Traditionally one of the highlights of the Abu Dhabi campaign, Sunday’s National Day Cup fixture promises to be a cracker with two competitive highlights, specifically the first of three Thoroughbred big races in the capital each season, as well as the Purebred Arabian equivalent. Both races are over 1600m and have a new name this year: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup.
The only Thoroughbred race on the card – The Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup (Listed) -- looks particularly competitive with the maximum allowed field of 16 set to face the starter around the sharp, clockwise, Abu Dhabi track.
They include the veteran Forjatt, now a 10-year-old, victorious in the race in 2015 when trained by Dhruba Selvaratnam for His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and seeking to become the third dual winner of a race first contested in 1993. However, Emirates Gold (2007/2008) and Sheikh Ahmed’s Jaasoos (2009/10) both retained the title whereas no horse has regained it since. Chris Hayes, in the saddle for that 2015 victory is so again for Nicholas Bachalard who is in his first season as Sheikh Ahmed’s retained trainer at Jebel Ali Stables.
“This was the first real target for him,” said Bachalard. “He has been a great servant to the owner and yard over many years having also won two Jebel Ali Miles, as well as one HH The President Cup. He does not owe anybody anything but seems in good form at home and ready for a run.”
Forjatt has not been seen in public on a racecourse since denied a third Jebel Ali Mile (G3) in January by Shamaal Nibras. Owned by EERC (Emirates Entertainment Racing Club) Shamaal Nibras was second in the 2016 National Day Cup, having previously won the prep race, which he also did last year but was only fifth in the big race itself. He is one of three runners in this year’s renewal to be saddled by Doug Watson with Muntazah arguably his main hope.
Homebred by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the 5-year-old gelded son of Dubawi was ninth in a 1600m Meydan Dubai World Cup Carnival handicap on his local debut in February before an emphatic 1400m victory, at Abu Dhabi, in H H The President Cup (Listed). The Godolphin Mile sponsored by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City – District One (G2) on the Dubai World Cup card was his next outing and, racing on a dirt surface for the first time, he excelled when finding only easy winner, Heavy Metal, too good. Retained jockey, Dane O’Neill, rides.
G K Chesterton, for Mohd Khalifa Al Basti, is the third Watson runner but appears to have a lot to find on just his second start for the Red Stables’ team.
“It is an opportunity to run G K Chesterton on turf,” Watson explained. “He, like the other pair, has been training well though. Shamaal Nibras loves it at Abu Dhabi and will hopefully run another good race there in a strong renewal. Muntazah also won in the capital last season before an excellent run in the Godolphin Mile. It is five weeks until the first round of the Al Maktoum Challenge (G2) which will be his first carnival target.”
Runner-up in this last year was Sharpalo, trained by Ahmad bin Harmash who saddled Championship to win the 2016 renewal. An excellent second on his seasonal return at Jebel Ali last Friday, he should not be far away under Connor Beasley.
Bin Harmash said: “He was second in this last year without a previous run so, hopefully, that Jebel Ali outing has put him spot on.”
Arguably the most interesting runner is Surfer, the mount of Richard Mullen for Satish Seemar and Zabeel Racing International. Now a 9-year-old, his main claim to fame was a victory in the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G2) on the dirt surface at Meydan in 2015. This will only be his fifth run since and his previous turf outing was for Godolphin at Newmarket in October 2011 when, still a maiden after four attempts, he was fifth in a handicap. In fact, before losing his maiden tag, his resume included a fourth in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and second in the Al Bastakiya (Listed), the first two rounds of the UAE Triple Crown.
Assistant trainer, Bhupat Seemar, said: “Surfer is ready for a run and, after such a long time, it will be interesting to see him on turf. Hopefully he can be competitive in a strong race.
The Purebred Arabian Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup (PA G3) also has 16 runners but, despite the large field, looks less competitive than the Thoroughbred version.
Last year’s winner, Darius Du Paon, one of four in the field trained by Eric Lemartinel for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is seeking to become the second dual winner of the race (inaugurated in 2010 as the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup), but first to defend the crown (Areem won in 2012 and 2015). However, he is the mount of Olivier Delouze having, again, been overlooked by stable jockey Pat Cosgrave as he was when making a winning seasonal return in the official prep for Sunday’s race when Doleuze was in the saddle.
Cosgrave has elected to partner Mawahib, narrowly denied in the 1400m Bani Yas sponsored by Gulf News (PA G2) at Meydan last time having previously finished third in the world’s most valuable Purebred Arabian race, the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown (PA G1). Seemingly well drawn in three, she is a 5-year-old seeking her sixth career victory, second on turf, and clearly arrives in good heart.
Seventh, almost six lengths behind Mawahib in the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown, was Rmmas who still appeals as one of the main dangers with Mullen in the saddle for Sheikha Fatima bint Mansour Al Nahyan and Jean de Roualle. He was impressive landing the 1400m Liwa Oasis (PA G2) on the Abu Dhabi turf on his final start of last season in March but does incur a penalty for that success.
Among the remainder, Cheik Roque, with Antonio Fresu sporting the EERC silks for Erwan Charpy and Goshawke, who chased home Darius Du Paon in the prep, both look capable of running well. The latter trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi for Al Ajban Stables, is the mount of Fernando Jara.