The €1.2million Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown (Group 1 PA), is the undoubted highlight of Friday’s six-race card at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.
Fourteen have been declared, including RB Burn, who was first past the post in the two most recent renewals of the world’s most valuable Purebred Arabian horse race.
Contested in its current guise since 2015, the 1600m feature was previously the National Day Cup, which was inaugurated in 1992.
Its valuable purse has gained the race much international interest, with only half of the 14 runners this year trained in the UAE.
Local horses include RB Burn, owned by Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who won this race impressively in 2016 for Eric Lemartinel.
The 6-year-old was then involved in a titanic struggle with Muraaqib last year when attempting to defend his crown with Gerald Avranche on board, eventually crossing the line a neck ahead. The pair bumped close to the line, necessitating a reversal of placing by the stewards.
Pat Cosgrave, who rode in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington on Tuesday on Godolphin’s Best Solution, takes over in the saddle and is clearly looking forward to it.
He said: “Obviously conditions suit him and he seems in good nick at home. It looks a strong renewal, but you expect that with so much money on offer.”
RB Burn only ran once more locally last season and has had one start since, when well beaten in Bordeaux in September; a race won by Ahzar, fourth in this contest last year.
The mount of Francois-Xavier Bertras, the 5-year-old is trained in France by Damien De Watrigant, who said:
“He won his prep race nicely in France and showed last year that he handles the Abu Dhabi track well. He has thrived since arriving and he is a bigger, stronger horse than 12 months ago, so we are very hopeful.”
On his previous outing, at Newbury (UK), Azhar was second to Al Chammy in the Jebel Ali Racecourse Za’abeel International Stakes (Group 1 PA).
Al Chammy was one of four winners for Olivier Peslier on the prestigious Dubai International Arabian Races card primarily sponsored by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Owned by the Royal Cavalry of Oman, where he is trained by Said Al Badi, the 4-year-old will be ridden on this occasion by Pat Dobbs. The cavalry’s supremo, Brigadier General Abdulrazak Al Shahwarzi, said:
“This has been his target since his victory and Pat Dobbs won on him at Newbury in the summer so knows the horse well.”
Peslier, meanwhile, partners the filly Joudh, one of his four Newbury winners when they landed the Shadwell Arabian Stallions Hatta International Stakes (Group 1 PA) for Yas Horse Racing Management and trainer Didier Guillemin.
Said conditioner is best known in the UAE as trainer of 2017 Al Quoz Sprint sponsored by Azizi Developments (Group 1) victor The Right Man.
He also saddled the 2016 runner-up, Mabrooka, in this Abu Dhabi feature.
Twelve months ago, subsequent Dubai Kahayla Classic sponsored by Mubadala (Group 1 PA) runner-up Chaddad was a close third in this, when trained by Sultan bin Mohd Al Hajri for Aaisha Yousuf Mohd Al Balushi.
This year, he will sport the silks of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum who returns to the Purebred Arabian fold after a substantial hiatus. Royston Ffrench is aboard for Sandeep Jadhav, saddling his first Purebred Arabian runner.
“The 14 draw would be a problem for some but not this horse,” said Jadhav. “He has been training exceptionally well and we are very optimistic about his chances.”
However, the one to beat could be Fazza Al Khalediah, defeated just once in 11 starts but running over the shortest trip he has faced since making a winning debut over 1400m in May 2017.
Already a PA Group One winner in France, he has been dubbed ‘the best Purebred Arabian ever trained in Poland’. He now has the worldwide stage to prove it with Italian Pierantonio Convertino riding for owners Polska AKF and trainer Michal Borkowski.
The names Peslier and Lemartinel not only clash in the feature but also in the HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (Prestige PA) when Megane Peslier and Marie Lemartinel are both in action.
The random draw was particularly kind to Lemartinel; she rides Bainoona for her father, Eric. Peslier, daughter of Olivier, will be aboard Bushrah Al Reef, trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi.
The card also includes the HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak (IFAHR) Apprentice Jockey Championship (Prestige PA) featuring ten young jockeys from around the world.
The draws for the above three races were all conducted at a lunchtime press conference on Tuesday, as was one for the HH Sheikha Lateefa bint Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan International Pony Race final, an addition to the evening inaugurated last year.
All four contests are contested under the auspices of the HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival.
The only Thoroughbred race, the 1600m Martyr’s Cup, has been won in each of the last two years by Shamaal Nibras, ridden both times by Pat Dobbs for Doug Watson and EERC (Emirates Entertainment Racing Club). They are back again in what is basically a National Day Cup (Listed) prep.