The Saudi Cup: Wednesday track notes

The Saudi Cup: Wednesday track notes
Japanese raider Panthalassa works at King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Wednesday morning (Supplied)
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Updated 22 February 2023

The Saudi Cup: Wednesday track notes

The Saudi Cup: Wednesday track notes
  • Baffert hope to win a second consecutive Saudi Derby presented by Boutique Group after Pinehurst’s success in 2022

Last year’s best dirt horse in Japan, Cafe Pharoah, galloped for 800m with his race rider Joao Moreira. Naoto Suzuki, assistant to trainer Noriyuki Hori, was satisfied after watching the breeze, saying: “He had a good gallop as we planned. Joao told me he was stretching his legs well toward the finish and he still had plenty of energy. I might take him for a paddock schooling tomorrow, but all options are open to him.”

Country Grammer (US) and Taiba (US) — The Bob Baffert-trained duo of Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer and triple Grade 1 winner Taiba each had an easy day on Wednesday. Owned fully or in part by Zedan Racing, the pair will seek to make principal owner Amr Zedan the first to win both the Dubai World Cup and The Saudi Cup.

“They are going well and we’re happy,” said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. “We just jogged today on the training track, which is close to the barn. We will go to the main track on Thursday.”

Baffert also sends out Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Havnameltdown on Saturday, hoping to win a second consecutive Saudi Derby presented by Boutique Group after Pinehurst’s success in 2022. The San Vicente Stakes winner did the same as his stablemates on Wednesday. All three breezed on Monday and tack-walked on Tuesday. 

Crown Pride (JPN) — Koichi Shintani’s Crown Pride had a gallop on the dirt track under jockey Yuga Kawada. Masafumi Matsuda, assistant trainer to Shintani said: “Although Yuga is not riding him in The Saudi Cup, he was happy to help us in breezing him. After riding Yuga told me Crown Pride responded well to rider’s direction and he also was handling the surface very well.”

Emblem Road (US) and Scotland Yard (US) —  The pair were once again among the first horses to appear at King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Wednesday morning. The Mitab Almulawah-trained pair are prominent in the thoughts of locals and continued their preparations with trackwork at 3 a.m.

“We are very happy with both horses, they are both in good condition. Emblem Road was very good when he won last month and that was a perfect race for him as we didn’t want to start him in a Group race as we want to protect our horse for the big races. Last time when he won he was maybe 90 percent, but now he is amazing. He is still our favorite for sure,” stable representative Hisham Abdulwahed said.

“Last year we had Making Miracles and Emblem Road and Making Miracles finished fourth and ran a very good race, but for us Emblem Road was always the favorite.

“Scotland Yard’s homework from the very beginning has always impressed us so much and he is a beautiful horse. He came here about five months ago and he has been amazing since then.”

Geoglyph (JPN) — Galloped for 1,000m on the dirt track. “He traveled well and is getting familiarised with the new surroundings. I am glad he is in good form and has been the same as what he was at home. We will see how he is and decide tomorrow’s training plan,” trainer Tetsuya Kimura said.

Jun Light Bolt (JPN) — Jun Light Bolt started his career as a turf horse but switched to dirt last summer. Having only four starts on dirt since then, he has won three races including the Grade 3 Sirius Stakes and Grade 1 Champions Cup, an automatic qualifying race for the Saudi Cup.

Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said: “After the Champions Cup last December, he had a short break at Northern Farm and came back to my barn in mid-January. Since then I have been tuning him up toward the Saudi Cup by giving him weekly fast work. His last gallop before leaving home was extremely satisfactory. I only needed some conditioning work here before the race and he did it this morning. Ryan Moore is going to ride him this week to have a first-time contact with the horse.”

Panthalassa (JPN) —  Trainer Yoshito Yahagi was on hand to see Panthalassa breeze with his two stablemates Bathlat Leon, a runner in the 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc, and Continuar, who goes for the Saudi Derby presented by Boutique Group, on the dirt track under his assistant, Yusaku Oka.

“He is a very good traveler. He handled the long trip from Japan without any issue this time as well and seems to be enjoying his stay in Saudi Arabia,” Yahagi said. 

“He ran on dirt one time in Japan in his career but did not finish well. However, as the dirt surface is very different here at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, I have no worries. Competing in the Saudi Cup, for me, is a great opportunity to win the biggest money in the world.”

Remorse (IRE) — Al Rashid Stables’ contender made his first appearance on the track on Wednesday morning, having an easy hack around the 2,000m dirt course under assistant trainer Caroline Seemar, wife to reigning UAE champion conditioner Bhupat.

