World No. 1 Brooks Koepka in defiant mood ahead of return to Saudi International at KAEC

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka shared his thoughts about his chances ahead of the European Tour event at Royal Greens & Country Club at King Abdullah Economic City. (Supplied: Saudi International)
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Updated 25 January 2020

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka in defiant mood ahead of return to Saudi International at KAEC

  • Saudi International is returning to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) next week
  • Second edition of the tournament, which is part of the European Tour

JEDDAH: The Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers is returning to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) next week from Jan. 30 — Feb. 2.

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka shared his thoughts about his chances ahead of the European Tour event at Royal Greens & Country Club.

Q. You’re currently on the verge of breaking into the top 10 players to have spent longest at world #1. What does that mean to you and are records something you’re driven by?
Brooks Koepka: It’s great to be world number one, and I want to stay there but being number one is really a by-product of playing well, which is my first aim. There are lots of other world-class golfers playing well at the moment and this week is a good chance to win some valuable points to keep me at the top.

Q. Your often-discussed record in majors proves that you are a golfer who can play arguably his best golf under the greatest of pressures. Where do you think this coolness on the big stage comes from?
BK: I think it’s just because I am very competitive, and I love to win. No athlete plays a sport just to take part: everyone wants to win. That drives me to play my best golf when it really matters. I also work hard off the course so that I am as prepared as I can be when I get into the heat of competition.

Q. The Saudi International marks your second tournament back from injury (knee). How are you feeling heading into it?
BK: I’m feeling really good. It’s going to be my second tournament since October, so I am excited to get back on the course and compete against some of the world’s best players. It’s never a good thing being injured but I’ve come back from injury well before. In some ways it gives you a chance to recharge and start the new year fresh.

Q. Does an injury like the one you’ve experienced change your mindset when you return?
BK: I’m playing to win. Once I’m on the course, I forget everything else and just play golf. I didn’t play my best golf here last year so I’m ready for a strong finish in Saudi.

Q. How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bringing the game into a new market?
BK: It’s great to see the game growing worldwide and having played in Saudi Arabia last year, I know the positive effect the tournament had on the country.

Q. What do you hope to learn from Saudi Arabia during your time competing and how excited are you about playing in the tournament?
BK: I am really looking forward to playing at Royal Greens again as I thought the layout was really impressive. I hope my experience playing in this event last year will allow me to contend for this year’s title.

Q. More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?
BK:
It’s great to see so many young people wanting to get into the game. If you enjoy watching it, you will certainly love playing it.

Q. What’s the ambition for 2020 after such strong seasons in 2018 and 2019?
BK:
Right now, I just want to get back playing. I’m looking forward to a strong season and being in contention in all of the tournaments I play in, which come September will put me in a strong position for the Ryder Cup. As far as I am concerned, the Saudi International is the most important tournament in front of me right now.

Q. Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?
BK:
I think coming to a golf event is the best way to watch the game. You are part of the event, you can see exactly what the players are going through at any point. You can also follow your favorite golfers around the course all day, which sometimes the TV doesn’t do depending on who you want to follow.


Jewel in Kingdom’s sporting crown Juddmonte Farms eyeing Saudi Cup glory

Updated 49 min 44 sec ago

Jewel in Kingdom’s sporting crown Juddmonte Farms eyeing Saudi Cup glory

  • Prince Khalid bin Abdullah’s horse ‘Tacitus’ to race at the Saudi Cup on Saturday
  • Saudi-owned Juddmonte Farms has bred some of the most successful horses in recent racing history

When the gates open and the runners and riders get underway in Riyadh on Saturday in the world’s richest horse race, one man will be watching the action with more pride than most.

Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, owner of the hugely successful Juddmonte Farms breeding operation, will not only be closely monitoring the performance of his own horse, Tacitus, in the $20 million Saudi Cup, but will also be celebrating the fact that such a prestigious international race meeting is taking place in the Kingdom for the first time.

Simon Mockridge, director of the UK stud operation, described the Saudi Cup as a “momentous moment” and said that victory in the inaugural event would be “vitally important” to the prince and the entire Juddmonte team.

“I think what we have to remember (is that the Saudi Cup has) an extremely strong field and Tacitus will have to step up to the plate; we’re hoping very much that he can achieve that,” Mockridge told Arab News at Juddmonte’s Newmarket headquarters.

“Prince Khalid’s breeding operation is probably one of the jewels of Saudi Arabian history. It would be very nice if he was able to win the race and I’m sure he and the family would be over the moon. I think being a Saudi he will be very excited to think that they have a race of this magnitude now in Saudi Arabia, and it’s going to create some great waves,” he said.

