Dubai: After a National Day fixture last Friday, Abu Dhabi racing returns to its traditional Sunday slot this weekend with six races on a card officially highlighted by the first Classics of the UAE season.
First up is the 1,400m Abu Dhabi Fillies Classic, a prestige contest restricted to 3-year-olds foaled in the UAE and for which 13 have been declared, including four debutantes and seven maidens. Both previous winners are trained by Eric Lemartinel with stable jockey, Fabrice Veron, sticking with the unbeaten Foah, the pair having registered a course and distance victory a month ago for Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan Al Nahyan.
Stable companion Zuhoor also won on debut, over 1,000m on dirt at Sharjah, but was beaten a long way subsequently, on the Abu Dhabi turf, over 1,600m when stamina appeared an issue. She will be just a second mount in the UAE for jockey Gabriel Bon.
Thirty minutes later the colts’ equivalent, also a 1,400m prestige race, has attracted the maximum field allowed of 16, looks a stronger heat, on paper at least. The four previous winners in the race are all unbeaten, pride of place going to Hameem. The three-year-old has been victorious twice for Abdallah Al Hammadi, in a 1,600m debut success on dirt at Al Ain followed by an impressive win over the same trip in a conditions race here in the capital.
That was actually just last week on the National Day Cup card when ridden by Adrie de Vries, who is again in the saddle and said: “He was impressive last week and I would be very hopeful that the 200m shorter trip will not inconvenience him. He should run well.”
The troika of champion owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, his main trainer, Ernst Oertel and retained jockey Tadhg O’Shea always merit the utmost respect in these races and they combine with AF Thayer. Victorious on his sole start, a 1,200m maiden on dirt at Sharjah, he looked useful on that occasion and seemingly impressed O’Shea, who said: “He won nicely for me at Sharjah when we expected him to run well. Hopefully the switch to turf will not hinder him and he can be competitive in what is obviously a better race under different conditions.”
The other unbeaten pair, after sole starts apiece, are both trained by Ibrahim Al Hadhrami, namely Sawt Assalam and Samau Xmnsor, the mounts of Szczepan Mazur and Omani apprentice Abdul Aziz Al Balushi respectively.
The only Thoroughbred race this week is a typically competitive Abu Dhabi handicap over 2,200m and for which the maximum field allowed of 14 will face the starter. The weights are headed by Festival Of Ages, to be saddled by Ismail Mohammed under Omani apprentice Saif Al Balushi, but who arrives with little recent positive form to his name.
That said, the six-year-old Medaglia D’Oro gelding has made all six local starts, and since leaving Charlie Appleby’s Godolphin team, on the Meydan dirt surface. A Kempton all-weather winner for Appleby, he actually lost his maiden tag, at just the second attempt, on slightly soft turf at Newmarket over 2,400m as a three-year-old in July 2017. Sunday will be just his fourth turf outing and first since his final one for Appleby, when failing to beat any of six rivals over a mammoth 3,600m at Newbury.
Second in the weights is Janszoon, having just his second start since joining rookie trainer Kareem Ramadan, still seeking a first winner in his first season with a training licence. A 6-year-old Dubawi gelding, another previously representing Appleby and Godolphin, he looked a very exciting recruit to the UAE when joining Ali Rashid Al Rayhi three seasons ago. Consecutive 2000m January 2018 turf handicap victories at Meydan was enough to qualify him for the Dubai World Cup Carnival and he started his campaign at the international extravaganza when beaten a neck, in third, in a 2,400m turf handicap. Runner-up in that year’s Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship, over Sunday’s 2200m, he finished his 2018 season on the Dubai World Cup card, beaten eight lengths in tenth in the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup.
Janszoon along with Festival Of Ages remain carnival qualified, as do Above Normal, to be ridden by stable apprentice Nathan Crosse for Satish Seemar, and Hornsby, trained by Salem bin Ghadayer and the mount of Royston Ffrench.
Carnival aspirations will be held by Jaaref, Barreesh and Carrington while an easy win from any of the remainder could propel them to the magic 90 handicap mark to qualify for the international bonanza.
With the 2021 Carnival on the horizon, this is a welcome opportunity for a ‘pipe opener’ on turf for horses that do not perform to their best on dirt.