The 6-year-old gelded son of Dubawi arrived on Tuesday afternoon with banner-mate Freedom Fighter, who contests the Riyadh Dirt Sprint presented by Sports Boulevard.

On the circuit, Freedom Fighter was given about eight lengths lead on Remorse, while neither were under any urging.

“Both shipped over really well,” Seemar said. “We took them over to the main track and just let them get a feel for it. They worked a day before shipping and both are fresh and happy. They did an easy hack around there, going about 10 furlongs (2,000m), and Remorse seemed to really like the track.” 

Sunset Flash (IRE) and Lagertha Rhyme (IRE) — “We have had the same kind of routine and preparation with my mares,” trainer Naif Almindeel said.

“No problems, very happy and calm. They have had great careers for us in Saudi Arabia and it is a tremendous honor to have runners in the world’s most valuable race.”

Vin de Garde (JPN) — Worked for one-and-a-half laps on the dirt track and galloped for 800m under jockey Yuichi Fukunaga.

“He looks very well and worked beautifully today. The jockey said that the dirt track was very cushioned and seems to be suitable to him,” Kazuo Fujiwara, assistant to trainer Hideaki Fujiwara, said.

Tough night for the Green Falcons as they suffer Venezuela friendly defeat

Tough night for the Green Falcons as they suffer Venezuela friendly defeat
Updated 25 March 2023

Tough night for the Green Falcons as they suffer Venezuela friendly defeat

Tough night for the Green Falcons as they suffer Venezuela friendly defeat
  • The last time the Saudis faced South American opposition they shocked Argentina at the World Cup, but this time they received a lesson in clinical finishing

JEDDAH: The last time Saudi Arabia met South American opposition, in November at the World Cup in Qatar, they shocked billions around the world by coming from behind to defeat eventual champions Argentina.

On Friday, however, there was no such comeback as the Green Falcons were brought down to earth with a bump, losing 2-1 in a friendly against Venezuela in Jeddah.

Much of the damage was done in the first half, during which the visitors, who also defeated Herve Renard’s men 1-0 last June in the build up to the World Cup, gave the hosts a lesson in clinical finishing.

It was the Saudis’ first game on home soil since the World Cup, but as a homecoming it was not quite what anyone had in mind. There was plenty of energy and effort on display from the hosts but they struggled to create clear, meaningful chances against determined opponents, although in the end they did come close to equalizing.

The first goal came came in the 26th minute courtesy of Josef Martinez. Salomon Rondon floated a ball over from the left and Martinez, at full stretch, volleyed it home with a low shot from the edge of the area.

Just eight minutes later, Rondon, who now plays his club football for River Plate in Argentina after saying goodbye to the English Premier League in December, made it two. The former Everton star received the ball 18 yards out, and then turned smartly to fire a low shot into the bottom corner.

The night could have gotten worse for Saudi Arabia as Martinez once again found the back of the net three minutes before the break but the goal was ruled out by the video assistant referee.

Haroune Camara came closest to getting the home fans on their feet during the first half but the Al-Ittihad forward’s shot was saved by Alain Baroja in the Venezuelan goal.

As the second half progressed, coach Renard, linked recently with the vacant position of coach for the French women’s national team, threw on several substitutes. Just after the hour mark, Abdullah Al-Khaibari, who scored his first goal for Al-Nassr during a recent 3-1 win over Abha, took over from Hussein Al-Qahtani and Camara was replaced his Al-Ittihad club colleague Abdul Aziz Al-Bishi.

Almost immediately, Saudi Arabia thought they deserved a penalty when Samuel Sosa barged over Saleh Al-Shehri in the area. After VAR took a look, however, the appeal was waved away.

Then, with 17 minutes remaining, Salem Al-Dawsari pulled a goal back in style. The 30-year-old, who scored the winning goal against Argentina, received the ball with his back to goal just inside the area and turned quickly to curl a lovely shot into the corner and finally get the fans in Jeddah cheering and believing.

Suddenly there was a renewed sense of urgency from the players in green and soon after, Baroja was diving to save a twisting header from Abdullah Al-Hamdan.

The goalkeeper was busy again three minutes from the end, as he palmed away a powerful header from Al-Shehri. As much as the two-time Asian champions tried, however, they could not get the all-important equalizer.

Despite all their efforts, in the end it was not quite enough. With the Asian Cup taking place next January, the result was not the most important aspect of this game but Saudi Arabia will look to get back to winning ways against Bolivia on Tuesday.

