3 December 2020, Abu Dhabi, UAE ~ The most valuable race of the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club season, the Group 1 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown, is the undoubted highlight of racing in the capital on Friday, 4 December, with a truly cosmopolitan maximum field allowed of 16 set to face the starter.
Contested over 2200m for the first time, having been introduced to the race programme in 2015 as a 1600m race, the first five editions have been shared between winners trained in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, a pair from France and, last year, Great Britain. The course and distance prep, a month ago this Sunday, was won by Richard Mullen aboard Somoud, having his first start for Al Ain-based Jean de Roualle and actually victorious in each of his last four outings, highlighted by victory, over the 2200m Abu Dhabi track and trip in March’s Group 1 Emirates Championship.
Of the Yas Racing-owned 6-year-old, De Roualle said: “We are drawn nine which is ok and, even though it is a very strong race, I am hoping he runs very well.
“He won the prep nicely, but has improved for that run and the extra time since. There are some top horses from around the world, but we are really hopeful of a big run.”
He was chased home in that prep by AF Al Bairaq, trained by Ernst Oertel for Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and again to be ridden by the owner’s retained jockey, local champion Tadhg O’Shea. That was arguably a career best effort from the homebred who does have a pair of victories, from just ten starts, to his credit. Both of those were on the Abu Dhabi turf, over 1600m, most recently a conditions race in March, but also the 2018 Emirates Colts Classic, a Prestige class race for 4-year-olds.
Oertel said: “He has a wide draw which is a negative and I would have preferred a lower stall, but the horse is in good form and we’ll give it a go.
“His training has been very good, he ran well in the prep, we have been happy with him since, so I hope we go there with a good chance.”
Dane O’Neill is another jockey riding for the owner by whom he is retained, in his case Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and partner for Al Zahir for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi. A 7-year-old, this 2200m on the Abu Dhabi turf appears his optimum trip, having won both the Group 1 Emirates Championship and HH The President Cup over Friday’s course and distance in 2018. He followed up in the latter in 2019, but had to settle for second when seeking a hat-trick in February of this year.
The 2019 Emirates Championship went to BF Mughader, ridden by Szczepan Mazur for trainer Younis Al Kalnani, but now in the care of Ibrahim Al Hadhrami and seeking a first victory since that big race success.
Eric Lemartinel won the 2016 with RB Burn and has two chances this year, both for his main patron, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan with Fabrice Veron choosing to ride Darius Du Paon. Ryan Curatolo is aboard stable companion Amwaj.
Lemartinel said: “Darius Du Paon has a good draw under his optimum conditions. Hopefully he breaks well and can get a good position.
“Amwaj is a very useful mare who likes to be ridden more patiently, so may need a bit of luck in the straight, but should run well.”
France is well represented with Elisabeth Bernard saddling both Jaazmah Athbah, for last year’s winning owners, Athbah Racing, as well as Hajres. Adrie de Vries is on the latter with Royston Ffrench on the former.
Bernard said: “Jaazmah Athbah is a lovely mare who has really settled in nicely and is enjoying the weather. We hope for a big effort.
“Hajres is better drawn and is a very special horse for us having won big races in five countries. Hopefully he can make it six!”
Frederic Sanchez has secured the services of Antonio Fresu for the third French challenger, Hayyan and the trainer said: “I was happy with stall ten as I did not want too low or too high. It is a tough race, but we hope he can win.”
Named after a world famous footballer, Belgian representative Messi will be saddled by Timo Keersmaekers for whom he is, remarkably, the only horse in training.
“He has been a real star and it is very exciting to be here,” Keersmaekers said. “My kids actually named him, but we might need another horse because they prefer Ronaldo now!”
For Saudi Arabia, Saad bin Mutlaq saddles his first UAE runners with Mubasher Al Khalediah and Mutwakel Al Khalediah both making their turf debuts.
Both over 1600m, the Group 3 National Day Cup and its Thoroughbred equivalent, a Listed contest, are the main support races with the Jewel Crown, at trainers’ request, being contested later in the calendar this year.