R B Burn is the one to watch out for as he returns to defend his crown and an unbeaten record on turf in the UAE, in the the world’s most valuable Purebred Arabian contest, the €1.2million Group 1 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown.
This 1600m race is the highlight of Friday’s second Abu Dhabi card of the new season.
One of two in the contest saddled by Frenchman Eric Lemartinel, who trains at Al Asayl, just outside the capital, RB Burn is owned by Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
He will be ridden by Gerald Avranche, as he was last year and when victorious in the Group 1 Liwa Oasis, also at Abu Dhabi but over 1400m.
He was second in both his other two local starts, the 1600m Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 and Kahayla Classic, both on dirt at Meydan, so is clearly a classy performer.
“He is a very good and versatile horse,” said Avranche. “He seems in the same kind of form as he was before the race last year but I would have preferred a better draw.”
Well drawn in two last year, he has not been so fortunate this time and will leave stall 14 but his stable companion, Mahbooba, one of just two mares among the maximum field of 16, has fared even worse under Tadhg O’Shea.
Winner of the 2200m Group 1 Emirates Championship, in March at Abu Dhabi, she is in the second widest gate of all, 15, but has won both her previous course and distance outings, albeit in lesser grade.
“We are out in the car park,” lamented O’Shea who will be sporting the silks of Lemartinel’s main patron, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, about his draw. “The only positive about stall 15 is the two inside us, RB Burn and Muraaqib are probably the two to beat so hopefully I can track them.
“She shows her best form at Abu Dhabi and stays further so, hopefully, they will go quick and her stamina can come into play. We should be staying on strongly.”
The aforementioned Muraaqib is owned by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and trained in France, by Francois Rohaut who has saddled the same owner’s Handassa to win the Al Maktoum Challenge R3 in each of the last two seasons.
The owner’s retained jockey Jim Crowley is making an early start to his UAE campaign and rides the horse for a second time, having finished fourth in the Group 1 Shadwell Dubai International Stakes at Newbury, a race he won last year.
Winner of his other two outings in 2017, both in Group One company and most recently in Turkey, he looks a big danger to all on his local debut.
Champion Jockey, Richard Mullen, is aboard Shateh, trained by Jean de Roualle for Sheikh Hamdan bin Mansour Al Nahyan and having his first start for the handler.
“He is a nice horse and seems in good form,” said Mullen who was pleased to draw gate one. “It is, obviously, a very good race but we have drawn well and should be thereabouts.”
The only Thoroughbred race on the card, The UAE Martyrs Cup, a conditions contest over the same 1600m, has also attracted a maximum field of 16, including last year’s winner Shamal Nibraas.
Prepared by Champion Trainer, Doug Watson, he will again be ridden by Pat Dobbs, as he was 12 months ago but is penalised this year, making his task more difficult.
Sheikh Hamdan’s Ghaamer, despite a bad draw in 14 and a penalty, looks a big danger under Crowley, as does Haalick, trained by Gopi Selvaratnam for HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
An action packed card also includes finals of a series of races for both lady jockeys and apprentices, concluding the 2017 HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival, and, for the first time, a pony race.
Among the aspiring jockeys on show aboard the ponies is Rocco Dettori, son of Frankie, arguably the most famous jockey in the world.