Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap

Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap
Frankie Dettori gives his trademark flying dismount after Trawlerman won the Ebor Handicap at York last August (JCSA)
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Updated 06 February 2023

Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap

Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap
  • Co-trainer Thady Gosden’s stayer rides crest of a wave ahead of $2.5m contest

RIYADH: Joint-trainer Thady Gosden believes the demands of the Red Sea Turf Handicap is ideal for Ebor hero Trawlerman, when the Godolphin-owned 5-year-old tackles the $2.5 million contest at The Saudi Cup meeting on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The application of a hood to help him settle in the early stages of his races saw him improve throughout the second half of last season.

After winning a competitive Goodwood handicap, he overcame the widest draw to land the prestigious Ebor Handicap over 2,800 meters at York in August.

He was given a superb ride by Frankie Dettori to battle back for a last-gasp victory having made much of the running.

The pair finished the season behind star stayer Trueshan in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup on British Champions Day at Ascot.

Dettori, who is set to retire at the end of the year, has confirmed he will ride at The Saudi Cup meeting. He will compete on the opening day in the International Jockeys Challenge alongside some of the world’s best riders.

The veteran Italian rider is likely to team up with Trawlerman the following day in the 3,000-meter Red Sea Turf Handicap at the world’s most valuable race meeting with $35.35 million up for grabs over the two days.

Gosden, who trains on a joint license with his father John, said: “Trawlerman has always been a very talented horse.

“He progressed well throughout last year, winning the Ebor and then did well stepping up into stakes company on ground that probably had a little too much dig in it on Champions Day.

“He’s got a great mentality and he’s very tough, as we saw in the Ebor. He looked like he was beat but he came back and ground it out at the finish.

Gosden revealed that Trawlerman had a holiday after Champions Day and has been training well since the start of the year.

“The Red Sea Handicap is an ideal race for him,” the trainer said. “It’s a very competitive race, we’ve seen that in the last couple of years, and you’ve got to have a quality horse to get into the field let alone win it, but he’s exactly the right type.

“You’d like to think he could develop into a Cup horse later in the year. He obviously stays well and since he’s worn a hood he relaxes through his races,” Gosden said.

“Obviously the race is a little while off but Frankie won the Ebor on him so it would be logical for him to ride Trawlerman.”

Trawlerman will be joined at The Saudi Cup meeting, held over two days at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, by talented stablemate Mostahdaf.

He will run in the Group 3 Neom Turf Cup, worth $1.5 million on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Mostahdaf has enjoyed a break since finishing last in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France when the testing ground was all against him. He had earlier recorded his third victory at Group 3 level when successful in the September Stakes on Kempton’s all-weather track.

Gosden added: “Mostahdaf ran well throughout last year. He won the September Stakes at Kempton and the ground was very deep at Longchamp for the Arc de Triomphe. It rained a huge amount and he wasn’t in love with the ground at all.

“This is a drop back down in distance and this race should suit him. He’s in good order. He always has a positive attitude and he’s been training well.

“He always runs well fresh, so going there without (a) prep run isn’t something you’d worry about.”

The Gosdens have enjoyed great success at The Saudi Cup meeting. Mishriff finished runner-up in the 2020 Saudi Derby in the event’s inaugural year and then returned 12 months later to win the $20 million Saudi Cup itself.

Thady, then assistant to his father, was heavily involved in overseeing Mishriff’s preparation at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. He was impressed with everything he saw in Saudi Arabia.

Gosden revealed: “The track is world class, as are the quarantine facilities.

“The event has improved year on year. I was out there in the inaugural year with Mishriff running in the Saudi Derby and it was fantastic — it’s improved even more since then.

“There’s a great atmosphere at the track and there’s a lot of culture to see in Saudi, it’s always very interesting,” he added. “It’s obviously a meeting everyone wants to have runners at. The prize money is exceptional and it fits into the calendar very well with the racing in Dubai the following month.”

“For horses coming from Britain it’s not the most straightforward preparation as it’s obviously winter over here.” said Gosden. “We can’t train the horses on the grass, it’s all on the all-weather gallops, so it’s not simple but it can be done.”

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema
Updated 06 June 2023

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema
  • French striker leaving Real Madrid after 14 seasons
  • Announcement on deal expected ‘in coming days’

JEDDAH: The reigning champions of Saudi Arabia, Al-Ittihad, are reportedly edging ever closer to signing Karim Benzema from Real Madrid.

This comes in the wake of the Spanish club announcing on Sunday morning that the French forward is departing after 14 seasons.

The 35-year-old has been the subject of much speculation recently, with the striker expected to confirm his move in the coming days.

