Dubai: Now that the 2019-2020 UAE racing season has drawn to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year that was … the positives, the challenges, the special moments and the changes.
Perhaps it’s worth recording that despite the coronavirus having robbed us of our much-anticipated showpiece event, the landmark 25th Dubai World Cup meeting on March 28, it was a highly invigorating five months of action across the UAE’s five racecourses.
The good news is that the Anniversary celebrations for Dubai’s iconic race meeting will be held in March next year. No kidding.
So what were the highlights of this year’s exhaustive calendar of races at Meydan, Jebel Ali, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Sharjah?
The one that comes to mind is Godolphin superstar Benbatl’s extraordinary switch from turf to dirt where he defied all the odds of racing on an alien surface for the first time in his colourful career to win the second round of the Maktoum Challenge (G2).
This would set him up for a shot at the $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh where he took on the mighty American dirt specialists, Maximum Security and Midnight Bisou to finish a creditable third, beating another stateside challenge, Mucho Gusto with a renewed burst in the final strides.
He would return to Dubai to unwind a little and begin preparations for the 2020 Dubai World Cup, for which international bookmakers had installed him as the big favourite. Unfortunately, he would not have opportunity to prove his versatility and capture a first Group 1 prize on dirt, having already won three in as many continents, on the turf.
So Benbatl’s metamorphosis from top turf to top dirt horse, something that is largely uncommon, would have to be one of the outstanding performances of the season.
Having been a part of the UAE racing fabric for many years, I have come to be a big fan of one jockey in particular – Tadhg O’Shea.
O’Shea’s complete competitiveness is one of his most enduring qualities that he exhibits every time he gets aboard a horse, be it a maiden race, a andicap or a Pattern race. He gives the horse every chance to win. He’s the sort of jockey every owner and trainer would want as a partner. And that’s why he has been crowned UAE champion on eight occasions.
And if you get to know him, you will appreciate the touch of humour that he brings to a sport which has daily impending dangers.
This is the key for me. It’s impossible not to like someone who smiles a lot and can make you laugh with his comments during interviews. This is a big bonus.
When it comes to riding, he can surprise you in so many ways. He is good on thoroughbreds and great on Arabians. He has a bag full of skills which he uses to good effect when plans don’t go right.
One performance that sticks in my mind is when he rode the Satish Seemar-trained Wafy to win the Mahab Al Shimaal (Group 3) sprint on Super Saturday, March 7.
The son of Dubawi did not look to be in a good place when he raced in the rear of a sprinting field but O’Shea galvanized his horse approaching the two furlong marker and Wafy responded with a telling burst of speed to fly past his rivals for a most impressive ¾ length victory.
That was an outstanding performance by horse and jockey.
There were many, many highlights during the season and I’m sure all those involved in making them happen will take a lot of positives with them to 2020-2021.
The season in numbers
Thoroughbreds were seen in action during the 2019-2020 UAE racing season
Purebred Arabian horses, most of them bred in the UAE participated at the country’s five racecourses
owners of both thoroughbreds and Arabian raced their horses in the UAE
$ 10.8 million
was the prize money horses trained by Satish Seemar at the Zabeel Stables earned