Asfan Al-Khalediah and Medbaas claim Founder’s Cup wins

Asfan Al-Khalediah and Medbaas claim Founder’s Cup wins
Asfan Al-Khalediah crosses the finish line to win the Founder’s Cup for Arabian horses. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 March 2023

Asfan Al-Khalediah and Medbaas claim Founder’s Cup wins

Asfan Al-Khalediah and Medbaas claim Founder’s Cup wins
  • Governor of Riyadh presents ‘The Crown of the Championships’ at conclusion of second evening of racing

RIYADH: The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia on Saturday hosted the second and final evening of the King Abdulaziz Cup, known in Saudi Arabia as the “The Crown of Championships,” with big wins for Asfan Al-Khalediah and Medbaas.

The evening at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Janadriyah, just north of Riyadh, included 11 rounds and ended with two main championship races determining the winners of the King Abdulaziz Cup for purebred Arabian horses and the first-grade race, both for local Saudi horses.

Horse Asfan Al-Khalediah, owned by Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz and Sons, claimed the first cup, while Mohammed Haadi bin Khyoot Sons’ Medbaas took the second. 

Total prize money for the two main rounds was $2.66 million, split equally, with the respective winners each receiving $670,000.

Prior to the races, the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia held a parade of jockeys with thoroughbred Arabian horses to honor Saudi Arabia’s Flag Day, which the Kingdom is celebrating for the first time in its history.

The second evening of the King Abdulaziz Cup began with the Fillies Open, a contest for imported and locally bred open-grade fillies aged four and over. Filly Najd, owned by Prince Saud bin Salman Abdulaziz and trained by M. Almulawah, covered the 2,100m turf round track in 2:13.96 minutes under jockey Alexis Moreno.

The Handicap 0-75, the second round of the evening, saw the horse Gurkhali Warrior, owned by R, win with jockey Eyad Alturisi and trainer Rashed Sanad M. Daban.

Meanwhile, the third round Handicap 0-80, was dedicated to three-year-old fillies and saw Aenood Alghada, owned by Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abdulaziz, led by jockey Khaled Almimoni and trained by Hussein Alshoieb, win the 1,200m race.

The Jammran, owned by Prince Mohd. bin Saif Al-Deen bin Saud, won the fourth round of Saturday’s evening Handicap 0-90 race.

In the fifth round, the horse Mahroot, owned by Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abdulaziz, won the Local Bred Horses Open race, which spanned 1,400m of dirt distance in which open class productions competed with colts and horses aged four years and older.

Filly Bosooq, owned by Fuad Mohammed Fahd bin Gheshayan, won the Local Bred Fillies Handicap 0-70 in the sixth round on Saturday evening.

The horse Skip, owned by Prince Fahd bin Khalid bin Faisal Al-Saud, won the Local Bred Horses Open race in the seventh round, clocking 2:36.12 over a dirt distance of 2,400m.

Kaasirr, from Ireland and owned by Ahmed Hassan Abdullah Al-Seif, won the JCSA Challenge after completing the eighth round and covering the 1,400m dirt track in 1:25.39 minutes, with jockey Camilo Ospina and trainer Nasser Fawaz.

The filly Wathabat Al-Khalediah II, owned by Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Sons, won the JCSA Cup for Arabian horses (of Saudi origin and descent) in the ninth round.

The horse Asfan Al-Khalediah, owned by Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Sons, won the King Abdulaziz Cup (Arabian Horses) race in the 10th round on Saturday evening.

Four-year-old, Asfan Al-Khalediah completed the 1,600m track in 1:46.06 minutes with jockey Abdullah Alawfi and trainer Saad Mutlaq, beating seven competitors.

The King Abdulaziz Cup in the 10th round was dedicated to open grades of four-year-old horses.

At the end of the evening, 17 participants competed in the King Abdulaziz Cup.

The horse Medbaas, owned by Mohammed Haadi bin Khyoot Sons, claimed the King Abdulaziz Cup trophy with jockey Aseel Alsarhani and trainer Saad BinKhiood.

Three-year-old Medbaas covered the 1,600m dirt track in 1:39.47 minutes.

