Presidential Race Highlights Sunday at Abu Dhabi

Rich and Richer Black Type on the card

The Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club host a traditional seasonal highlight on Sunday with versions of HH The President’s Cup offering rich prizes for Purebred Arabians and Thoroughbreds.

Prize money for the Group One Purebred Arabian contest (2200m) has been boosted to AED 3,000,000 so unsurprisingly a maximum field of 16 is set to face the starter, including Thakif, Abu Alabyad and Skoop, first, second and fourth respectively ‘past the post’ in last year’s race. Thakif subsequently lost the race following a Stewards inquiry.

Backto try again the Nacer Samiri-trained eight-year-old has the speed to win over 1000 metres though is arguably at his best over 1600 metres, the trip over which he won his most recent outing, the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 at Meydan, and at Abu Dhabi the 2014 National Day Cup.

Samir has reunited his charge with Qatar’s leading jockey Harry Bentley who was in the saddle for this race last year and that 2014 National Day Cup success.

“I was in Qatar when he won last time,” said Bentley. “He is a real favourite of mine and looks sure to run a big race. He showed last year he can stay 2200 metres but his stamina is always a nagging doubt, especially if they go very quick.”

Dubai based rider Pat Dobbs who was aboard Thakif at Meydan switches to stablemate Haanoof, while Wayne Smith on Mushrae and Sam Hitchcott riding Nahee complete the riding engagements for the quartet representing the Al Wathba Stables handler and his patron Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nathan.

Also mob-handed is Al Asayl trainer Eric Lemartinel set to saddle five runners owned by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan. That group is headed by the Gerald Avranche-partnered Abu Alabyad, seeking to defend his crown. The six-year-old has not won since but remains unbeaten (2/2) over this course and distance and should be spot on after two runs this season over 1600 metres.

“These are probably his optimum conditions,” said Avranche. “As you would expect it is a strong race but he is in good form.”

The Thoroughbred version (1400m) which carries Listed status has been won in each of the last three seasons by horses owned by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and trained by Ali Rashid Al Raihe.

Bidding to follow in the hoofprints of Alazeyab, Nawwaar and, most recently, Ertijaal are Ghaamer and Mustadeem, while the owner also has the Musabah Al Muhairi-trained Kanaf among the ten declared runners.

Of the trio, Sheikh Hamdan`s first retained jockey Paul Hanagan has chosen Ghaamer with Kanaf, fifth last year, the selection of second jockey Dane O’Neill.

Forjatt, who won the National Day Cup (1600m) at the track earlier in the season is back and could continue a good weekend for owner HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, trainer Dhruba Selvaratnam and jockey, Chris Hayes, who celebrated feature success at Meydan on Thursday evening when Market Rally led throughout to win the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas (1600m).

Victory for the the eight-year-old gelding would put him in the record books next to King Jock (2006) and Nawwaar (2014) who won both Abu Dhabi Listed features in the same season.

“He goes very well at Abu Dhabi,” said Hayes. “Hopefully there is a good gallop to give us something to aim at.

The Jebel Ali-based Selvaratnam has won the race on three previous occasions for Sheikh Ahmed, in 1994 with Faltaat, in 2007 with Ans Bach and Jaasoos in 2011.

South African trainer Mike de Kock who saddled Johann Strauss and Disa Leader to chase home Ertijaal in second and third twelve months ago returns with Zahee.

The six-year-old Sheikh Mohd bin Khalifa Al Maktoum homebred can only boast a 1400m all-weather handicap victory, at Meydan in 2014, in four seasons of UAE racing.

However, he has faced some very stiff tasks and run some good races in defeat, including a third in the 2013 UAE 2000 Guineas and second in the same year’s Al Bastakiya (1900m).

He was last of 16 on his sole start this year, at Meydan on 7 January in a 1400 m handicap won by Ghaamer, but he looked in need of that run.

“His last two runs have been disappointing,” said De Kock. “On his best form he would go very close but we are going to find out if he still retains the ability and/or enthusiasm.”