Benzema has reportedly received a lucrative offer from Al-Ittihad. He could become the latest major star to play in Saudi Arabia after his ex-teammate Cristiano Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr.

Reports started circulating after Benzema also confirmed on Sunday he would leave the Bernabeu this summer. There was also a report that Al-Ittihad’s president and vice president traveled to Madrid on Saturday morning, on a mission to sign the player.

Many Al-Ittihad supporters are hoping that the Saudi champions can get this deal sealed over the next few days.

Hamza Al-Sayed, a sports columnist, told Arab News that Benzema would be a coup for the Kingdom. “Benzema has been crucial for Real Madrid in their quest for Champions League glory in recent years, and now he is considered to be one of the legendary players (to have) played for Real Madrid.”

Al-Sayed said that if Benzema joins Al-Ittihad, it would be a move to one of the oldest football clubs in Saudi Arabia that has won nine Saudi league titles and holds 48 championship wins, three of which are in Asia.

It would be “simply, a great player joining a great club,” said Al-Sayed.

Omar Abu Al-Faraj, a big supporter of Al-Ittihad, who has been a season ticketholder since the age of 14, and hardly missed a game, said he was excited at the possibility.

“I think this year is holding great moments for us as Ittihad’s fans, winning the Saudi Premier League, the Saudi Super Cup, qualified to play among top clubs at the FIFA Club World Cup, and now we are getting very close to sign the great striker Benzema. It has been really a lucky year and we are having amazing achievements,” he said.

“Having the great striker Benzema with our squad is really a great addition and we really look forward to seeing him in Al-Ittihad’s shirt.”

Many Al-Ittihad fans have taken to Twitter to express their delight at the prospect of the Ballon d’Or winner joining the team.

Sara Aziz tweeted: “@benzema all eyes on you, cant wait to see you wearing black and yellow.”

Faisal Al-Harbi, another fan, tweeted: “Welcome ‘Benzema’ to the greatest club in the Middle East.”

Fan Walid Al-Sharari tweeted: “Whatever you expect, your luck is great … Benzema left a great football club in Europe and now coming to the greatest club in Asia.”

Al-Ittihad have also been linked with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, whose status at the English club is uncertain. The president and vice president of Al-Ittihad reportedly traveled to London on Monday to sign Kante.

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes
Updated 06 June 2023

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes
  • LG UltraGear 25GR75FG, a top IPS-based gaming monitor, will be used at event
  • World’s biggest esports festival begins on July 6 in Riyadh and runs for 8 weeks

RIYADH: The Saudi Esports Federation and electronics firm LG have signed a memorandum of understanding to use the company’s UltraGear 25GR75FG, a top In-Plane Switching-based monitor designed for esports enthusiasts, at Gamers8: The Land of Heroes, the biggest gaming festival worldwide.

The event runs for eight weeks from July 6 and the equipment will be used throughout the esports venues at Boulevard Riyadh City.

The 24.5-inch (62-centimeter) monitor enables fluid motion and considerable visual clarity.

Ahmed Albishri, deputy CEO at the SEF, said: “Gamers8: The Land of Heroes is the destination for gamers this summer and the Saudi Esports Federation is constantly seeking ways to ensure that the biggest gaming and esports festival worldwide is unrivaled in its offering.

“We are delighted to sign this MOU with LG, as this partnership encapsulates our shared vision of fostering innovation and providing the finest gaming experiences. We truly believe that players will relish using the elite equipment in action.”

LG’s Game Mode offers a range of presets tailored to specific game genres, allowing gamers to optimize settings for first-person shooter, real-time strategy and more. Additionally, the Black Stabilizer feature enhances visibility in dark scenes, providing an edge over opponents and allowing players to comfortably spot details.

There is also a customizable Game Mode and enhanced visibility through the Black Stabilizer feature. The NVIDIA G-SYNC and Reflex support provide a competitive advantage for gamers by striving to ensure that screen tearing and input lag are no longer a concern.

Ken Jeong, LG’s president, said: “We are delighted to sign this MOU with the Saudi Esports Federation for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes, and look forward immensely to playing our part in such a prestigious gaming and esports festival.

“We believe Saudi Arabia has an ever-growing gaming industry, with its potential only increasing every day. With the country’s esports industry taking large steps, including the hosting of Gamers8, we at LG take great pride in our UltraGear … being used at an esports festival of this magnitude.”

He added: “The new LG UltraGear 25GR75FG not only excels in performance — but enables gamers to experience smooth and immersive gameplay with its fast refresh rate and low response times — but also boasts sleek aesthetics.