Seismic changes in Saudi football will be felt across Asian game

Seismic changes in Saudi football will be felt across Asian game
Updated 09 June 2023

Seismic changes in Saudi football will be felt across Asian game

Seismic changes in Saudi football will be felt across Asian game

Asian football has never seen anything like this.

Over the past decade or two, we have seen a number of the world’s best players make the move to Asia: Rivaldo signed for Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan, Alessandro del Piero for Sydney FC, Xavi for Al Sadd and Andres Iniesta for Vissel Kobe, to name just a few.

There was also the explosion in China in the mid-to-late 2010s that saw the likes of Oscar, Hulk and Carlos Tevez make the move east.

But the scale of what we are witnessing in Saudi Arabia is unlike anything we have seen before.

Quite aside from the impact within Saudi Arabia, the landmark signing of Karim Benzema along with other names such as N’Golo Kante and Sergio Busquets — and let’s not forget a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in all of this — has the potential to completely reshape the face of Asian football.

There are significant differences between what happened in the Chinese Super League and what is taking place in Saudi Pro League now. While the project in China had state backing, it was largely financed by private real estate developers and fell apart as soon as the ruling Chinese Communist Party party tried to cool the spending largesse. The project in Saudi Arabia, however, is directly linked to the country’s Vision 2030 agenda.

Just this week, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman outlined a new vision for sport in the country, and in particular football, with leading clubs to be privatized. The big four are all being taken over by the Public Investment Fund, and the annual revenue of the SPL will be increasing from $120 million to a staggering $480 million.

The sheer scale and ambition are unlike anything ever seen in Asian football, with the ultimate aim of having the SPL as one of the 10 best leagues worldwide.

What that means for Asian football could be seismic.

“The investment in Saudi domestic football is one of the pivotal moments in the (Asian Football Confederation),” James Kitching, former FIFA director and leading sports executive, told Arab News.

“It will drive viewership in Saudi football, and by extension, AFC competitions, as big names ply their trade in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, and other cities. It will increase competitiveness in men’s AFC club competitions, as other clubs strive to keep up and compete with the Saudi clubs, which many already struggle to do.

“Similarly, a new generation of Saudi youth will reap the benefits and will likely usher in a new era of success in AFC men’s youth competitions and consistent participation in youth World Cups.

“The knock-on effect will mean that other nations will need to invest heavily in their technical development and club professionalization to remain competitive, which in turn increases the levels of men’s football in Asia across the board.”

With three of the big four clubs — Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr — all due to participate in the AFC Champions League this coming season, the benefit for Asia’s premier club competition could be immediate.

That the AFC and its media partner Football Marketing Asia are about to go to market for the next commercial cycle for the revamped AFC club competitions is quite serendipitous. It should be an easy sell.

“Saudi Arabian club football is currently in the top three leagues in Asia; the outcome of this investment will balloon it into the stratosphere,” Kitching, also a former senior executive at the AFC, continued.

“Unlike the Chinese bubble, which burst, this is a long-term commitment into one of the biggest cultural institutions in the country — football. The level of investment is a message that Saudi Arabia is serious, and a force to be reckoned with.”

Yasser Al-Misehal, the president of the Kingdom’s football federation, who also sits on both the AFC and FIFA executive committees, is cognizant of the role his country has to play in the development of football across the continent.

“We know the role the league plays in our footballing footprint across Asia,” he told Arab News.

“We have strong partnerships, growing fan bases and of course player recruitment across the AFC. We see Asia as a key component for our future opportunities and ambitions, including football, commercial and investment.

“Football is our country’s favorite sporting passion, and we are working hard to inspire even more to enjoy the beautiful game. This includes investments at all levels, on pitch and off, to provide access for all and even greater opportunity. 

“Whether it’s player signings, club ownership or grassroots investments, these recent announcements reflect our country’s ambition to put sport at the heart of everyday life in Saudi Arabia.”

The scale of the investment has raised eyebrows around the world, but for Kitching, increased investment in Asian club football, rather than Europe, is long overdue and could herald a new era for Asian football.

