Brraq And Soft Whisper Star In Meydan Features, Trebles For Sheikh Hamdan And Al Rayhi

Racing at Meydan on Thursday evening, the first UAE fixture of 2021, was highlighted by the only Purebred Arabian race on the card, the opening 1600m Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 presented by Longines and won in determined fashion by Brraq.

Settled in midfield by Adrie de Vries, the 8-year-old entire made smooth progress to chase the leaders leaving the home turn before swooping down the outside to grab the initiative about 250m out. He would stay on strongly to deny the challenge of Fettah Du Loup. Homebred by Yas Racing, Brraq was providing a dream first UAE winner, after 13 previous attempts, for Frenchman Jean-Claude Pecout who trains on the racecourse at Al Ain.

Pecout said: “To have my first winner in a Group One is amazing and a lot of credit to Jean de Roualle who trained him before and told me this is a very good horse. As we all know, Jean is a very good judge and has, as so often, been proved correct.”

De Roualle added: “This horse is not the easiest to train and his new trainer has done a brilliant job with him. I would not have run him here, so all credit to Jean-Claude on a great result.”

The official pick of the Thoroughbred action, the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial, a 1400m conditions race for 3-year-old fillies, proved to be a Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor benefit, the handler saddling the first three home. Jumeirah Beach and Mickael Barzalona set a very generous early gallop, one they maintained until the 300m pole when Pat Cosgrave and Soft Whisper took up the running. They set sail for home and soon had the race in safe keeping, eventually chased home by stable companions Last Sunset and Final Thought.

A daughter of Dubawi, the winner raced four times in Britain, losing her maiden tag at the third attempt in a 1600m nursery handicap at Salisbury before following up in a virtually identical contest at Pontefract.

Cosgrave said: “I rode her in her first race at Salisbury and managed to get her beat! I ended up phoning Saeed to apologise as we thought she would win. She took a bit of time to get her act together, but has improved from each race and that was a good prep. The 1600m will suit her better and she will have learned plenty having had some dirt kicked at her.

“I could not pull her up which bodes well not only for the UAE 1000 Guineas but hopefully the UAE Oaks as well. That was a good effort.”

Ten went to post for the 1200m dirt handicap, the Longines Spirit Collection Trophy, and a large horse blanket could have almost covered six of them as the principals crossed the line. Having made the early running, eventual seventh Tupi was headed 500m out by Lavaspin who maintained his advantage until the 200m pole when Taamol and Connor Beasley grabbed the initiative, one he was always holding on to despite Lavaspin plugging on gamely before losing second close home to Dark Silver. Madkhal and Behavioral Bias, although never threatening to win, both ran on strongly to snatch fourth and fifth respectively.

A 7-year-old gelded son of Helmet, trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Taamol was registering his sixth career victory, fourth in the UAE but just second on dirt. He is best known for completing the Listed National Day and HH The President Cups double on the Abu Dhabi turf last season.

Al Rayhi said: “This is a real favourite horse in the yard because he is tough, versatile and generally consistent. They went quick today which has helped him because he stays 1600m.”

Beasley added: “I was hoping they would go fast and they did, but I must admit I was a bit worried that Lavaspin was too far head at the top of the straight, but my fellow picked up really well.

The first Meydan turf race of the season, the Longines Spirit Collection Cup, a handicap over 1800m looked competitive on paper, but was won emphatically by Eqtiraan, sent straight to the front by Beasley, allowed to set a modest gallop, kicked clear at the top of the straight and soon clear, completing doubles for the jockey, Al Rayhi and Sheikh Hamdan.

Also a 7-year-gelding, Eqtiraan was registering a first UAE victory, after 15 previous attempts, as well as his third career win and first since landing the 1200m Listed Cathedral Stakes at Salisbury way back in June 2017 when trained by Richard Hannon.

Beasley said: “To be honest I thought I would be challenged for the lead, but I was able to set the pace to suit myself and, when I asked him, he really picked up nicely.

“I just then kept him going all the way to the line, but, in fairness to the horse, he was not stopping and has seemed to really enjoy himself out in front.”

A 1600m dirt handicap, the Longines Spirit Collection Mile, developed into a duel from halfway with Alkaamel making a gallant effort to make every post a winning one but headed with about 275m remaining by Hypothetical who stayed on strongly to make a winning local debut. It was a first winner of the season, at just the second attempt for Mickael Barzalona, riding for his main employer Salem bin Ghadayer and the trainer’s principal owner, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum. A 4-year-old Lope De Vega colt, he only ran four times in Britain for John Gosden, making a winning debut as a juvenile over 1600m on the all-weather at Chelmsford in December 2019. He started last season when favourite in the Group 3 Classic Trial Stakes at Kempton, again on the all-weather. Two turf outings followed, well beaten on both occasions at Royal Ascot and the Doncaster St Leger Festival meeting in competitive handicaps.

Barzalona said: “I was really impressed because he is still young and immature. He travelled nicely and stayed on well. I think we will stay at this trip before trying him at 2000m which should suit.”

Back on the turf, the concluding Longines Spirit Collection Challenge, a 1000m handicap, provided the perfect opportunity for Sheikh Hamdan and Al Rayhi to complete trebles, this time combining with Sandro Paiva who produced Etisalat to lead in the final 100m in a sprint contested, as you would expect, at a furious dash. A 6-year-old Lethal Force gelding who has inherited his sire’s grey colouring, it was a fourth career success for the horse, second locally and first on turf, at just the sixth attempt. His previous success was registered on dirt at Al Ain over 1400m in April 2019 and this was actually the first occasion that he had tried the 1000m minimum trip.