“Its three-sided virtually borderless design and adjustable stand allow for a clean and customizable setup that complements any gaming environment. The LG UltraGear 25GR75FG allows gamers to sensationally immerse themselves in the world of gaming in an extraordinary way.”

This year’s event has a prize pool of $45 million — triple that of last year. Details of all the elite titles appearing at Gamers8 this summer will be released soon. Elite esports competitions are joined at Gamers8 by live concerts from local and international stars, as well as shows, community gaming, education platforms, and fun-filled activities for all ages.

The festival concludes with the Next World Forum, a gaming and esports gathering held at Riyadh’s Kingdom Center on Aug. 30 and 31, that brings together sector leaders and experts from around the world.

Winds of change blowing through Saudi football as elite clubs ponder privatization

Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal speaking at the press conference on Monday. (Twitter/@GSA_KSA)
Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal speaking at the press conference on Monday. (Twitter/@GSA_KSA)
Updated 06 June 2023

Winds of change blowing through Saudi football as elite clubs ponder privatization

Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal speaking at the press conference on Monday. (Twitter/@GSA_KSA)
  • Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund has taken 75 percent ownership of four of the Kingdom’s top clubs: Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli

RIYADH: A revolution is taking place in Saudi football, on and off the pitch. As some of the world’s best players increasingly look to the possibility of playing in the Roshn Saudi League, the prospect of privatization — and the benefits it could bring — is in the air at the Kingdom’s elite clubs.

On Sunday, it was reported that Karim Benzema, who received the Ballon d’Or last October, had agreed to sign for Al-Ittihad, just days after the Jeddah giants celebrated clinching a first league title since 2009.

The French striker follows in the footsteps of his former Real Madrid teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, who signed for Al-Nassr in December. And the Portuguese star believes the future is bright for the Saudi top flight.

“The league is very good,” Ronaldo said shortly after the season concluded. “But I think we have many, many opportunities to still grow. The league is competitive … but they need to improve a little bit more the infrastructure.

“And in my opinion, if they continue to do the work that they want to do here for the next five years, I think the Saudi League can be a top-five league in the world.”

As his comments suggest, such improvement depends on more than simply importing world-class talent — though that certainly helps, and match attendances have increased by 150 percent in the past year alone.

Just as important, however — perhaps even more so — is the ways in which the domestic game is organized and so it was striking on Sunday when plans were announced to help a number of clubs privatize this year.

“The privatization and ownership transfer of clubs aims to accelerate progress in a variety of sports across the Kingdom, further growing participation, providing cutting-edge facilities, increasing competition and nurturing future champions,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

These plans have not appeared out of the blue. There were previous moves to shift the ownership of clubs from the public to the private sector but progress, never easy and smooth in any such process, was further slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the SPA, the current process will focus on three main aspects of development: Firstly to present the prospect of investing in Saudi sport as an appealing prospect; secondly to improve the governance of clubs and help them become more professional and sustainable; and thirdly to improve the infrastructure of clubs off the pitch to make them more competitive on it.

Authorities are targeting a fourfold increase in revenue generated by the Saudi League, from SR450 million a year ($120 million) to SR1.8 billion by 2030. By that time, the market value of the league is expected to increase from SR3 billion to SR8 billion.

In short, it is all about the Saudi game building a sustainable business model for itself.

The first steps were quickly taken. On Monday, it was announced that the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund had taken a 75 percent ownership stake in four clubs: Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli.

The fund said the remaining quarter share in each of the clubs would be held by their respective non-profit foundations. This transfer of ownership took place with the aim of attracting further investment, increasing the contribution of the private sector to the sports sector, and creating new jobs.

It remains to be seen what this will mean for Saudi football in the coming months but these are undoubtedly major developments. It is no coincidence that the best leagues in the world are contested by clubs that are privately owned.

Indeed, if the goal of Saudi authorities and the country’s football association is to develop a league that is one of the top 10 in the world by 2030, never mind match Ronaldo’s ambition of a top-five spot, then the teams that play in it will need to be able to attract the very best people, from other industries, to be part of their organizations.

They will have to be flexible, build deeper relationships with key stakeholders, and become even more connected with their local communities. Clubs will need to become proficient at standing on their own two feet and developing business plans, discovering along the way what works for them and what does not. In theory, privately-owned clubs are able to move more quickly and be more flexible than those under public ownership.

As well as watching world-class players take to the pitch in the Kingdom, fans should be able to enjoy doing so in world-class facilities. But it is also hoped the benefits that will come from all of this will be felt more widely throughout a society that has become much more sportier in the past few years.

