Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase

Jockey Paul Townend rides I Am Maximus past the finish line to win the Grand National Steeple Chase on the final day of the Grand National Festival horse race meeting at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, north-west England, on April 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2024

Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase

  • The result delivered a first Grand National win for jockey Paul Townend and a second for trainer Willie Mullins
  • Defending champion Corach Rambler unseated jockey Derek Fox on the first fence, but there were no reports of any horses or riders being injured

LIVERPOOL, England: I Am Maximus confirmed his status as a favorite by pulling away late to win the Grand National Steeple Chase on Saturday.

About a dozen horses looked to be in contention as they cleared the final hurdle but none could match the finish of I Am Maximus, who had gone out as the joint favorite at 7-1 and pulled well clear on the final section.

The result delivered a first Grand National win for jockey Paul Townend and a second for trainer Willie Mullins.

“At halfway he was a bit careful with his jumping, but we just built his confidence back up again and then going over the last two (fences) I had the four horses in front of me that I wanted in front of me,” Townend said. “I was hoping when I pulled him out that he’d pick up and go and he did. ... The feeling passing the line is up there with the best I’ve had.”

Delta Work was second and Minella Indo third.

Defending champion Corach Rambler unseated jockey Derek Fox on the first fence, but there were no reports of any horses or riders being injured.

There was also no repeat of the chaotic scenes from last year, when the race was delayed by nearly 15 minutes and more than 100 people were arrested after animal rights activists scaled fences around the perimeter of Aintree racecourse and got onto the track in an attempt to stop the event.

Organizers made changes this year in order to avoid more protests, slimming down the field from the usual 40 horses to 34 in an attempt to reduce collisions and bunching either side of the fences. In the end, the slimmed-down race featured just 32 runners after Chambard and Run Wild Fred did not start.

Organizers also used foam and rubber toe boards to make the fences softer, and the race was held 75 minutes earlier than usual — at 4 p.m. local time — so the course would stay as soft as possible.

Saudi Arabia spending big for a place on the gaming map

Updated 33 sec ago

Saudi Arabia spending big for a place on the gaming map

TOKYO: Saudi Arabia is moving aggressively with its investments in more gaming companies, the Canadian industry veteran steering the kingdom’s push to become a global hub for the sector told AFP Friday.
The kingdom has already been spending heavily with a $38-billion push into gaming under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program, part of a plan to diversify the economy away from oil.
Campaigners say the gaming push — accompanied by similar drives in football and other areas — belies a dire rights record where dissidents are imprisoned and executions are common.
“We don’t pause. We don’t do neutral,” Savvy Games CEO Brian Ward said in a joint interview in Japan with Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, chair of the Saudi eSports Federation.
“It’s a good time to be in the market, looking for good teams in studios,” said Ward, a former executive at “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts and Microsoft.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has bought stakes in “Resident Evil” maker Capcom and Japanese giant Nintendo, as well as in Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts.
Savvy, a PIF subsidiary, in 2022 bought a $1.1-billion stake in Sweden’s Embracer in 2022 and bought Scopely, the US mobile games company behind “Monopoly Go!,” for $4.9 billion last year.
“There’s a lot we want to do to get it done and to reach our targets at 2030,” said Prince Faisal, who is also Savvy vice-chairman.
“But we also want to make sure that we are taking the time to study things, to look at things. And make sure we’re making the right steps and not just throwing cash out there to see what hits,” he said.

In eSports, Savvy also bought tournament organizer ESL Gaming and the platform FaceIt. Riyadh will also host the eSports World Cup in July and August, when 2,500 gamers will battle for $60 million in prize money.
Prince Faisal, who credits video games for giving him insights into real-life history, said the tournament would help put Saudi Arabia on the global gaming map.
“A gaming industry is something you can start now and you’ll see the results in five to 10 years. And so to start momentum going, to start a conversation, esports is a great entry point,” he said.
Saudi Arabia aims to create 250 gaming companies and studios on its soil, 39,000 game-related jobs, be in the top three of professional gamers per capita and to produce a blockbuster “AAA” game by 2030.
The objective at the same time is for gaming to account for one percent of gross domestic product, something which Prince Faisal admits “keeps me up most at night.”
“One of the amazing things is we have a long history of storytelling in our region. It’s typical Bedouin culture is sitting around a fire telling the story,” he said.
“The tools are there... I think we can come up with not just the next great game, but the next great story.”

In 2020, “League of Legends” maker Riot Games backed out of a sponsorship deal with NEOM, a $500-billion futuristic Saudi city, after criticism from fans about doing business with a country where homosexuality is illegal.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about Saudi and who we are as Saudis,” Prince Faisal said.
“And the best way that I can say to answer that is to come and see and what you’ll see on the ground is very different than the conception that’s out there.”
Ward said he had been assured that Saudi Arabia’s gaming drive would be “consistent with the values and culture of our industry.”
“We have been given carte blanche to operate like a true games company. We don’t do anything different at Savvy being based in Riyadh than we would if we were in New York, Los Angeles, or Berlin.”

