Riyadh: French-national trainer Alban de Mieulle, winner of two Saudi Cup races in 2022, is looking to repeat the feat with runners in both this year’s $500,000 International Handicap 90-110 presented by Al-Rajhi Bank and G2 Al-Mneefah Cup presented by the Ministry of Culture on Feb. 24.
De Mieulle, who trains both thoroughbreds and Arabian horses from his bases in France and Qatar, was responsible for the first and second finishers of the 2022 Saudi International Handicap, Lauderdale and King Shalaa, in addition to First Classs, winner of the Al-Mneefah Cup.
Although he suspected that his horses would run well, the trainer said of the International Handicap: “Was I confident that my horses would win? No. The point of a handicap race is to get all of the horses crossing the finish line together, so I was very surprised to get first and second.”
Arabian gelding First Classs’s win in the Al-Mneefah Cup made the occasion an “extraordinary day” for de Mieulle.
He said of the 6-year-old: “I didn’t think First Classs would do so well. I knew he was a good horse and was in good form and he had been proven in America before but over short distances. When he came to me, he took a while to relax. For three or four months he was a little bit ‘on the bridle,’ as we say in France. By the time of the Al-Mneefah he had relaxed and I was confident that he would run well, but to win was a whole other thing.”
The quality of the Saudi track may have played a part in his success. De Mieulle was impressed by the surface, calling it “fantastique” and applauding the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia on its “very, very good organization.”
“Perfect. Everything was perfect. But it’s easy to say that when you win,” he said.
Comparing the Riyadh track to the one he is more accustomed to in Qatar, de Mieulle said: “In Qatar, the racing is very, very fast. In Riyadh, maybe because of the European jockeys, they are a little slower to start. So that’s a little difference, but the tracks are also so different. They are very fast tracks in Qatar, whereas, in Riyadh, they are a little softer, more good-to-firm. The turf track in Riyadh was perfect, and I don’t think anyone could complain about it. It was not too deep, which is what we like.”
This year, de Mieulle sends thoroughbreds King Shalaa and Hamaki as well as the purebred Arabian Salwa to the Saudi Cup meeting, with the first two bound for the Saudi International Handicap, while Salwa will attempt to give him a second win in the G2 Al-Mneefah Cup.
“Hamaki’s a nice horse. I would say he is improving now. The International Handicap is the right race for him. He might find racing in Qatar difficult because it is so different to racing here (in France) and I think that 2000m in Saudi is better for him than 2000m in Qatar. Plus, the Saudi races are more valuable.
“Salwa is improving, and when he ran last time, I was a little bit surprised to see how he ran and finished second. He’s improved again since; I saw him work this morning and was very pleased. I don’t know what he will do in Saudi, but I hope he will do well.”
This year’s Saudi Cup meeting will take place at King Abdulaziz Racecourse from Feb. 24-25.