Participation in sport has increased from 13 percent of the population eight years ago to almost 50 percent in 2022. Football is the most popular sport of all, with more than 80 percent of the population following, playing or watching it. The foundation is clearly there, and great potential.

Thanks to the arrival of some huge international soccer stars, and the prospect of more to follow, there is currently an unprecedented level of interest in Saudi football, both at home and abroad. This means that now the perfect time to develop the Saudi League off the pitch, as well as on it.

There is a long road ahead. There will be a lot of unglamorous and boring behind-the-scenes work to be done — but it is very necessary.

Ronaldo will not remain in Saudi Arabia forever but a league full of privately-owned clubs that are successful off the pitch as well as on it could become a fixture of world football for a long time to come.

Kaku voted Saudi Pro League player of the year by Sofascore

Kaku voted Saudi Pro League player of the year by Sofascore
Updated 05 June 2023

Kaku voted Saudi Pro League player of the year by Sofascore

Kaku voted Saudi Pro League player of the year by Sofascore

RIYADH: Al-Taawoun’s Paraguayan winger Alejandro Romero, nicknamed Kaku, has been voted Saudi Pro League player of the season by Sofascore as part of its SPL XI team of the season.

The team included Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe, defenders Ahmed Hegazy and Ahmed Sharahili also from Al-Ittihad and Marwan Saadane from Al-Fateh.

In a five-man midfield, Al-Wehda’s Faisal Fajir, Ever Banega from Al-Shabab, Talisca from Al-Nassr, Igor Coronado from Al-Ittihad and Knowledge Musana from Al-Tai joined Kaku.

Up front was golden boot winner Abderrazak Hamadallah who bagged 21 goals this season.

The XI included five players from Al-Ittihad, who won the league with 72 points, finished with the best defensive record with only 13 goals conceded and a goalkeeper with 18 clean sheets.

Crown prince launches Saudi sports clubs’ investment, privatization project

Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal at the press conference. supplied
Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal at the press conference. supplied
Updated 06 June 2023

Crown prince launches Saudi sports clubs’ investment, privatization project

Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal at the press conference. supplied
  • Special focus has been placed on football with plans to position the Saudi Pro League among the top 10 in the world

JEDDAH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday launched a Saudi sports clubs’ investment and privatization project, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Part of Vision 2030, the initiative aims to encourage private investment in the sector toward developing national teams, regional sports clubs, and practitioners at all levels.

The current phase of the project involves granting approvals for schemes and transfers of club ownership, as well as the privatization of several sports clubs.

The program has been designed to create opportunities and the right environment for investment in the sports sector, raise levels of professionalism, and administrative and financial governance in sports clubs, while developing their infrastructure to provide the best services to sports fans and improve audience experience.

The transfer and privatization of clubs, in general, aims to achieve qualitative leaps in various sports in the Kingdom by 2030, building an elite generation of athletes at regional and global levels.

Special focus has been placed on football with plans to position the Saudi Pro League among the top 10 in the world. Other goals include increasing league revenues from SR450 million ($120 million) to more than SR1.8 billion annually and raising its market value from SR3 billion to at least SR8 billion.

During a press conference, Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal announced that four clubs were being converted into companies, having ownership transferred to development agencies.

He said Al-Qadisiyah Club was to be transferred to Saudi Aramco, Diraiyah Club to the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, AlUla Club to the Royal Commission for AlUla, and the Suqoor Club to NEOM.

The prince also revealed that the Saudi Public Investment Fund would be investing in Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Ahli and that the clubs would be converted into companies owned by the fund, and a non-profit institution for each club.

“Accordingly, an investment fund will be established for each of the eight club companies whose ownership has been transferred, and the value of the club will be deposited in the investment fund in exchange for the ownership transfer,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Public Investment Fund said that it will own 75 percent of the four clubs. “We will work on developing the four clubs financially and administratively,” the fund said in a statement carried out by Al-Ekhbariyah TV.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Faisal said: “Let me start off with sending my greatest gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (for) their continuous support to the sports sector within the Kingdom... under the leadership of the crown prince and the ambitious plan within the Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia.

“There are a lot of programs and developments for each sector, and the sports sector is one of these sectors of the vision to fulfill these KPIs and these ambitious goals that we wish to achieve by 2030.

“Today, we see a big milestone within the sports sector that the ownership of the clubs has been transferred to a lot of different entities. These entities are some of the biggest entities within Saudi Arabia (not only) from a commercial value, but also these entities have a lot of developmental programs within the sports sector to develop youth and sports within their territory and so on.

He added: “By the end of 2023, we will also offer a number of clubs to be sold to the private sector, and I hope that this will invite more (companies) from the private sector to invest in these clubs and invest in the sports sector within the Kingdom.”