Porsche becomes third manufacturer to commit to Formula E GEN4 until 2030

Porsche’s pledge to the GEN4 era extends its ABB FIA Formula E World Championship involvement to at least 2030. (Formula E)
Updated 24 May 2024

Porsche becomes third manufacturer to commit to Formula E GEN4 until 2030

  • Announcement comes ahead of Shanghai E-Prix, marking Formula E’s first return to China in almost 5 years
  • Porsche has committed to the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship for at least 4 years beyond GEN3

SHANGHAI: Porsche has committed to the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship until at least 2030.

Ahead of the 2024 Shanghai E-Prix, Porsche AG and Porsche Motorsport, alongside Formula E and the FIA, have confirmed the news for seasons 13 to 16.

This decision ensures that the Stuttgart-based manufacturer will be on the grid when the next generation of vehicles, known as GEN4, debuts in the all-electric racing series.

“Like Formula E, we want to add innovative technologies and increased sustainability to motorsport — and be at the cutting edge of new developments,” Thomas Laudenbach, vice president, Porsche Motorsport, said.

“The world championship offers a first-class stage for this: racing at the highest level, public interest worldwide and high technological relevance. The knowledge from racing flows directly into our sports cars: motorsport engineers sit shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues from road projects. After all, we don’t develop technology for the sake of technology — it has to benefit our customers.”

With features like all-wheel drive that can be activated at certain points in the race, the new generation presents an additional technical challenge for the teams. GEN4 will be introduced in season 13 (2026/2027), providing manufacturers with greater scope for development and offering valuable insights for their series production.

Other technology promised in the GEN4 era will be focused on significant breakthroughs in energy efficiency, race performance, and safety standards. This next-gen platform will introduce features such as regeneration capacity reaching up to 700 kW and a power-output surge up to 600 kW.

The TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team boast a legacy few of their rivals can match. Since their entry into Formula E in season six, they have amassed eight victories, 16 podium finishes, and six pole positions — all in just 68 race starts.

“With their unwavering commitment and innovative spirit, we are thrilled to announce that Porsche will continue to be a cornerstone of our championship for at least another four years,” Jeff Dodds, CEO of Formula E, said.

“Their dedication to the highly anticipated GEN4 era not only pushes the boundaries of technology and performance but also sets a new standard for excellence in worldwide motorsport.

“With Porsche’s expertise and high-performance powertrains as one of the world’s most revered automotive manufacturers, this renewed partnership bolsters an exciting future for Formula E, filled with even more groundbreaking achievements and unforgettable racing moments.”

Meanwhile Michael Steiner, executive board member for research and Development at Porsche AG, said: “Right from the outset, we regarded our Formula E commitment as long-term. The evolution of racing vehicles shows how much development potential there is in e-mobility.

“Going forward, we want to glean even more knowledge from Formula E that we can transfer to our road sports cars. As one of the most competitive series in motor racing, it’s already pushing us to achieve technological excellence. We look forward to continuing to shape the championship and contributing to the advancement of e-mobility.”

Olympics hopefuls Hull and Hall set to play Aramco Team Series in London

Updated 24 May 2024

Olympics hopefuls Hull and Hall set to play Aramco Team Series in London

  • Georgia Hall aims to retain her 2023 team title in Britain
  • World No. 8 Charley Hull gearing up for potential gold at 2024 Paris Olympics

LONDON: The Aramco Team Series presented by PIF – London in July is shaping up as a preview for the 2024 Paris Olympics, with Great Britain’s Charley Hull and Georgia Hall leading the early field announcements.

The two are sure to be a hit with the home crowds, and with further announcements set to follow on a strong field, both are looking to build on outstanding 2023 outings at the tournament.

Last year, Hull came up just short to American Nelly Korda in the individual competition, while Hall was able to captain her team to victory in extremely difficult conditions, edging out Hull’s team by just one stroke.

Now England’s dynamic duo, who are also long-time best friends, are aiming to secure their places at the 2024 Paris Olympics and become the first to win a medal for Team GB in a women’s golf event.

The golf at the Olympics, where Korda is set to defend her gold medal from Tokyo 2020, tees off a little over a month after the Aramco Team Series London event, and the Major-like event at Centurion Club will provide the pair the perfect opportunity to prepare for the grand stage of the sport.

Hull has recently achieved a career-high Rolex Women’s Golf World Ranking of seventh following her impressive T2 finish at the Aramco Team Series presented by PIF – Tampa in March 2024.

Reflecting on her preparations for the summer, Hull commented: “At the start of the season I sat down and thought about how I wanted this year to pan out. I knew that there would be an important summer of golf ahead with the Olympic Games, Solheim Cup and chasing down my first Major title.

“I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my career, mentally and physically. Sticking to the gym in those early hours and achieving 5 km personal bests was a way to ground myself and clear my head, and this is really helping me out on the course.

“To have the Aramco Team Series at home is the best way to open the intense summer ahead. Playing in a field with some of the players I’ll face in Paris, and at a tournament like this that has that Major-like feel, will be a great dress rehearsal for me to aim for that gold medal.”

