’s game.”

A cooperation between Rui Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo's tech company, Footlab arrives in Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo and Rui Costa's Footlab has partnered with Saudi company Confrontation Entertainment. (Supplied/Footlab)
Cristiano Ronaldo and Rui Costa's Footlab has partnered with Saudi company Confrontation Entertainment. (Supplied/Footlab)
Updated 06 February 2023

A cooperation between Rui Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo's tech company, Footlab arrives in Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo and Rui Costa's Footlab has partnered with Saudi company Confrontation Entertainment. (Supplied/Footlab)
  • Partnership between Portuguese legends is the world’s first indoor football measurements, performance and training park
  • Footlab has signed an agreement with Kingdom’s Confrontation Entertainment company

Saudi entertainment company Confrontation Entertainment has signed an exclusive franchise agreement with Footlab, a partnership by Cristiano Ronaldo and Rui Costa.

Footlab, a cooperation between the Portuguese football legends through Ronaldo’s tech company 7EGEND, started from an idea to bring to life a blend of e-gaming, real-life football and technology. It is headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal, and opened in 2018.

At the platform, players can train, compete and keep track of their real-time performance data within different stations in the park, which are all connected in a digital ecosystem.

Footlab was designed with the next generation of football players in mind, providing players and trainers with the tools they need to measure and track performance in real time and use that information to create personalized development.

The technology behind it was developed in-house by Sports Scientists, a team of software and hardware engineers, UX designers, AI and data experts, to deliver the world’s leading football data-driven experience.

Luis Parafita, Footlab world CEO, expressed his gratitude for entering the Saudi market through this agreement. “Sports is an integral component of Saudi Arabia’s transformative Vision 2030, and we are thankful for the unconditional support of our partners and the perfect timing to launch Footlab in all (of the) Kingdom, having Cristiano here and world attention for what lies ahead.”

“Footlab aspires to change the game in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he pointed out, “with elite facilities and coaching staff dedicated to the analysis and development of players, empowering teams and groups of friends with challenges, to test and improve their cognitive, physical and technical skills.”

Ahmed Madani, Confrontation Entertainment CEO, said the growth of the sports and entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia made this an ideal time to introduce innovative projects such as Footlab in the market.

He said this partnership was aligned with the Quality of Life Program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 realization projects “which encourages the private sector to contribute to the development of the entertainment and sports sector, by offering an abundance of new experiences that contribute to raising the quality of life.”