“Saudi Arabia is leading the way, investing heavily in their domestic game, while the rest of the world, and particularly Asian money, is seeking to buy football clubs in Manchester, Milan, London, Rome, and anywhere else that permits private ownership,” the Adelaide-based Kitching said.

“A pillar of AFC policy should be to actively encourage and harness the Asian money being spent outside of Asia on football and seek to have that invested within Asian football — whether domestically, or in Asian club competitions, or both.

“There’s a giant pot of gold that leaves Asia on an annual basis and props up a chunk of European football — leveraging that investment to pay the best players, invest in the best development, and generate the most media rights.

“That money should be spent in Asia.”

Karim Benzema receives ecstatic welcome from Al-Ittihad fans

Karim Benzema receives ecstatic welcome from Al-Ittihad fans
Updated 09 June 2023

Karim Benzema receives ecstatic welcome from Al-Ittihad fans

Karim Benzema receives ecstatic welcome from Al-Ittihad fans
  • Over 50,000 turn up to see French star in black and yellow
  • Deal is an estimated $215m for three seasons with champions

JEDDAH: Over 50,000 Al-Ittihad fans turned out to catch their first glimpse of Karim Benzema wearing his new black and yellow, number nine jersey, at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on Thursday, as part of the Saudi League champions’ official team presentation.

The former Real Madrid forward and Ballon d’Or holder signed for three seasons to play for Al-Ittihad, in a contract worth an estimated $215 million a year.

The 35-year-old striker was introduced amid enthusiastic chants from Al-Ittihad supporters.

With fireworks exploding around him, Benzema emerged on the pitch to present fans with the moment they had been waiting for since the announcement was made on Tuesday.

The Frenchman lapped up the adulation from his new home crowd — juggling a ball, waving, blowing kisses and tossing balls into the crowd.

Expectations are high that, with the addition of Benzema, Al-Ittihad will have a shot at competing for both the Saudi Pro League and the Asian Champions League.

The player, who attended a press conference with Abdul Wahab Abid, the CEO of Al-Ittihad, said he was excited at the prospect of playing for the club and winning titles.


He said that playing with “such a great team makes me (want) to work hard” and “put a smile” on the faces of all the fans.

Asked why he chose Al-Ittihad, he added: “I am proud to be here in Saudi Arabia with such a team with (such a) great reputation.” He said his family was happy to be in the Kingdom.

Abid told journalists the club was proud to have signed such a legendary player. “I believe we are lucky to bring Benzema to Saudi Arabia to represent our club. We are looking forward to seeing him on the field with his teammates to bring more glory locally and internationally,” he said.

Benzema won 25 trophies and scored 353 goals in 647 appearances to become Real’s second all-time top scorer after Cristiano Ronaldo.

His first appearance for Real Madrid in 2009 was against Al-Ittihad during the Friendly Peace Tournament held in Madrid.

Real estate developer ROSHN becomes platinum sponsor of Saudi champions Al-Ittihad

Real estate developer ROSHN becomes platinum sponsor of Saudi champions Al-Ittihad
Updated 08 June 2023

Real estate developer ROSHN becomes platinum sponsor of Saudi champions Al-Ittihad

Real estate developer ROSHN becomes platinum sponsor of Saudi champions Al-Ittihad
  • Citing the recent signing of Benzema, ROSHN Group CEO highlighted club’s importance to Saudi sport

RIYADH: Real estate developer ROSHN has signed a three-year deal to become the platinum sponsor of Saudi Pro League champions Al-Ittihad.

This sponsorship is part of the Public Investment Fund-owned company’s support for the development of the Kingdom’s sports sector, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.

ROSHN Group CEO David Grover described Al-Ittihad as an important part of the Saudi sports scene, citing the team’s recent signing of French superstar striker Karim Benzema.

Abdulwahab Abed, the CEO of Al-Ittihad, said the sponsorship deal comes at the end of a successful season during which the club won the Saudi Super Cup and the Roshn Saudi League. The sponsorship will allow the team to expand and develop, he added, particularly as it prepares to play regionally and internationally next season.

