Godolphin challenge weakened as Hunter’s Light and Sky Hunter miss out

Peter Ward 24/03/2015
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High hopes: James Doyle, pictured here at Ascot, has the ride on African Story

Having already lost favourite Hunter’s Light over the weekend from the Group 1 Dubai Turf, Godolphin were dealt another blow yesterday when Sky Hunter’s name did not appear among the nine declarations for the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic.

– Richard Mullen secures champion jockey title with Al Ain win
– It’s Far From Over clinches feature win al Abu Dhabi meet
– Al Marri ‘shocked’ by FEI ban on EEF

Both winners on Super Saturday just over a fortnight ago, their absence leaves a depleted Godolphin team this year but headed by African Story who will bid to become the first dual winner of the Dubai World Cup.

Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, he won the world’s richest race 12 months ago on the previous Tapeta surface, but did manage a course and distance victory on the new dirt conditions in Al Maktoum Challenge III on Super Saturday.

He was chased home on that occasion by stable companion, Prince Bishop, winner of the same race 12 months earlier and again in opposition.

“African Story bounced back last time having not enjoyed the dirt kickback first time this season,” said African Story’s jockey, James Doyle. “Hopefully he is now accustomed to the surface and will run a big race.”

Bin Suroor is seeking a seventh win in the race, whereas America as a country are trying to win the race for a 10th time. They are very well represented this year, with reigning Kentucky Derby champion, California Chome, a strong favourite.

He will be a first runner in the UAE for trainer Art Sherman and is joined in the nine strong field by compatriot Lea, second in the international markets and trained by Bill Mott whose Cigar won the inaugural World Cup in 1996.

Speaking from America, Sherman said: “He has taken the trip well and seems to enjoy the surface. I am told he has been gliding over the dirt which has to be a positive. We are looking forward to it.”

The Bin Suroor-trained Sky Hunter may miss the Sheema Classic, but stable companion True Story has made the final nine. However, he would appear to face a stiff task against the likes of Hongkong Superstar, Main Sequence from America and Japan’s Harp Star.

The last name looks a huge danger to all trying to emulate Gentildonna who won the race for Japan last year under Ryan Moore, aboard Harp Star this time.

Moore also looks to hold serious claims in the Dubai Turf, seemingly greater weakened as a contest after the retirement of Hunter’s Light.

He rides last year’s French Derby winner, The Great Gatsby, trained in England by Kevin Ryan and winner of the Irish Champion Stakes in September. Moore has ridden the colt on four occasions and the pair have only suffered one defeat as a combination.

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Richard Mullen secures champion jockey title with Al Ain win

Peter Ward 21/03/2015
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New champion jockey: Richard Mullen has been in top form this season.

A double for Musabah Al Muhairi and a win for Richard Mullen saw the pair crowned UAE Champion Trainer and Jockey respectively after Jebel Ali’s final meeting of the season yesterday afternoon.

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Al Muhairi, winning the title for the first time, may have had an anxious half hour early on the card when closest challenger, Doug Watson’s Insaany landed the opening 1,950m handicap to close the gap to just two winners in the title race.

He was ridden by Paul Hanagan for his main employer, Champion Owner Sheikh Hamdan and, briefly, it looked as though the same connections would secure a rapid double in the following 1,800m conditions race with Etijaah.

However, he tired close home in a race won by the Ahmad bin Harmash-trained Ormindo, partnered by Al Muhairi’s stable jockey Silvestre De Sousa.

The Brazilian jockey then landed the feature, a second 1,800m conditions event riding Interpret for Al Muhairi, and virtually securing his boss the title.

Any doubts evaporated an hour later when Rafeej took a conditions race for Al Muhairi, completing doubles for himself, Hanagan and Sheikh Hamdan (winning the owners’ title for a 10th consecutive season).

Meanwhile, Mullen, who began the afternoon four ahead of Tadhg O’Shea, seeking a fourth consecutive jockeys’ title, and six clear of De Sousa, secured his position at the top of the jockeys’ table with a last-gasp victory of Al Razi in a 1,400m conditions contest.

The winner is trained by Satish Seemar, the source of the majority of his stable jockey Mullen’s winners this season. O’Shea made all on the Salem Al Ketbi-trained Brazen in the concluding 1,200m conditions event to secure second position, one ahead of De Sousa.

Mullen, who finished level with Ted Durcan at the conclusion of the 2003/04 season but was declared runner-up in the championship having ridden fewer seconds, said: “Obviously it is brilliant to finish top of the table and it is testament to Satish and the whole team at Zabeel Stables.

“I have been ahead for so long now this season it is just a relief to get over the line.”

Reflecting on his trainers’ title, Al Muhairi said: “I have been second on too many occasions and am obviously delighted to finally come out on top. We have made a very strong finish to the season which has made the telling difference.

“I am just so grateful to the owners, my staff and the jockeys who have made this possible. It would be lovely to finish in real style with a winner on World Cup night; we have a couple of decent chances.”

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Musabah Al Muhairi and Doug Watson to scrap for trainers' title at Dubai World Cup

Peter Ward 19/03/2015
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Title contender: Richard Mullen (yellow) has a three-win cushion at the top.

The destiny of both the UAE jockeys’ and trainers’ titles will be decided over the next two days with next Saturday’s Dubai World Cup meeting not counting towards the statistics this year.

– African Story bidding to re-write record books at Dubai World Cup
– It’s Far From Over clinches feature win al Abu Dhabi meet
– Al Marri ‘shocked’ by FEI ban on EEF

The race for the trainers’ title is a two-horse contest with Musabah Al Muhairi’s 43 winners two more than the 41 of Doug Watson. As one would expect, both have plenty of runners at Al Ain today (Thursday) and Jebel Ali on Friday.

Richard Mullen (42) has been leading the jockeys’ championship for the majority of the season and has a three-win buffer over reigning champion Tadhg O’Shea (39).

Mathematically, Silvestre De Sousa (36) could produce a rousing end to his season should jockeys or trainers finish level on winners (in the event of a tie in the past, titles have been decided on ‘countback’ – taking into account the number of second place finishes).

Today’s seven-race card at Al Ain is highlighted by two versions of the Al Ain Mile, one for Thoroughbreds and a Purebred Arabian equivalent. The latter is the official feature, carrying a purse of Dh250,000 and has attracted a select field of five.

Manade Athbah won over the same 1,600m course and distance last Friday and, assuming she is over those exertions, looks the one to beat this week.

Trained by Eric Lemartinel, she will again be ridden by Wayne Smith, who said: “She is a smart mare with plenty of ability, so we expected a big run from her last week.

“She had disappointed us in the first round of the Al Maktoum Challenge at Meydan but then ran well at Abu Dhabi and won here last week.”

The Al Asayl team won this last year with Callateral and Salem Al Ketbi saddles two this year with stable jockey O’Shea aboard RB Smokin Rich.

They were third, over course and distance, a fortnight ago when stable companion Najm Alemarat was the winner. The latter will again be ridden by Shane Karlsson with Alameer, who divided the Al Ketbi duo on that occasion, again in opposition.

Al Muhairi trains him for Sheikh Hamdan whose retained jockey Paul Hanagan takes the ride. Friday’s Jebel Ali card is highlighted by a conditions race over 1,800m for which 10 have been declared.

De Sousa rides Interpret, winner of last year’s 1,950m Jebel Ali Stakes and runner-up over Friday’s course and distance last time, for Al Muhairi. He chased home the Watson-trained Jutland on that occasion and the trainer looks to have two big chances in this with Shamaal Nibras (Pat Dobbs) and Jeeraan (Hanagan).

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