Sunday’s final meeting of the season at Abu Dhabi features not only the Group 1 Purebred Arabian Emirates Championship but also their biggest Thoroughbred race of the season, the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship.
Both races are over 2200m and both the 2013 winners are back to defend their crowns. Majed Al Jahouri saddle four in the Emirates Championship, all owned by HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, including Musharab, winner of this race last year. Harry Bentley, who was in the saddle on that occasion, rides stable companion Naseem, already winner of Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge I at Meydan Racecourse.
Remarkably, Al Jahouri has saddled Sheikh Mansour-owned runners to win the first six Purebred Arabian Group 1 contests of this UAE season and they also have Merzal and Rasikh in the field as they try and make it seven.
Al Jahouri said: “Naseem and Musharab would have to be our best chances and Naseem already has a big-race win to his name this year. That was over 1600m on the all-weather and this 2200m trip suits him better, as does the turf. He should have a big chance.
“Musharab has been running well enough and these are his optimum conditions. We expect another big run from him but Merzal and Rasikh need to improve on what they have shown here in the UAE. Their French form was good but they have yet to transfer it. It has been a great season so far and hopefully that can continue on Sunday.”
If they can combine to win this, only the Dubai Kahayla Classic on Dubai World Cup night, on Saturday March 29, stands between Sheikh Mansour and Al Jahouri completing a Group 1 clean sweep.
Albar Lotois and Richlore, trained by Eric Lemartinel and Ernst Oertel respectively, look the main dangers.
The Thoroughbred equivalent, the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship, was won last year by Jutland for Doug Watson. He has yet to win since but has been running well in defeat. His regular pilot, stable jockey, Pat Dobbs, again takes the ride and Watson said: “We know conditions suit him and he has faced a few stiff tasks this year but, on the whole, ran well. He seems to save his best for this time of year and he should run his normal genuine race.”
He will need to be at his very best if to defend this title in a race no horse has won twice since it was inaugurated in 1993, with the Mike De Kock-trained Mushreq looking a massive danger.
Mushreq has not been disgraced in three subsequent Meydan Racecourse outings, most recently beaten less than three lengths when fifth in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday last week.
One of four in the 2200m contest owned by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, it is no surprise to see the owner’s retained jockey, Paul Hanagan, aboard De Kock’s charge.
The 2011 winner, Topclas, who was fourth last year and fifth in 2012, also seeks an unprecedented second victory in the race. Trained by Ahmad bin Harmash, Topclas is joined by stable companion Jamr, the choice of stable jockey, Adrie De Vries.