Class prevails as Af Alwajel and Somoud overcome penalties in Abu Dhabi

Seven races at Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening were highlighted by the 1200m Group 3 Al Ruwais and a penalty was not enough to stop the class act in the race, AF Alwajel, from running out a decisive winner. 

Trained by Ernst Oertel for his main patron Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, the homebred 6-year-old, penalised for his success in the 1600m Group 3 National Day Cup on his penultimate start and previous visit to the capital, had finished third in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R1, also over 1600m, but on the dirt at Meydan, in between these Abu Dhabi victories. Runner-up in this last year, he followed that by winning the 1400m Group 2 Bani Yas, so has now won each of his three most recent visits to the capital’s turf track. However, he appears unlikely to try and defend that crown this year.

Oertel said: “As we know he is a very good horse, but I was not going to come here tonight and was waiting for Al Maktoum Challenge R2, but decided he perhaps was not prepared enough for that longer trip.

“So we decided to come here before he goes to the 2000m for Al Maktoum Challenge R3 and, hopefully, the Kahayla Classic.”

O’Shea added: “It was a tough choice between this and Meydan next week because he is equally as good on dirt. He won the National Day Cup, so well here we came back and that looks the right choice now but he will be back on dirt next time.”

A 2200m conditions contest, the HH The President Cup Prep, over the same course and distance as the Group One feature itself, was contested at a pedestrian pace until the race finally developed at the top of the short straight. It was here that early leader and local debutant Jugurtha De Monlau set sail for home under Ryan Curatolo, immediately hassled by Darius Du Paon. In behind, top weight, Somoud, conceding weight to his eight rivals, had cruised into contention under Richard Mullen and the race looked over when they grabbed the initiative just inside the final 200m.

However, Tadhg O’Shea aboard fellow Group One winner BF Mughader had tracked Mullen through and they finished fast and late, failing by a quickly diminishing short-head. The third Group One winner among the nonet, was also finishing with purpose and snatched fourth, behind Jugurtha De Monlau, from Darius Du Paon in fifth. 

Now in the care of Jean de Roualle, Yas Racing’s homebred 5-year-old Somoud actually won the Group 1 Emirates Championship, also over this 2200m, last March. On his debut for De Roualle he won the Jewel Crown prep, again over course and distance, but could not land a blow in the main event.

That was seven weeks ago and De Roualle said: “This was a prep race and that slow pace really does not suit my horse, but he has shown his class under a big weight in a race not run to suit him.”

Mullen added: “I knew we had just held on, but the race did not go to plan behind such a slow pace, so I had to commit earlier than I wanted, but we survived with the line coming just in time!”

Owner and trainer were soon celebrating a rapid double, this time combining with Curatolo who was aboard Harrab, smooth winner of the following 1600m handicap. This was a third career success for the homebred 7-year-old entire, all since joining De Roualle and each one on the Abu Dhabi turf. He also won for Curatolo, over 1400m, on his previous start five weeks ago and was winning for a second time over the track and trip.

A 1600m Prestige affair for horses born in the UAE, the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Gold Cup attracted a select field of just six, but in reality, from the moment Adrie de Vries sent Hameem to the front 400m out only one horse mattered. The only 4-year-old in the race, he was receiving weight from his five older rivals and is now unbeaten after four starts. The least experienced runner he, as was half the field, was saddled by Abdallah Al Hammadi for Al Ajban Stables, the same connections who won this in 2018 with Al Tiryaq, a 4-year-old then, but well beaten in sixth this time.

After landing a 1600m dirt maiden at Al Ain on debut under Jose Santiago, he has since been partnered exclusively by De Vries at Abu Dhabi, winning a conditions race over this course and distance before dropping to 1400m to land the Abu Dhabi Colts Classic, another Prestige contest. 

That was in the middle of December, five weeks ago, and this was the first time he had clashed with his elders since that successful Al Ain debut.

De Vries said: “He was a lot more mature today because last time he had a good look around in front and he is just improving all the time.

“He could be a special young horse and he will have to come up in class now, I would imagine into the Triple Crown races.”
The action was underway with a 1000m maiden for horses foaled locally and jockey Fabrice Veron continued his recent good form with a smooth victory aboard Mumayaza, saddled by his French compatriot Eric Lemartinel and a first winner to carry the silks of Sheikh Khalifa bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan. It was just a seventh runner for the owner, all this season. This 4-year-old filly was second on her debut, over 1200m here in the capital, a fortnight ago and, having tracked early leader Alfath, went to the front easily and was never in danger thereafter.

Veron said: “She made a very good debut having missed the break and learned a lot from that. She is very quick, but stayed 1200m first time and 1400m should not be a problem moving forward.”

For horses in private ownership, a 2200m handicap was turned into something resembling a procession by Pat Cosgrave and Sharkh, a tenth winner of the campaign for Helal Alalawi. Settled in midfield, Cosgrave crept his mount closer on the home turn before the pair hit the front 300m out and stormed clear.

Owned by Abu Dhabi Racing, the 5-year-old colt was having just his sixth career outing, third on turf, doubling his career tally in the process and is now a winner on both surfaces having opened his account in an Al Ain maiden over 1800m. 

Raced twice in France, that Al Ain success was actual on his local debut and this was his second Abu Dhabi appearance having finished fourth, over this 2200m, on his penultimate start.

Cosgrave said: “He is a nice young horse and seemingly improving. His first run here was a messy, rough, race when, with a bit of luck, we could have won, so we were pretty hopeful coming here this evening and he did not let us down.”

The finale and only Thoroughbred race on the card, a 1400m maiden, proved the perfect opportunity for local debutant Nibras Passion, the only 3-year-old among the 14 runners, to register a first success at the fourth attempt. Trained throughout his fledgling career by Ismail Mohammed for Saeed H Al Tayer, the Iffraaj colt was fourth on his third and final outing in Britain, his best effort, posted over 1400m at Doncaster.

He could not have made a better start to his local campaign, careering to the front about 200m out and powering clear under Bernardo Pinheiro.