The world’s most valuable Purebred Arabian horse race, the AED 5,000,000 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown (Group 1 PA) was the undoubted highlight at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club on Sunday.
The 1600m feature, which had looked likely to provide a tight finish with so many equine luminaries among the 14 runners, was actually won relatively easily by Al Shamoos.
Ridden confidently by Julien Auge, in the predominantly green silks of Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Al Shamoos was in pole position to grasp the mettle when early leader, ES Ajeeb, cried enough fully with 500m still to traverse.
That, in all likelihood, proved to be the deciding factor because Auge kicked his mount into a substantial lead, one which never appeared likely to be eroded.
It was left to Fazza Al Khalediah, defeated just once in 11 previous starts, to chase him home, closing quickly, but the fact he was second last entering the straight, which is probably 350m, while tackling a trip shorter than ideal, this race did not pan out in his favour.
For the owner it was a memorable winner with his first UAE runner since March 2015 and for his trainer Charles Gourdain, a maiden local success with just his second competitor in the Emirates.
For Auge, riding in the UAE for an eighth time, it was also a first UAE victory and he proved a more than capable deputy for Christophe Soumillon who was aboard Al Shamoos when she won the Arabian Trophy des Juments (Group 1 PA, mares only), at ParisLongcamp on her previous start.
“I was obviously delighted to be asked to ride her and knew her form well from France,” said Auge. “The leader went quickly enough, but not madly fast, so I was happy to take a lead and she really quickened when I asked. She is a quality filly and this is a very special occasion for all of us.”
Gourdain, who was seemingly hugged by half those present in the paddock area, added: “We were hopeful and blessed with a nice low draw in three. The race could probably not have worked out much better and it is amazing to win this race for this owner here in Abu Dhabi.”
The 1600m HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak (IFAHR) Apprentice Jockey Championship (Prestige PA) was won easily by Harrab, saddled by Jean de Roualle for Yas Horse Racing Management and given a perfect rode by Esther Weissmeier, representing Germany and partnering her 86th career winner.
Content to stalk the leaders, in a nice position on the rail, the pair were in the perfect position to pounce when leader AF Noqoush drifted off the fence turning into the straight. Once in front, they were never going to be caught with the colt actually losing his maiden tag in the process on his tenth start and third in the UAE.
“Obviously it is a great feeling to come here and win and I was able to do exactly what the trainer told me,” Weissmeier said.
“He told me to follow the leaders and, from our low draw, try and stay on the inside. He instilled me with a lot of confidence and I was obviously very lucky when my name came out of the hat on Tuesday to ride this horse.”
De Roualle added: “We knew we had a good chance, but in these races, you rely a lot on a good jockey and she has given the horse a great ride, following instructions perfectly.”
Then it was the turn of the women with ten contesting the HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (Prestige PA), also over 1600m and in which Eric Lemartinel saddled six for his main patron, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
He promptly supplied the first four with Asyyad leading home the quartet under Rebecca Danz completing a notable double for Germany and, coincidentally like Weissmeier earlier, achieving an 86th career success.
It was apparent leaving the home turn that the Lemartinel battalion were going to dominate with eventual fourth, Jaahiz leading the way, but soon passed by Bainoona, the mount of Lemartinel’s daughter, Marie.
Briefly it appeared a memorable family triumph was in the offing, but then Danz and Asyyad loomed large and threw down a telling challenge in the final 200m. He actually crossed the line just behind stable companion Ras Esina, but, sadly, the latter had parted company with her unfortunate jockey, Nadia Ibrahim, after about 100m.
For the record, Lemartinel’s sixth runner RB Inferno was sixth, denied fifth by just a neck.
“Obviously we were very hopeful and the conditions of the race suited Asyyad so we though he was our best choice,” said trainer Lemartinel. “To have the first four is probably more than we could have hoped, but the jockeys have done well.
“I am delighted with Asyyad winning under a very good ride and also, very proud of Marie who rode the second excellently.”
Danz added: “This is just brilliant and I am over the moon. To win here in Abu Dhabi, wearing these silks and representing my country is very special. I have to thank the horse’s connections and of course the organisers of this wonderful series of races.”
As with the apprentices’ race, the jockeys were invited to compete having won a qualifying race, of which there were many staged worldwide, under the auspices of the HH Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival.
The only Thoroughbred contest, the 1600m UAE Martyrs Cup, a rated conditions contest traditionally used as a prep for the National Day Cup (Listed), attracted the maximum allowed field of 16 and as is so often the case on the tight Abu Dhabi track, there appeared to be a few hard luck stories amongst the vanquished.
However, Olivier Delouze, was able to navigate a relatively clear passage aboard Jaaref. Having made stealthy progress leaving the far straight, the pair emerged from a congested pack to lead about 300m home and they ran on strongly to land the spoils for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi.
Well beaten on the Meydan dirt surface last week, Jaaref has now won four times, all on turf and twice locally, both in the UAE capital having scored over 2200m in February 2017.
Sporting a white cap aboard what was, seemingly the third string for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Doleuze was doubling his seasonal tally, from just three rides, all at Abu Dhabi.
The delighted Frenchman said: “As I said last week, I spent about 15 years in Hong Kong, but was excited about this new challenge and Abu Dhabi, where I had not ridden before last week, is proving lucky for me.
Delouze added: “The trainer and his team were quite bullish in fairness and everything went pretty smoothly throughout the race.”
Sixteen also contested the opening 1600m maiden in which Ben Curtis, stable jockey this season for Musabbeh Al Mheiri, was seemingly never headed on the trainer’s AF Momtaz, homebred by Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and winning at the second attempt having finished well beaten on his debut, over 1200m on the Sharjah dirt surface last December.
Al Mheiri said: “The horse had been working nicely and we thought the switch to turf and longer trip would help him. Ben has given him a very good ride and it is a great start to such a big night.”
Al Nabooda, who breeds the vast majority of his large string, added: “This is a very prestigious meeting for the Purebred Arabians so I am delighted to have had a winner.”
An hour later, the owner was celebrating a double though, on this occasion, with a filly not bred by himself and trained by Ernst Oertel who handles the majority of his runners. Ridden by Connor Beasley, Noof KB chased the leaders to halfway in a 1200m handicap before being asked to challenge as the field swept for home and into the short straight.
Fourth one minute, they suddenly shot clear with about 250m remaining and had the race in safe keeping. Stable companion, AF Ashras, the choice of champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea, ran on to take third.
O’Shea was aboard Noof KB for her one previous victory, also at Abu Dhabi, but over 1600m last December. This was her ninth career outing.
“We actually thought AF Ashras was our best hope,” explained Oertel.
“In terms of fitness he seemed slightly ahead, but the filly has shown a touch of class there so we have to be very pleased with both of them.”