ROSHN has previously sponsored the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah and the LIV Golf Invitational, also in Jeddah.

Benzema happy to be in ‘beloved and beautiful’ Saudi Arabia and ready to push his limits

Karim Benzema signs for Saudi club Al Ittihad. (Supplied/Al-Ittihad)
Karim Benzema signs for Saudi club Al Ittihad. (Supplied/Al-Ittihad)
Updated 08 June 2023

Benzema happy to be in ‘beloved and beautiful’ Saudi Arabia and ready to push his limits

Karim Benzema signs for Saudi club Al Ittihad. (Supplied/Al-Ittihad)
  • New Al-Ittihad star is looking forward to playing against former Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Benzema eager to encourage more youngsters and females to enjoy football

JEDDAH: New Al Ittihad signing Karim Benzema is looking forward to getting results in front of the ‘passionate’ Saudi fans and delivering trophies to his “legendary” new club in a competitive league which he believes is improving year on year.

The current holder of the Ballon d’or signed for the Jeddah based club following 14 seasons of domestic and European glory with Spanish giants Real Madrid and is hoping that his experience can bring plenty of honours for his new club, the recently crowned Saudi Pro League champions.

Speaking on an exclusive interview published on the club Twitter and Instagram and Saudi Pro League channels, he said: “I hope for my new club, what I’ll be able to bring is my football and most importantly to be able to win titles. It’s a new chapter for me and I would like to further advance the club. It’s a club with a lot of passion. I would like the fans to find themselves in me. I would like to leave a lasting legacy, because I love football. I always have this competitiveness to push my limits and go even higher. That’s why I’m going to be well prepared to give them and show them my talent.”

When asked why came to Saudi Arabia, he stated: “Well because I am Muslim and it’s a Muslim country. I’ve always wanted to live there. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia and I feel good about it. Most importantly it’s a Muslim country, it’s beloved and it’s beautiful. When I had a conversation with my family I was signing with Saudi Arabia, they were all very happy and here i am, to me it’s where I want to be.”

Speaking about the footballing standards of the players in the Saudi Pro League, he added: “I heard a lot of things, it’s a good championship and there are many good players… each year they take go a level higher. I saw the World Cup, they (Saudi Arabia) played a good game, great matches, especially against (eventual World Cup champions) Argentina. Obviously, they have very good players.”

Benzema famously created a potent attacking threat alongside Cristiano Ronaldo during a highly successful spell at Real Madrid, and he will be lining up against his former Bernabeu team-mate next season, after the Portuguese sensation joined Al-Nassr in Riyadh last term.

Benzema admits that his former team-mate is playing an important role in elevating the standard and profile of Saudi football.

“It’s important also that Cristiano Ronaldo is in Saudi Arabia, because he’s a very big player. He brings a lot to the game in this country and that will further elevate their playing level,” he said. “So it’s important to show that Saudi football can have a global impact because it’s not about playing in Saudi Arabia or not performing. No, on the contrary I have to push and show all that I was able to do in Europe and and bring it back with me to Saudi Arabia.

The lure of playing for Al-Ittihad, the oldest sports club in Saudi Arabia, was strong for Benzema. Explaining his decision to swap life in Madrid for Jeddah, he said: “It’s one of the top clubs in Saudi Arabia. It’s a club that sees a lot of passion from its fan and has many trophies.

“I would really like to further elevate the club. The stadium is exceptional, and as I said and will repeat; there’s so much passion - a good team always needs fans. The fans are very important, and with that passion, it gives us the motivation to be best on the field.”

Benzema’s signing is part of a new phase in brand-building for the SPL, aimed at generating greater global awareness, engaging more Saudi football fans across society, and encouraging greater community participation in sports, as part of Vision2030, the ambitious transformational plan. Over the last season of the Saudi Pro League, Al-Ittihad Club welcomed over 600,000 fans, more than any other club in the league and was watched from 48 different channels and platforms across 170 countries.   

The striker hopes it will have an impact on football fans all over the country. He said: “The message for all the young people who play football, who love football is to build their dreams, to work hard, to respect the rules of the game, which means respecting the human being, and to always have pleasure in playing football. And never give up; we can always achieve when we put in the work.”