The Saudi Cup, a two-day meet that begins on Friday at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack, is the latest high-profile event added to the Kingdom’s growing sporting calendar. But while the country only recently embarked on its ambitious program of attracting a host of top-class international sporting events as part of its Vision 2030 development program, over the past four decades Juddmonte Farms has become one of the most recognizable global names in horse breeding and racing.

Founded in 1977 and located a world away from the desert sand of Riyadh in the rolling countryside of Suffolk in England, with further operations and bases in Ireland and Kentucky, Juddmonte Farms has quietly become one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest sporting success stories.

The inexorable rise of Juddmonte, and Prince Khalid, began when Known Fact won the 2000 Guineas Stakes in 1980, a victory that earned the prince a place in the history books as the first Arab owner of the winner of a Classic, the name given to a handful of the most prestigious, elite races in England, Ireland and France.

It marked the beginning of a long and illustrious career for the prince that includes more than 100 Group 1 winners and dozens of Classics winners. According to Mockridge, the secret to that sustained success is down to the building of a highly professional team at Juddmonte and some astute early decisions by the prince.

Frankel is led to his paddock by Juddmonte attendant Rob Bowley. (Darren Tindale, Bronwen Healy)

“I think we have to think back to when Prince Khalid was very active in the market, in the early 1980s,” he said. “He purchased very well, he was advised extremely well and he made very sound decisions. He purchased a lot of good mares and that was his primary focus at the time.

“They were wise decisions, calculated purchases at the time, which he then masterfully guided through wonderful breeding careers. I think globally, if you look at the impact he has had in the 40 years he has been in operation, he’s managed to win every English Classic and every French Classic.

“And to top it all off, he has had in excess of 500 stakes (the most prestigious, and valuable, races, contested by the best horses) winners. So you have to look at him and say that for a medium-sized breeding operation, he has certainly taken the racing and breeding operations to a very high level,” Mockridge said.

Amanda Prior is the general manager of Great British Racing International, which facilitates global investment in British racing and breeding. “It is brilliant to see Prince Khalid Abdullah’s long-serving investment in British racing and breeding continuing to reap rewards,” she said.

“Juddmonte has never had a better stallion roster, attracting world-class mares from all over the world, and will ultimately shape the breed for many years to come.”

It is hard to disagree with her prediction. Juddmonte has bred some of the most successful horses in recent racing history, including the likes of Frankel — the legendary unbeaten horse now standing at stud at the farm’s Banstead Manor base — Kingman, and Danehill, a thoroughbred Mockridge said is “arguably the most important stallion that has stood in the northern and southern hemisphere.”

All five stallions standing at Juddmonte Farms’ Banstead Manor Stud (from left): Bated Breath, Oasis Dream, Frankel, Kingman and Expert Eye. (Bronwen Healy)

And yet despite such consistent global success in the sport, the achievements of Juddmonte Farms and Prince Khalid are still more celebrated outside the Kingdom than within. This is something Mockridge hopes will change when the two-day Saudi Cup meet grabs the racing world’s attention and puts Saudi racing on the map.

He was also full of praise for event organizer Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, and the work that has gone in to bring an elite racing event to the Kingdom.

“We have to look at the race itself and say this is one of the strongest races that has been run for a great many years, so this is a phenomenal achievement by Prince Bandar and his team,” said Mockridge.

“I think the difficulty for them going forward is how they can maintain the momentum …but there is no doubt they have positioned this race incredibly well and there has been a lot of foresight here.

“I think if you imagine there is now an opportunity for a single horse to win the Breeder’s Cup and the Pegasus, then the Saudi Cup and to go on and win the Dubai World Cup, races that are worth nearly $50 million in total prize money, then I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Douglas Erskine Crum, Juddmonte’s CEO, echoed Mockridge’s thoughts about the bright future for horse racing in Saudi Arabia.

“There will always be many challenges in establishing racing and breeding but I have every confidence that it will be achieved successfully in the Kingdom,” he said. “The team that has put the Saudi Cup together is very impressive.”

Mockridge conceded that some were skeptical early on about whether it was feasible for Saudi Arabia to host top-class horse racing, but he said the work done by Prince Bandar’s team has silenced the doubters.

“The wonderful thing for Saudi Arabia is that they have been able to attract such a strong field at the first time of asking,” he said. “There was a little bit of skepticism right at the beginning, but Prince Bandar and his team have been very progressive with it.

“The fact they have been able to build a turf course in such a short space of time — and apparently it’s riding very well — that’s extraordinary to me that they have been able to do that. For most of us, it would take generations to get a track up and running.

“So, I hope it’s a wonderful success for them and I would like to see lots of young Saudi people coming out of that and coming in to invest in European and American bloodstock. I think it’s important for the future of racing.”

Regardless of which horse is first past the post on Saturday, the Saudi Cup marks the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for racing in the Kingdom. And given the expertise of Prince Khalid, Mockridge and the entire Juddmonte team, their own success story is likely to run and run.