Hall, looking to defend her Aramco Team Series London team title, sees the event as a crucial step in her 2024 campaign, which could well feature the Solheim Cup in September.

“The Aramco Team Series in London will be my first appearance in the event this year and I’m buzzing to get back into playing with a team which will hopefully be a great transition to the Solheim Cup in September,” Hall said.

“Competing against Charley as a team captain again, so close to home, will add an extra layer of excitement, especially with friends and family cheering us on. I’ve played my fair share of Majors and outside of those, the Aramco Team Series matches the energy and field the best. It’s always a great competition with the top players out there.”

Joining Hull and Hall will be a competitive Ladies European Tour field, including Anne Van Dam of the Netherlands, Singapore’s Shannon Tan, and India’s Diksha Dagar — all using the event as a platform to fine-tune their skills ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

Updated 24 May 2024

Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will play against each other in Islamabad on June 6 for round two of World Cup qualifier
  • Saudi Arabia beat Pakistan 4-0 in November 2023 when the two sides met each other for first round of qualifiers

ISLAMABAD: Tickets for Pakistan’s upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier Round 2 home-leg match against Saudi Arabia are officially on sale, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) announced on Thursday. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will lock horns at the Jinnah Football Stadium in Islamabad on June 6, with the match scheduled to kick off at 8:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Pakistan is in Group G of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tajikistan. The South Asian country will face Tajikistan on June 11 in an away fixture. 

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round.

“In a bid to make the event accessible to all football enthusiasts, ticket prices have been thoughtfully set at budget-friendly rates,” the PFF said in a media release, adding that tickets were available at website. 

It said tickets for the Premium Plus enclosures were set at Rs4,000 [$14.37] while the Premium enclosure tickets were priced at Rs1,500 [$5.39]. The General enclosure tickets are being sold for Rs750 [$2.69]. 

Saudi Arabia thrashed Pakistan 4-0 when the two sides met in November 2023 for their first clash of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Al Ahsa. 

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.

Brown shines as Celtics take 2-0 lead over Pacers, Haliburton hurt

Updated 24 May 2024

Brown shines as Celtics take 2-0 lead over Pacers, Haliburton hurt

  • Brown tied a career playoff high to help the top-seeded Celtics break their Game-2 jinx
  • The Pacers have excelled at home, but now have concerns over All-Star point guard Haliburton

LOS ANGELES: Jaylen Brown scored 40 points to propel Boston to a 126-110 victory over Indiana and a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference finals over a Pacers team rocked by an injury to Tyrese Haliburton.

Brown tied a career playoff high to help the top-seeded Celtics break their Game-2 jinx.

Winners of a league-best 64 regular-season games, Boston had dropped the second game before prevailing in each of the first two rounds.

But they head to Indianapolis for Game 3 on Saturday in control of the best-of-seven series.

The Pacers have excelled at home, but now have concerns over All-Star point guard Haliburton, who departed late in the third quarter with a left hamstring injury and didn’t return.

Brown, who sank a three-pointer to force overtime as the Celtics held off the Pacers in a game-one thriller, scored 10 points in a 20-0 Celtics run that saw Boston take the lead for good in the second quarter.

“It’s the playoffs, man,” Brown said. “Whatever it takes to get a ‘W’ — on defense, on offense — that’s what I’m going to do.”

“He has it going,” Jrue Holiday said of his teammate.

“Great player, great leader, but wants to win and takes things into his own hands. Having a guy like that on my side, I love it. I’ll ride for him.”

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said that even though the box score reflected just two assists for Brown, he did a good job of keeping his teammates involved on offense.

“He made the right play — that’s the most important thing,” Mazzulla said.

Indiana emerged from a tight first quarter that featured 10 lead changes with a 27-25 advantage.

But Holiday’s three-pointer in the final minute of the opening period launched Boston’s scoring binge and they were up 42-27 midway through the second.

The Celtics pushed the lead to 16 before the Pacers hit back. Pascal Siakam came up with four big buckets, including a dunk that cut the deficit to 56-51 at halftime.

Siakam struck again early in the third, and his three-pointer pulled Indiana within two.

But Boston pulled away again, their 16-5 scoring run swelling the lead to 13 going into the fourth quarter, when the Pacers wouldn’t get within double digits.

Jayson Tatum shook off a slow start to score 23 points. Derrick White also scored 23 and Holiday scored 15 points with 10 assists for Boston.

Siakam led Indiana’s scoring with 28 points. Haliburton had 10 points and eight assists before departing.

“I think they played a little better for more stretches than we did,” said Siakam, a title winner with Toronto who was acquired from the Raptors in January.

“They had a lot of good runs. We were getting there close but just not quite there.”

Siakam noted the Celtics’ edge in rebounding and second-chance points. The Pacers also produced 16 turnovers.

“They just played better,” Siakam said. “We’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and move on and think about the next game.”

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said Haliburton, who had left hamstring trouble during the season, had already had treatment on his leg at halftime.

He also had tests after taking a blow to the chest battling with Brown for a rebound.

“We’ll know more tomorrow and probably even more Saturday,” Carlisle said.