On whether his high-profile signing will encourage more women to participate in football, he added: “Football is important for everyone - for women, for men and we see it even in Europe, they have female teams including the Champions League. It’s important to be supportive, and therefore whether it’s men or women, we are here to support. For women, I’m happy to be part of this family.”

Aside from football, Benzema admitted he had other reasons for moving to Saudi Arabia, stating his Muslim faith as playing a big part in the decision.

“I feel people already like me. And it will allow me to have a new life,” he said. “I would like to learn Arabic and speak fluently, it’s important for me. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia, Mecca is very close (to Jeddah) and as a believer it’s important for me, this is where I will feel at my best and in my element.

The French star touched down at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport late Wednesday, June 7 ahead of his official unveiling in Saudi Arabia.

New York handler Jerkens takes ‘big jump’ to Saudi Arabia

New York handler Jerkens takes ‘big jump’ to Saudi Arabia
Updated 08 June 2023

New York handler Jerkens takes ‘big jump’ to Saudi Arabia

New York handler Jerkens takes ‘big jump’ to Saudi Arabia
  • Veteran Jimmy Jerkens discusses move to train for country’s leading owner
  • Jerkens has two Breeders’ Cup successes on his resume, winning the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile with Artie Schiller and the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Corinthian

RIYADH: Jimmy Jerkens will take charge of his first runners as a trainer in Saudi Arabia as early as next week. The New Yorker has agreed to train for 2022’s leading owner, Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abdulaziz.
Jerkens will be responsible for some of the jurisdiction’s top horses at the prince’s Red Stable.
Jerkens has two Breeders’ Cup successes on his resume, winning the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile with Artie Schiller and the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Corinthian. He also trained the 2009 Florida Derby winner Quality Road, who coincidently is the sire of 2022 Saudi Cup winner Emblem Road, and multiple Grade 1 winner Shaman Ghost.
Over the past couple of years, Jerkens has been struggling for winners, but speaking on the emergence of the opportunity, he said: “Joel Rosario’s agent, Ron Anderson, called me and told me that the Red Stable were looking for a trainer for the upcoming season.
“He said: ‘I know you’ve been struggling for the last couple of years, and I don’t know what your prospects are here, but I put your name out there and they looked up your resume and they’re extremely interested.’
“I didn’t think much about it, and he called me again. The more I thought about it, the better it looked compared with the prospects I had coming back to New York.
“It’s expensive to operate back home in New York, especially if you don’t have the volume and the quality. It had just turned into a never-ending expense.
“A few years ago, you could afford to be a bit more patient and sit around and wait for things to happen, but you can only charge so much, and I couldn’t really afford to wait anymore.
“If you’ve not had any running and winning, you’re dead. It crept up on us, financially, and how long can you afford to be irresponsible like that? You’ve got to look at it realistically, but I didn’t want to give up training.”
Jerkens said his new role will give him a chance to work with “some decent horses and not worry so much about the other side of it.”
The Taif racing season, which got underway last Thursday, runs until October, and Jerkens is expecting to take charge of his first runners as early as next week.
“There’s a lot to get used to, but everyone’s been supportive,” said Jerkens. “My first full day of being responsible for the horses provided to me will be the Sunday after the opening three days of racing at Taif.
“I’m getting horses from two different trainers and we’re moving to an isolated spot on the other side of the racecourse; all the other outfits are grouped together further away from us around the track.
“I’ve got plenty to learn, as all the race classifications are different from how they are at home. As soon as I know the horses I have and what their aims are, I’ll know how to approach them training-wise.
“I think the horses, as a whole, look terrific and they’re getting great care. Those are my first impressions, and those impressions are always the ones that stick in your mind. I’m happy with how everyone operates over there and the respect they have for the horses.
“It’s a big jump now, no question, but I’ve got a lot of support and a lot of good help, so it shouldn’t take long.”
The season at Saudi Arabia’s premier track in Riyadh will begin shortly after the end of the Taif season and includes the world’s most valuable race meeting, the two-day Saudi Cup event.