FIFA ranking is start of something special for Saudi women’s football, says federation chief

Saudi women’s national team were officially recognized by FIFA in their world rankings for the first time. (Supplied/SAFF)
Saudi women’s national team were officially recognized by FIFA in their world rankings for the first time. (Supplied/SAFF)
Updated 24 March 2023

FIFA ranking is start of something special for Saudi women’s football, says federation chief

Saudi women’s national team were officially recognized by FIFA in their world rankings for the first time. (Supplied/SAFF)
  • The Green Falcons enter the rankings for the first time at No. 171 after nine international matches over the last year

JEDDAH: “This is just the start of something very special.”

Those were the words of Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) president and FIFA council member Yasser Al-Misehal after the Saudi women’s national team were officially recognized by FIFA in their world rankings for the first time.

With 188 nations now included in the list of FIFA’s women’s world rankings, Saudi Arabia have made their debut at 171; a respectable placement considering their relative lack of experience, highlighting the significant development that has taken place in women’s football in the Kingdom since 2019 when the SAFF first developed the Women’s Football Department, headed by Lamia Bahaian.

“Our national team made history when it was established 18 months ago and since then their journey has inspired millions across Saudi Arabia and the region,” said Bahaian, the supervisor of the Women’s Football Department and SAFF board member.

“Entering the FIFA rankings (is what) we’ve been building towards, and signals just the beginning of what we want to achieve with these girls. They can write their own history now.

“We are also already in active collaborations with many global bodies and federations and invite the world to join in our women’s football movement as we strive to give it the platform it truly deserves.”

The official recognition continues the rapid development of the women’s game within the Kingdom, which has seen unprecedented growth in the past two years. It also means the team can now enter both FIFA- and AFC-sanctioned events.

“What these girls achieved in just a year and a half has been nothing short of incredible,” said a very proud Al-Misehal. “Since 2019 we have managed to successfully establish a national team, a premier league, a first division, a school league — with 50,000 girls signing up, and an under-17 national team.

“In just two years, we have nearly doubled the number of registered players, clubs, referees and staff and seen an 800 percent growth in the number of coaches. (These are) statistics all of football can be proud of and it just shows what is possible when you love the game.”

Most significantly, at a time when many national associations are at war with their players over equal pay and treatment, including a number that will compete at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Al-Misehal says the SAFF is determined to ensure their female players are treated the same as their male counterparts.

“We are fully committed to offering equal opportunities for boys and girls, in sport and beyond,” he said.

“For instance, our national teams get equal daily allowances while representing their country, regardless of gender. They share the same training pitches, stay in the same quality accommodation, and have access to the same equipment and resources.”

To get to this point, it has been an 18-month journey that began with the formation of the team in September 2021, after more than 700 players took part in nationwide tryouts in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Assessing each of those players was Monika Staab, the veteran German manager and ex-player, who took on the Herculean task of starting the national team from scratch, ultimately giving 28 players the honor of being the first to be selected for the national team’s first training camp in Riyadh in November of that year.

It wasn’t until a few months later that they played their first official matches in a three-team tournament with the Maldives and Seychelles, winning both of their fixtures 2-0.

Since then there have been a further seven official matches and Saudi Arabia also hosted (and won) its inaugural women’s football tournament against Pakistan, Comoros and Mauritius earlier this year. Staab has now moved into the technical director’s role with Finland’s Rosa Lappi-Seppälä becoming coach.

“Each player has their own story, but what we all share is a love of football and a desire to compete,” national team captain Sarah Khalid said.

“To be FIFA ranked makes us part of world football and that means everything. We recognize that we have a huge responsibility to inspire the youth and pave the way for the future generations who will represent Saudi Arabia.”

Having achieved official recognition, the focus now turns to the future and building a sustainable women’s football program.

To that end, the under-17 national team was recently formed, playing their first matches earlier this month against Kuwait. The next fixtures for the senior team are currently being arranged as they look to improve on their inaugural ranking.

The focus remains on Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, aiming to become just the second West Asian nation to host the tournament and fast-tracking the growth of women’s football within the Kingdom.

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener
Updated 24 March 2023

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener

NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team looking to build on Season 3 opener
  • Emma Gilmour, Tanner Foust finished Saudi Desert X Prix with 14 points in 7th place

RIYADH: As the championship’s 10 teams got behind the wheel at the Season 3 opener, NEOM McLaren Extreme E looked to pick up where they left off with a podium finish at the Season 2 finale in Uruguay.

The 3.4-kilometer course of the 2023 Desert X Prix in NEOM provided the first of the challenges in what promises to be the most tightly fought season to date.

