The final card of the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club season on Saturday was highlighted by the AED1million Group 1 Emirates Championship, won emphatically by Al Zahir, over the same 2200m as his HH The President Cup victory on his previous start five weeks ago.
Trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, he has now won four of his seven UAE outings, including the 2400m Group 3 Arabian Triple Crown R3 on this card last year.
The owner’s retained jockey, Jim Crowley, has been aboard each time and, with the early leaders clearly going too quickly on this occasion, was happy to take his time in about sixth before making a move at the 800m pole.
He committed for home soon after and the pair entered the short home straight in splendid isolation and with the race won. Thabit and Abu Alabyad ran on from the rear to take second and third respectively but it was a clear cut success by more than five lengths.
“We were drawn 16 which was a definite concern because you can find yourself in trouble on that first bend, but he is such a classy horse we were able to find a nice position,” Crowley said. “When I asked him to close he did so effortlessly and we know he stays further, so I was more than happy to go for home a long way out. He is a very good horse and I imagine will take his chance in the Kahayla Classic on World Cup night now.”
It was a big race double for connections after earlier Crowley found a very willing partner in the shape of AF Mahshoum in the 2200m UAE Arabian Derby and the pair were never headed, battling gamely to deny Dahham who chased him throughout the final 300m with Al Tiryaq closing to finish a close third. This Prestige contest was a fifth career victory for the 5-year-old.
“He only ran a week ago, under a big weight, so to come back out so quickly and win like that is all credit to the horse, the trainer and his team,” Crowley added.
Class prevailed in the biggest Thoroughbred race of the Abu Dhabi campaign, the 2200m Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship, won in style by Light The Lights, a winner at the Dubai World Cup Carnival in each of the last two years for Sheikh Mohd bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.
Trained by South African Mike de Kock, who also won this race in 2009 with Mr Brock, Light The Lights made a winning local debut in the 2017 Singspiel Stakes and won a 2000m turf handicap at the Meydan international extravaganza this year. Ridden on this occasion by Adrie de Vries, he was settled at the back of the main group before closing stylishly on the home turn. Momentarily short of room, he quickened in the style of a good horse when the opportunity arose, hitting the front 150m out and running on to deny Janszoon, who was staying on strongly from the rear.
“We were pretty confident coming here this evening,” De Vries said. “On paper, he was the best horse in the race and he has travelled beautifully.
I was told to find some cover and he has relaxed into a lovely rhythm. The gap opened at the right time and he really picked up strongly. Throughout the race I thought I was going to win, given that bit of luck and racing room when I needed it.”
Restricted to 4-year-olds, the 2400m Group 3 Arabian Triple Crown R3, as mentioned won by Al Zahir last year, went to Goshawke, victorious in the 2200m second round two weeks ago. Again ridden by Fernando Jara, sporting the lime green silks of Al Ajban Stables, the main patron of trainer Abdallah Al Hammadi, he was held up in rear throughout the first half of the race before sneaking closer 800m out.
MH Rahal took up the running with 350m remaining and stayed on dourly but Jara’s mount always looked likely to get there, grinding him down to snatch victory inside the final 50m. AF Al Bairaq, closing at the line but never really threatening the winner, snatched second close home from MH Rahal.
“I have enjoyed a lot of success in these colours and am delighted to win another big prize for the owners and trainer,” Jara said.
“He is a nice, progressive horse who stays very well. He did not travel too strongly early on, but once he picked up the bit, I was always happy.
The horse enjoys those tactics, being held up and produced late and, again, they have worked tonight.”
Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and his main trainer, Ernst Oertel, combined with four of the 13 runners in the 1600m conditions race and landed the spoils with AF Maher, the mount of Antonio Fresu and winning for a seventh time, fifth this season.
Also victorious in the equivalent race last year, when it was over 1400m, he has improved throughout the season.
Fresu said: “He is a good horse in his grade who has had an excellent season as have the owner and trainer as well. I have ridden plenty of winners for them this year and have to thank them for their support throughout the campaign.”
Owner and trainer then completed a rapid double in the final race of the campaign in the capital, a 1600m maiden, with AF Esnad wining for the first time at the ninth attempt. It was also a second winner on the card for Jara who drove him to the front early in the straight and was rewarded with a fairly comfortable victory.
After five starts in his native France, where a second over 1400m was his best effort, Dahess D’Arabie made a winning local debut with an emphatic victory in the opening 1200m maiden, another winner for the burgeoning Helal Al Alawi and Pat Cosgrave combination. Settled in second throughout the first half of the race, he shot clear leaving the home turn after which he was never going to be caught for owner HE Mohd Matar Al Falahi.
Cosgrave said: “He travelled very nicely and quickened well before, perhaps, getting a bit lonely in front in the final stages. It is a great start to his UAE career and, with luck, he is going to be a nice horse for connections next season.”