Racing returned to the UAE capital on Saturday with a six race card on the turf at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, highlighted by the 1600m Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup Prep.
Darius Du Paon, second in the race last year, was able to go one place better.
In doing so, he provided legendary French jockey Olivier Doleuze, who punched the air in delight as he crossed the line, with a victory on his very first ride of the season. Never far off the speed, Doleuze asked his mount to challenge leader AF AL Sajanjle at the top of the straight but it took until the 100m pole before they finally managed to get past.
As that rival weakened, finally finishing third, it was left to Goshawke to chase them home He was closing all the time but the line came in time for a delighted Doleuze, riding for Eric Lemartinel in the colours of champion owner, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“This is my first time in Abu Dhabi and I was amazed how good the turf track was here in the middle of the desert. Doleuze said: “This horse has some very good form and felt like a nice individual on the way to post. He has then travelled strongly throughout the race and shown a great attitude in the straight to land the spoils.
“I am very grateful to connections for such a wonderful opportunity and happy I was able to win for them. This is a new challenge for me after 15 years in Hong Kong and one I am really looking forward to.”
He was completing a double for owner and trainer who had combined to land the opening 1400m maiden, contested by the maximum field allowed of 16, all making their debut and, ultimately, turned into a procession by Ellal.
It looked unlikely at halfway when he was last of the main group and under pressure from Pat Cosgrave, the new stable jockey at the Al Asayl Stables of Lemartinel. Sporting the famous red with white polka dots of Lemartinel’s main patron, champion owner HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Cosgrave cajoled his mount into contention before they swooped to the front about 300m out after which the race was over as a contest.
“It was only his first start and he should improve a lot for that experience,” explained Cosgrave.
“He was a big baby early on but, once he understood what I wanted, he challenged quite smoothly and picked up nicely in the straight.”
A second 1400m maiden, half an hour later, was a lot closer but won fairly comfortably by AL Mobher, initially a reserve but able to take advantage of a late berth in the field after the defection of stable companion, Alnairooz.
The most experienced runner in the field and confidently ridden by apprentice Saif Al Balushi, the winner was opening his account on career start number 12, all bar one in the UAE, on what was his fourth turf outing. Like the aforementioned Alnairooz, AL Mobher is trained by Younis Al Kalbani for the Oman Royal Cavalry.
The trainer said: “We won with both our Abu Dhabi runners last season so it has become a lucky course for us. We thought he would run well and it is the perfect start to our season.”
Champion jockey, Tadhg O’Shea, then partnered his first winner as retained jockey for Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda when landing the 1400m handicap aboard AF Waqas, like so many of the owner’s horses, trained by Ernst Oertel.
Twice a winner last season, both at Abu Dhabi, once over this 1400m and on his final start of the campaign, in March, over 1600m, this was the horse’s third career win on his eighth start and he was probably never headed having been sent to the front by O’Shea.
Oertel said: “I was pretty confident because I knew he was fit, that conditions would suit him and we have a very good jockey. There is a race for him coming up at Al Ain which, all being well, will be his next target.”
O’Shea added: “He was getting a bit tired in the closing stages under a big weight but I am delighted to ride a winner in these colours for Mr Al Nabooda and grateful for the opportunity for an owner with plenty of horses.”
The trio completed a double an hour later, O’Shea at his best aboard AF Yathroq, settled well off the pace by his jockey before easing into contention on the home turn in a 2200m handicap. O’Shea asked him to quicken at the top of the straight and received the response he required with the pair hitting the front with about 250m remaining and thereafter always in control.
Al Nabooda said: “It is, obviously nice to have a double. Tadhg has ridden both winners very well and in totally different styles. It is important to me, as an owner with a lot of horses, to have a jockey on my team and I am delighted to have Tadhg on board this season.”
The only Thoroughbred race, the finale, was a 2200m handicap and proved more than worth the wait, producing a pulsating finish with O’Shea and Parliamentarian locked in a titanic struggle with Ben Curtis aboard Jamesian throughout the final 300m.
Parliamentarian, who had swept past Doleuze and Cross Step early in the straight, set sail for home with last year’s winner of the race, Tides Rise, looking to head a host of dangers who were queuing up behind.
Most faltered until Curtis and Jamesian threw down the gauntlet, wrestling the initiative from Parliamentarian who immediately fought back to stick his head in front again. With the lead seemingly changing hands every other stride, the latter appeared set to gain the spoils but one last desperate lunge from Jamesian proved enough to earn a share of the prize.
So, O’Shea, riding for Satish Seemar, completed a hat-trick whereas Curtis, having only his second Abu Dhabi mount, was registering a second UAE success, after one at Jebel Ali, both for his new boss, Musabbeh Al Mheiri.
A delighted O’Shea said: “That has been a great evening and has really worked out perfectly, riding a double for Mr Al Nabooda and one for Satish Seemar, my two main employers this season. When we crossed the line Ben Curtis asked who would have won and, thinking he might have pipped me, I actually joked ‘I would be happy to share’. And we did!”