On a blustery evening in the capital, Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club hosted a six race card on Sunday, featuring the HH The President Cup Prep, over the same 2200m course and distance as the AED2,500,000 Group One feature itself, in three weeks time.
It was won in determined fashion by Sniper De Monlau, stable star for Helal Al Alawi and owners, The Byerley Team. The six year old horse was winning for a fourth time but, in the past, had at least twice compromised his chances, by hanging badly in races he arguably should have won.
This was a strong trial with last year’s HH The President Cup heroine, Loraa among the field, along with Mahbooba, victorious in the AED1million Group 1 Emirates Championship last March, also over the same Abu Dhabi 2200m and winner of this prep 12 months ago.
Second, beaten a neck by Loraa last year in HH The President Cup, connections will be hoping Sniper De Monlau, who was also third in last year’s Group 1 Kahayla Classic, the sole Purebred Arabian race on the Dubai World Cup card on the Meydan dirt, can go one better this season when he has been campaigned sparingly.
Cosgrave said: “We all know he is a talented horse but can certainly be tricky! He is not the type of horse who is ever likely to win by far but we had a wide draw which suits him and he was definitely on a going day. Fair play to Helal and his team; they have given him a nice break since the big Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown in November. That was over 1600m but he is better over this kind of trip. Hopefully that will put him spot on for the big race itself and then a crack at some of the big prizes at Meydan.”
Half an hour earlier, Billingsgate produced a scintillating performance to win the only Thoroughbred race, a handicap over 1400m, in which he seemingly sprouted wings, down the centre of the track, having entered the straight, which is approximately 400m long, virtually last of the 14 runners. However, once pulled wide by Fernando Jara, in the colours of Mohd Khalifa Al Basti, he produced a devastating burst of acceleration which swept him past at least eight rivals to actually hit the front about 150m out.
A winner four times in England for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby, twice each on turf and the Kempton Polytrack, the seven-year-old powered home, to open his local account at the 11th attempt and provide his trainer, Maria Ritchie, a fourth winner this season.
She said: “We had a Thoroughbred winner here in December and have quite a few turf horses so these chances to run on grass are important to us. We thought, on turf, he had a big chance and we knew he had that turn of foot. Luckily he was able to unleash it and that was an excellent ride from Fernando.”
The maximum field of 14 may have faced the starter in the opening 1400m maiden but very few were ever able to get involved with AF Waqas either first or second throughout. Challenged, for the lead during the first half of the race by JAP Tayeb Falek, that rival weakened quickly on the home turn, leaving Antonio Fresu and AF Waqas in splendid isolation.
Homebred by Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and having a fourth career start, all this season and second on turf, the five-year-old galloped on strongly without ever looking likely to be caught.
Fresu has forged a fruitful alliance with the horse’s trainer, Ernst Oertel, who prepares most of the Al Nabooda string and the jockey said: “This horse ran very well over this course and distance on his penultimate start and is improving with experience. You always know, wearing these silks in this type of race, you are going to have some kind of chance and the trainer has been in great form all season. I am just lucky, and grateful, to get these opportunities.”
Al Nabooda and Oertel were responsible for three of the eight runners in a 1200m handicap, promptly securing a notable 1-2-3 but Fresu had to settle for second on AF Thobor. The pair tracked AF Ssayeb from the outset but were unable to get past his stable companion, never headed under Silvestre de Sousa, with AF Ashras staying on late to claim third for Tadhg O’Shea. Like AF Waqas, all three are bred by the owner and by the same sire, AF Al Buraq, who he also bred.
Oertel said: “Obviously we have to be delighted with that and AF Ssayeb and AF Thobor were first and second the whole way with AF Ashras staying on nicely. The winner only ran last week when he needed the race after six weeks off and this was just his second start of the season. He has now won four times over 1200m, three of them here at Abu Dhabi and, all being well, he will be back here next Sunday for a race over 1000m as he has plenty of speed and has won over that trip before.”
The 1400m handicap could not have been more different than the earlier maiden over the same trip with at least half of the 14 runners threatening to win at some point. However, always travelling well, in the colours of Yas Horse Racing Management, was Dhamin, ridden very confidently by Champion Jockey, Richard Mullen.
The pair sauntered into contention, in the centre of a bunch tracking the leaders on the final bend, before cruising to the front 300m and staying on strongly. MH Tawag tried to throw down a challenge but always looked held under Connor Beasley.
Having his 13th career start in the UAE, Dhamin arrived a maiden after six starts in his native France, he was doubling his winning tally having, on his first start locally, landed a 1600m conditions race, in the capital, in March 2016.
He is trained by Jean de Roualle and the French handler explained: “He is a nice horse who always runs well in these handicaps and he was unlucky last week when short of room at a crucial stage. Richard has given him the perfect ride this evening from not a great draw.”
It was UAE winner 401 for Mullen who added: “He has a lot of ability this horse and everything went well this evening. If anything, I actually hit the front a bit soon but he galloped on well for me.”
The fixture concluded with a 1600m conditions race for fillies and mares, dominated by the Al Asayl team with Eric Lemartinel saddling Bainoona to deny stable companion, Tahany. Both are owned by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan with Gerald Avranche aboard the winner, O’Shea on the runner-up.
Lemartinel said: “She won a maiden, over this course and distance, last January and has not had much racing. Gerald won on her that time also and knows her well. He has done well to get her covered up before timing his challenge well and she has run on strongly for him. It was a good performance from horse and jockey.”