Torch Looks To Light Up Abu Dhabi Feature Again

Racing returns to the UAE capital on Saturday with a six-race card on the turf at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club with the first contest due off at 5pm.

The official feature, over 1600m, is the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup Prep. Last year’s first and second in that race, RB Torch and Darius Du Paon, who led home a 1-2-3 for Al Asayl-based trainer Eric Lemartinel and his main patron, reigning champion owner Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, are back in action.

Pat Cosgrave, riding as first jockey for these powerful connections this season, rides the former, who was receiving weight from his stable companion last year but is not this time, with Olivier Delouze, having his first ride of the season, on the latter.

Both horses won their next starts after this race with Darius Du Paon landing the actual Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup and RB Torch following up in the 1400m Group 2 Bani Yas on the Meydan dirt.

For the same owner, Lemartinel also saddles Abhaar, under Royston Ffrench, Hamza the mount of Jesus Rosales and Fabrice Veron aboard Elyaah. This means they are responsible for five of the maximum field of 16 runners.

Lemartinel said: “All five seem in good form at home and each of them has won over course and distance so conditions are fine. He added: “I guess RB Torch and Darius Du Paon would be the strongest pair but I would not rule any of them out. As always at the first meeting it is nice to be back in action with some good chances.”

From his base on Al Ain Racecourse, trainer Jean de Roualle saddles both Dahham and Thabit, for Yas Horse Racing Management, with Richard Mullen electing to partner the former, a Group One winner in his native France.

Mullen’s mount has only had three starts locally and was third in the 2200m Group 1 HH The President Cup on his UAE debut but did win twice over this 1600m in his homeland.

Thabit, meanwhile, was second on his only UAE outing, chasing home Al Zahir in the Group 1 Emirates Championship, also over 2200m.

De Roualle said: “Preparations have gone well and we expect both to run good races. The trip is probably the minimum they require but this looks an ideal point to start their campaigns with plenty of big races to look forward to with them.”

Champion jockey, Tadhg O’Shea, is riding predominantly for owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda this season and his main trainer, Ernst Oertel, saddles AF AL Sajanjle who could prove the main danger to the Lemartinel and De Roualle runners.

He should appreciate the return to turf, after finishing last season facing stiff tasks in four races on the dirt at Meydan, since the 5-year-old has scored both career victories here at Abu Dhabi over this 1600m.

“I am really looking forward to riding for Mr Al Nabooda this season,” said O’Shea. “I have enjoyed a lot of success for him in the past and with Ernst Oertel when he was based at Al Asayl. On the official figures, AF AL Sajanjle has a bit to find but he has been working very well.”

As is traditional at Abu Dhabi, there is just one Thoroughbred contest, a 2200m handicap which looks wide open with Tides Rise seeking to win the race for a second consecutive year. Connor Beasley again rides for Ahmad bin Harmash.

Dangers are aplenty among their 13 opponents with Dawwaas and Mullen looking the best of three Satish Seemar runners. Meanwhile Chris Hayes partners Bluff, a first Abu Dhabi runner for Nicholas Bachalard, the new master of Jebel Ali Stables.