National Day Cup Preps Highlight Abu Dhabi Sunday Meeting

Sunday’s second meeting of the Abu Dhabi season is highlighted by the prep races for the National Day Cups, with a 1600m contest apiece for both the Thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians.

Eight have been declared for the Thoroughbred version, the final event on the six-race card, with owner HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum responsible for half of them with retained jockey, Dane O’Neill electing to ride Nawwaar for Ali Rashid Al Raihe.

The trio combined to win the same race in each of the last two years with the same owner’s Derbaas and, despite having to concede weight to all his rivals, O’Neill’s mount looks the most likely winner as he defends his unbeaten record at Abu Dhabi.

Winner of all three previous starts in the capital, including last season’s National Day and HH The President’s Cups, he is penalised for his big race wins.

“Obviously the Abu Dhabi turf track really suits him,” said O’Neill. “We have a decent draw and have to be hopeful although the penalty makes life a bit tougher.”

Derbaas is back, seeking a third consecutive win in the contest and has the assistance of Al Raihe’s stable jockey, Royston Ffrench, who has made a great start to the season. Ffrench’s mount chased home Nawwaar in last year’s National Day Cup, having won the race the previous season.

Doug Watson has saddled the runner-up in this race in each of the last two seasons, having won it in 2011 with Marching Time. He looks to supply the main danger here as well, in the shape of Jawhar, the mount of stable jockey, Pat Dobbs.

Satish Seemar has his string in fine fettle and he and stable jockey, Richard Mullen, rely on Moonlight Dash, a 2200m course winner in January but who has won twice over 1600m, albeit on dirt at Jebel Ali.

Not surprisingly, Champion Trainer Ernst Oertel looks set to dominate the Purebred Arabian version with Champion Jockey, Tadhg O’Shea, choosing Nymphea Du Paon with the stable’s apprentice, Daniel Muscutt, on stable companion Fee Al Maury.

O’Shea’s mount has finished first past the post on seven of her eight career starts (and was subsequently disqualified once), including all five of her UAE outings.

“She was a really good filly for the yard last season,” said Oertel. “She seems in really good form at home and is hopefully improving."

Fee Al Maury won once from five starts in her native France but does receive a healthy weight allowance as well as the benefit of Muscutt’s valuable 1.5kg claim.

Al Raihe and Ffrench combine with AF Lafeh, a good fourth in this race last year but who has not won since March 2013 but was running consistently well in defeat most of last season.

Trainer Majed Al Jahouri and jockey Harry Bentley combined to win the Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup last weekend and the pair are represented by Marzooq, fourth in that race last week behind stablemate Thakif.

That was his local debut and he was a Listed winner in his native France last year.