A hectic Qualifying 1 on Saturday saw McLaren’s Emma Gilmour and Tanner Foust experience a frustrating start to their Season 3 campaign. Albeit running in P3 in Qualifying 1, the driver pairing ultimately finished fifth in the first session, suffering a Switch Zone penalty as they also adjusted to the course.

Bouncing back with a stronger performance in qualifying, the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team finished their heat in third place. It was not enough to escape the Redemption Race, however, as the team finished sixth in the overall qualifying standings – one spot short of a place in the grand final.

Having won the Crazy Race in spectacular fashion at last year’s Desert X Prix, Foust and Gilmour were no strangers to battling it out against the best of the rest in NEOM.

Foust enjoyed a great start to the series’ first ever Redemption Race, but multiple incidents including Nasser Al-Attiyah’s ABT CUPRA XE car rolling over the top of Foust’s ODYSSEY 21, saw the race red flagged.

In the chaos, Heikki Kovalainen had taken the lead for JBXE, but as the race resumed Gilmour used her ENOWA Hyperdrive to close the gap on Hedda Hosas and overtake the JBXE driver as NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team won the Redemption Race and secured valuable championship points.

Foust said: “We certainly didn’t disappoint on the extreme side. We started off with some pretty aggressive set-up changes due to the lack of track time we have in this series. We unfortunately lost a bit of time in the process in Qualifying 1, but then showed good pace for the rest of the day.

“The team were fantastic, repairing the car, enabling us to improve, and we won the Redemption Race making us the best of the rest.”

Round 2 offered a chance to use the momentum from that race win for a better qualifying stint, with plenty of racing and points opportunities still on the table in NEOM.

Sunday was another challenging day for the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team, with fourth and third-place finishes in their respective qualifying heats meaning the team narrowly missed out on Round 2’s grand final.

Running in second and fighting for points once again in the Redemption Race, Foust and Gilmour nearly gained an all-important two championship points from the Continental Traction Challenge as they pushed hard for another Redemption Race win.

Closing out their weekend with second place in Round 2’s Redemption Race saw the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team come away from Saudi Arabia having accrued a total of 14 points and in seventh place in the championship standings.

Gilmour said: “It was a slightly frustrating day and it’s a shame that we have not come away from this Desert X Prix with more points.

“In motorsport though, you can always have worse weekends. Considering where we were at the start of the weekend, and the progress we had to make, I think we did well.”

The Neom McLaren Extreme E Team will be looking to hit the ground running at the next Extreme E round in Scotland on May 13 and 14.

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League
Updated 24 March 2023

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League

Ronaldo’s words of praise sprinkle stardust on ‘competitive’ Saudi Pro League
  • Back in Portugal for first time since Riyadh move, Al-Nassr player lauds standard of football in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: It is a sign that a league is a significant one that when foreign players go back to their home countries for international duty, comments to their native media about the leagues where they play football and the clubs they are at make headlines around the world.

Unsurprisingly, it helps when that foreign player is Cristiano Ronaldo. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner signed for Al-Nassr at the end of December and looks to have enjoyed his time in Saudi Arabia so far, scoring nine goals in eight league games for the title-chasing club.

For the first time since arriving in Riyadh, the 38-year-old is back in Europe and preparing with Portugal for two 2024 European Championship qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Given that Ronaldo moving to Mrsool Park was a huge deal, it is natural that local journalists have been asking the former Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Juventus star what the Roshn Saudi League is like.

He said: “I think you should look at the (Saudi Pro League) in a different way. I’m not going to say that the league is a Premier League, that would be a lie.

“But it’s a very competitive league that I’m positively surprised by, a very balanced league and good teams. I am sure that in the coming years the league will be ... the fourth, fifth, or sixth most competitive league in the world,” the attacker added.

It has made headlines around the world. Some newspapers and websites said that the claim was “bold,” while others talked of it being “astonishing.”

There may have been some eyebrows raised but here was one of the best players ever and currently the most famous (he has 564 million followers on Instagram, more than any other person in the world) talking in positive terms about football in Saudi Arabia. Only the biggest leagues in the world can dream of such exposure.

Cynics would say that it is in the interests of players to be complimentary of football in the country in which they play and the club that pays their salary but there is a long history of the opposite happening.

There have been many times when stars have gone home to play World Cup qualifiers and have said something negative about club coaches, team-mates, or food back in the place where they are employed.

When it upsets people back at their clubs then the time-honored excuse is that the player was misquoted or the comments were taken out of context.

Kim Min-jae, now with Napoli, once had to back track quickly when he appeared to question the level of defending among his Beijing team-mates when back home in Korea.

