Key Prep Players Make Listed Abu Dhabi National Day Cup Return Sunday

Thakif Contests Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup

There are 14 runners declared for Sunday’s 1600m Listed National Day Cup at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club including the first three home from the course and distance prep race held three weeks ago.

These include Shamaal Nibras, Championship and Forjatt,
Shamaal Nibras, again to be ridden by Pat Dobbs for UAE Champion Trainer, Doug Watson, was very impressive winning on that occasion - his first start of the season and since being gelded over the summer.

Well drawn in three and with Watson, who saddled a Meydan treble on Thursday, starting to really hit form, he looks sure to go close.

“We were very pleased with that win in the prep,” said Watson. “Our horses were tending to need their first run back so, hopefully, he has progressed since then. He is in great shape and we expect him to be very competitive.”

Watson’s charge received weight from both Championship and Forjatt on that occasion but meets them on equal terms here.

Ahmad bin Harmash is another trainer whose horses have been running well and his Championship, under Colm O’Donoghue, looks a big danger to all.

“He ran very well behind Shamaal Nibras,” said Bin Harmash. “He has improved since then and we think he has a good chance.”

Winner of the race 12 months ago, Forjatt will be seeking to provide his trainer, Dhruba Selvaratnam a first winner this season but ran a race full of promise in the trial.

Emirates Gold (2007 and 2008) and Selvaratnam’s Jaasoos (2009 and 2010) have both defended their crown in this race and the trainer will be hoping Forjatt can provide him with a record sixth victory in a race first contested in 1993.

“He needed that first outing quite badly,” said Selvaratnam, who has booked former stable jockey, Pat Smullen with Chris Hayes still out injured. “Shamaal Nibras was impressive and Championship ran very well but Forjatt should be competitive.”

Of the remainder, the Satish Seemar-trained Cross Grain looks particularly interesting on what will be just his eighth career start as he embarks on a fourth season on the track.

Clearly fragile, he has won his seasonal debut in each of the last three years, including over 1400m on turf at Abu Dhabi last season.

Stable jockey, Richard Mullen, said: “He is a horse we have always liked but has not been the easiest to train. Hopefully 1600m on turf will really suit him and we are looking forward to running him.”

The other five races are for the Purebred Arabians and the main support race, also over 1600m, is the Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup in which Thakif will attempt to regain a crown he won in 2014.

Only fifth in this last year, he still looks the one to beat this time and is reunited with Harry Bentley who has a particularly good record on him.

Trained by Majed Al Jahouri, he will carry the colours of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mansour Al Nahyan and represents the same connections who won Meydan’s Group 2 Bani Yas on Thursday with Shateh – the horse who chased Thakif home in this very race in 2014.

He carries a penalty but that looks unlikely to be sufficient to stop him, especially if allowed an uncontested lead.

Eric Lemartinel appears to provide the main opposition with Abhaar and Abu Alabyad looking the best of his trio, all owned by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Tadhg O’Shea rides Abhaar, like Thakif penalised, with Gerald Avranche aboard Abu Alabyad. The remainder appear to face a stiff task.