Versac PY takes Emirates Championship

The fast improving Versac PY was the impressive winner of the Group 1 Emirates Championship, the Purebred Arabian highlight at the final meeting of the season at Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening with just two meetings remaining in the whole season - Jebel Ali on Friday and Dubai World Cup night at Meydan the following Saturday.

Owned by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Versac PY is trained by Erwan Charpy and was ridden by the owner`s retained jockey Richard Hills, riding in the capital for the final time having announced he will retire after the Dubai World Cup meeting on Saturday March 31st.

Turning for home in the 2200m feature, several appeared to hold chances but once Hills took his mount to the front about 300m out they were never going to be caught and it was left to Periander, winner of the race in 2011, to chase him home having been denied a clear run at the top of the straight.

Hills was understandably delighted and said: "That is a great way to finish here at Abu Dhabi and I am chuffed to bits. I have been coming here for 20 years now and had some big winners over the years and it is great to get another one at my final meeting here. It has been a great career and one I have really enjoyed throughout. It is time to move on now but I am looking forward to the next chapter. Versac PY has just not stopped improving and has answered every challenge we have asked him over this kind of trip. He has a turn of foot, stays well and tries hard. It would be nice to think he will improve again."

The same connections so nearly completed a big race double with Yaseer in the Thoroughbred equivalent, the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship over the same 2200m. Having tracked a steady early pace set by Too Much Trouble, Hills sent his mount for home about 300m out and led all the way to the line, only to be denied in the dying strides by Al Shemali.

Ridden by Silvestre De Sousa, Al Shemali, who won the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free in 2010, is trained by Ali Rashid Al Raihe who was saddling the winner of a sixth consecutive Thoroughbred race after his five Meydan winners on Saturday.

His assistant trainer, Jilani Siddiqui, said: "It has been an amazing season and a very good weekend indeed. Al Shemali has always been a real favourite in the yard and it is great to see him win another big race after some good runs in defeat."

De Sousa was completing a double having earlier partnered Swyft to win a 2200m conditions race for Ernst Oertel.

Earlier, Jaber Bittar saddled the first two winners with Jesus Rosales riding Aflatoon who won the opening 1600m maiden before James Doyle steered Oban to victory in the following handicap over the same trip.

The penultimate race of the Abu Dhabi season was a 1600m conditions race, won by AF Qamoos with Gerald Avranche in the saddle for Eric Lemartinel and the last, also a 1600m conditions race but this time restricted to fillies and mares went to Shajaret Eddor Al Reef completing a double for jockey Rosales.

Fittingly she is trained by Majed Al Jahouri for His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.