Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Purebred Arabian Handassa, trained by Francois Rohaut in Pau in the South West of France, is the horse everyone has to beat in this year’s edition of the Dubai Kahayla Classic, empowered by IPIC.
That is the word on the street and is a scenario his work rider Doric Binot, who has come over to Dubai with him from France, imagines every day when he goes out for a canter on the Meydan track.
“You always like to believe in the horse that you look after,” he explains. “But he is in great form and obviously won his race here in the beginning of the month. So we know he definitely likes the dirt.”
Originally apprenticed to Carlos Laffon-Parias in Chantilly, Binot used to ride as a Flat jockey before weight issues caught up with him and he switched to jump racing.
However, a heavy fall put an end to that career and it has now been nearly two years that he has worked for Francois Rohaut.
“We only have about 10 Purebred Arabians in our yard,” he continues. “The others are Thoroughbreds. In fact, last year, I came to Dubai with the filly Farmah, who is also owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.”
Sheikh Hamdan actually visited the quarantine stable on Monday and Binot was impressed: “It was quite amazing to meet him. He is really interested in the horse and it was just great to see him here.”
The owner-breeder has always had a great affinity with Purebred Arabian horses and nothing would please him more than a victory of six-year-old Handassa, whose sire Madjani lifted the event three consecutive times from 2005 to 2007.
By nature, they are not known to be easy rides and Binot confirms: “To ride a Purebred Arabian, you have to indulge them. They are much more sensitive and you constantly have to nurture them.
“It’s about finding the right balance of keeping them fresh, whilst coaxing them into doing a bit of serious work. You need to amuse them, keep them interested. I know this sounds strange, but in the morning you have to let them believe that they dominate.”
With Handassa, though, there is no great worry that he has to be coaxed and his work rider smiles when he says: “Handassa is one of the easier ones to ride, which by the way, is the reason that he is so exceptional.”
The jury appeared somewhat out after Wednesday’s draw for Saturday’s $10million Dubai World Cup, or perhaps certain connections were masking disappointment.
Runner-up in the world’s riches horse race last year, California Chome’s name was the 11th drawn from 12, leaving his trainer, Art Sherman, with very limited choice.
During the draw, an Emirates Airlines representative drew out each horse’s name before connections made their own pick of starting positions.
Sherman plumped for 11, leaving the widest draw of all, in 12, to Saudi Arabian challenger, Teletext.
However, Sherman seemed unfazed by what, on paper at least, appeared a bad draw.
He said: “If you have the right horse, an outside draw is good and we think we have the right horse. He normally races prominently and is pretty versatile.
“I had two draw options left and went for 11. Hopefully, it will not make that much difference. To tell you the truth, about seven or eight would have been ideal. When we look at the form, we might have to change our strategy a little bit. He has quite a bit of speed if a guy wants to use it.”
Special Fighter, winner of Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 over the same 2000m dirt course and distance on Super Saturday, will leave from stall five.
His trainer, Musabah Al Muhairi, said: “I wanted six as he won from there on Super Saturday. Five is fine though and we think he has a massive chance.”
Godolphin’s Frosted is in stall nine and his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, said: “We are happy with that; there is plenty of time until the first bend, so hopefully he can get a nice position.”
Keen Ice, who was the only horse to defeat Triple Crown champion American Pharaoh last year, was 10th horse out and Jerry Crawford-picked Stall 1.
Crawford said: “The thing that made it (choosing the first stall) attractive was that it was that, or the 11th, or the 12th.
“We have speed drawn to our immediate inside (Mshawish), so we should have room to manoeu- vre and navigate from there. We are going to be first time blinkers so I think that will make him a little keener, excuse the expression.”
Hong Kong’s Gun Pit was the first name drawn and trainer Caspar Fownes went for stall three, explaining: “We are delighted to have had first pick and, hopefully, he can run a big race from there.”
Following him out in the draw was Mshawish, another representing America and trained by Todd Pletcher. His connections opted for stall two and Pletcher said: “The inside at Meydan has looked a good place to be, so we have to be happy.
“Frankie Dettori rides and his first pick was two, so that worked out just fine. Hopefully, he can stalk the early pace and must have a good chance.”
Last year’s UAE Derby winner, the Mike de Kock-trained Mubtaa- hij, was the seventh name to emerge and the trainer’s on, Mathew, went for stall four.
He explained: “We are happy; we wanted a low draw as the inside has been the place to be at Meydan most of this season. He is as well as we can get him and hopefully primed for a big run.”
He (Sole Power) made a somewhat surprising return to action this year; normally badly in need of his seasonal debut, this time he was third, in a three-way photo, on Super Saturday.
His trainer, Ed Lynam, said: “That was a massive run on Super Saturday. He is nine now, so it was a big effort first time.
“Hopefully, as he has in the past, he can build on that. In which case, he will be thereabouts on Saturday.”
The absence of Solow seemingly leaves the 1800m Dubai Turf at the mercy of Godolphin’s Tryster. Trained by Charlie Appleby, Tryster has displayed an amazing turn of foot on both his UAE outings.
A repeat of either effort would see him successful on Saturday and Appleby said: “He was really good on the all-weather in England in the first part of last year and has proved himself on turf at Meydan this year.
“Very few horses can quicken like he does and he must have a big chance on Saturday.”
Another race robbed of one of its stars is the UAE Derby and in the absence of UAE 2000 Guineas and Super Saturday’s Al Bastakiya winner, Market Rally, it is hard to see past Polar River.
Already winner of the UAE 1000 Guineas and Oaks, the Doug Watson-trained Polar River is yet to taste defeat after four career starts and looks destined to become the second filly to win the UAE Derby.
Watson said: “She has been amazing and won the UAE Oaks after a troubled preparation. Things have gone smoothly since and, hopefully, she is the one to beat.”
Godolphin and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin have certainly surprised a few and run Marking in the Godolphin Mile and Confrontation in the Golden Shaheen.
Pretty much everyone expected the McLaughlin horses to contest the alternative races, so the seemingly late change of target could point to Marking having a massive chance in the Godolphin Mile.