The Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club stage their final fixture of the campaign with a rare Saturday card in the capital this week. On offer is arguably the best card staged there all season with the AED1million Group 1 Emirates Championship the official highlight. However, the card also features the biggest Thoroughbred race of the Abu Dhabi campaign, the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship, as well as the Group 3 Arabian Triple Crown R3 and the UAE Arabian Derby.
Over 2200m, the Emirates Championship is over the same course and distance as HH The President Cup, won five weeks ago by Al Zahir who will try and complete a memorable double for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ali Rashid Al Rayhi and Jim Crowley. The 5-year-old’s last victory came on this card 12 months ago in the 2400m Group 3 Arabian Triple Crown R3. Al Zahir’s Abu Dhabi win this season came on a return to turf after two outings on the Meydan dirt.
Al Rayhi said: “He is a very good, young horse who is progressing. Conditions obviously suit him and he should run well again.”
The two most recent winners of the race are back with the Al Asayl team seeking a third consecutive victory in the race. Sporting the famous red with white polka dots silks of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Mahbooba landed the spoils last year and will seek to defend her crown, while the same connections’ Abhaar will bid to regain the title having won it in 2016.
However, Tadhg O’Shea, who rode Mahbooba in last year’s Emirates Championship win has opted to partner stable companion, Abu Alabyad. Sixth behind Al Zahir in HH The President Cup, he was previously second to Sniper De Monlau in the 2200m course and distance prep for that race.
Trained by Helal Al Alawi, Sniper De Monlau was then only seventh in HH The President Cup itself, seemingly hampered early on under regular jockey, Pat Cosgrave, who is again in the saddle. Another to have won at the season finale in the capital, having landed the 2016 Arabian Triple Crown R3, he has been a real star for connections.
“He was a bit unlucky last time as he had no room early on and then struggled to get involved,” Al Alawi said. “He is a very good horse and has really helped us get noticed as a yard because he has run well in so many top races.”
Jean de Roualle is a master trainer in this sphere and saddles both Loraa, the choice of Richard Mullen and local debutant Thabit to be ridden by Adrie de Vries. Mullen’s mount was the heroine of the 2017 HH The President Cup but only ninth this year.
Sheikh Hamdan is also responsible for the defending champion in the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship, the biggest Thoroughbred race of the season in the capital in which Zamaam, trained by Erwan Charpy, will bid to become the first dual winner of a race first contested in 1993.
However, he has been overlooked on this occasion by Crowley, who was aboard 12 months ago, in favour of Basateen, to be saddled by Doug Watson who also has Empoli in the field. Runner-up last year was Sharpalo, again representing Ahmad bin Harmash with the third, Carbon Dating, also back in opposition, but arguably the most interesting contender is Light The Lights.
Trained by South African Mike de Kock, as was Mr Brock who landed this race in 2009, Light The Lights has won at the Dubai World Cup Carnival in each of the last two years. In 2017 he made a winning local debut in the Listed Singspiel Stakes and this year was victorious in a 2000m turf handicap when chased home by no less than Blair House, winner of the Group 1 Jebel Hatta last weekend on Super Saturday.
De Kock said: “We had him entered on Super Saturday, but this looked a good race for him, so we waited a week. We think conditions will suit him and expect a big run.”