Obviously, the reverse is much more pleasant for coaches, team-mates, and fans to hear. Praise always goes down well. The first part of Ronaldo’s comments were clear for all to see and hard to dispute. The league is competitive.

Just look at Al-Hilal. The Blues are the most successful team in Saudi Arabian and Asian history and in February defeated the champions of Africa and South America to book a FIFA Club World Cup final with Real Madrid. The 5-3 defeat against the European giants was an exciting spectacle for fans and won respect for the losers from those watching on every continent.

Just a few days later, the Riyadh giants were booking a place in the Asian Champions League final in February with a 7-0 thrashing of Al-Duhail of Qatar in the semi-final. Al-Hilal are currently in fourth and desperately trying to stay in touch with the top three.

Al-Shabab in third, Al-Nassr in second, and Al-Ittihad, currently in pole position, are three of the top teams in Asia and there is strength going all the way down the league. Indeed, Al-Faisaly in the second tier, reached the knockout stage of the 2022 Champions League.

Whether the league could become one of the top six in the world will be seen in the future. For now, it is a matter of debate, but it is a debate that league officials would love to see happen in Europe and elsewhere. This is one of the benefits of signing famous foreign players.

There are plenty of top foreign players in Saudi Arabia who play for international teams. In the next few days, there could be four facing each other in the same game. Al-Wehda’s Abderrazak Hamdallah and Mounir Al-Mohammadi of 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco will take on Brazil in a friendly on Saturday and the following Tuesday, the Atlas Lions take on Peru with Andre Carrillo of Al-Hilal and Christopher Gonzalez from Al-Adalah.

The likes of Ahmed Hegazi and Tarek Hamad of Al-Ittihad are regulars for Egypt, Al-Shabab goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu is South Korea’s No. 1, and there is also Grzegorz Krychowiak who was with Poland at the World Cup.

As more international players and coaches come to Saudi Arabia, more of them can see a thriving and competitive league with talented local players, who showed what they are made of at the World Cup, and can then go home and spread the word.

Azooz & Jude, Saudi Motorsport Company partner in awareness campaign

Azooz & Jude, Saudi Motorsport Company partner in awareness campaign
Updated 23 March 2023

Azooz & Jude, Saudi Motorsport Company partner in awareness campaign

Azooz & Jude, Saudi Motorsport Company partner in awareness campaign
  • The cartoon is supported by an activity book and an online interactive challenge for children to test their skills and knowledge
  • Using the story of Azooz & Jude, teachers introduced children to the world of motorsport

JEDDAH: The Saudi Motorsport Company (SMC) has partnered with Dream Rock Entertainment to produce an educational children’s community program to spread awareness about motorsport in the Kingdom.
Dream Rock Entertainment, a children’s content company and creators of the children’s YouTube channel Azooz & Jude, released a story and cartoon series titled “Azooz and Jude Go to the Race” as part of the partnership.
The cartoon is supported by an activity book and an online interactive challenge for children to test their skills and knowledge. The program includes a roadshow visit to disability centers, where children can see Formula One cars up close and wear helmets to learn about safety measures in racing.
“Dream Rock Entertainment’s team knew how to reach our audience and get the message out there in a way that truly captured the hearts and minds of the youth. This collaboration has proven to be a great success in reaching thousands in our local community and beyond. We look forward to bringing more excitement about motorsport,” said Sara Bughdadi, SMC community engagement leader.
To generate excitement among young fans and their parents in both Arabic and English, as well as reach a new generation of bilingual children, SMC conducted a six-week roadshow across schools in Jeddah.
Using the story of Azooz & Jude, teachers introduced children to the world of motorsport. SMC teams distributed more than 2,000 activity books to schools and centers, while the YouTube cartoon was promoted across the social media channels of both Azooz & Jude and the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Saudi Motorsport Company to produce this educational cartoon series,” said Sara Ashmemry, co-founder of Dream Rock Entertainment.
“This collaboration brings together the community in a way that makes it possible to create a cartoon series that not only entertains, but also educates young fans about the world of motorsport,” said Alanoud Alhejailan, CEO of Dream Rock Entertainment.
Both founders of Dream Rock Entertainment said that as a team, they were thrilled to have collaborated with the Saudi Motorsport Company. The partnership gave them the opportunity to bring Azooz & Jude to life, which was a challenging but exciting project, they added.
“With hard work, dedication and passion, we were able to deliver this project in less than three months,” said Ashmemry.
“We are grateful for the opportunity we had, and we are proud of what we achieved together. We look forward to future collaborations that showcase our commitment to excellence,” Alhejailan added.