The first major Thoroughbred race of the campaign, Sunday’s Listed National Day Cup, was won in style by Championship under Colm O’Donoghue, who claimed a first win in his role as stable jockey to Ahmad bin Harmash.
The trainer has his string in great form and this was an impressive victory from a quality field, including last year’s winner, Forjatt, who was fifth and Shamaal Nibras, whom Championship chased home in the course and distance prep race three weeks ago.
Penalised on that occasion, Championship had no such extra burden this time and looked the likely winner from a long way out, inflicting revenge on Shamaal Nibras.
O’Donoghue, a multiple Group One-winning jockey in his role with Irish Champion Trainer Aidan O’Brien, for whom he won the Group 2 UAE Derby aboard Daddy Long Legs in 2012, said: “The team were very confident coming here after his great run in the prep and he did that very nicely. I am delighted to get a big winner for the yard so early in the season.”
The Purebred Arabian feature, the 1600m Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup, went the way of Sharaf Al Reef, arguably a surprise winner under Fernando Jara.
The pair, having looked outpaced throughout the first half of the race, eventually seemed to benefit from a frantic early gallop with the early leaders weakening in the final 300m.
He is trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi who had already visited the winner’s enclosure courtesy of Sarab Al Reef, who triumphed under Jesus Rosales in a 1600m conditions contest.
Manchester City may have been defeated by Chelsea on Saturday, but Sheikh Mansour saw his colours carried to victory twice, bookending the card with Fahadd in the opening 1400m maiden and Qader in the last, a 1600m handicap.
The other race, a 1200m handicap, was dominated by trainer Ernst Oertel who provided the first three home, Madjanthis, Ibn Harmany Al Zobair and AF Hakeem.
Sunday evening’s renewal promises to be a cracker with Forjatt attempting to become the third dual winner in the 1600m feature which was first run in 1993.
Emirates Gold defended his crown in 2008, as did Jaasoos in 2010 and Dhruba Selvaratnam, trainer of the latter, will be hoping Forjatt can emulate his former stable companion and provide his handler with a record sixth victory in the race.
Also victorious in the Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile in 2014, Forjatt has been a great servant to connections since making his local debut in January 2012, winning eight times (notincluding finishing ‘first past the post’ in the 2015 Jebel Ali Mile before being disqualified after testing positive for a prohibited substance).
Under a penalty, he was third in the National Day Cup Prep, also over 1600m, three weeks ago but Selvaratnam hopes the benefit of that outing will see him go close.
He said: “He is an 8yo now and needed his first run, probably more than we thought he would. Obviously he has ground to make up on Championship and Shamaal Nibras, but hopefully he will go close.”
Stable jockey, Chris Hayes, is still out of action with a wrist injury so Selvaratnam has booked Irish Champion Jockey, Pat Smullen, reuniting a partnership successful over many seasons in the past.
Runner-up in the trial was Championship, like Forjatt, carrying a penalty on that occasion. His trainer, Ahmad bin Harmash, has been saddling plenty of winners and he looks sure to be a big threat under new stable jockey, Colm O’Donoghue.
However, the biggest danger to Forjatt’s repeat bid could be Shamaal Nibras, impressive winner of the prep but, it must be emphasised that he received weight from both the other pair, which is not the case here.
His trainer, Doug Watson, saddled a treble at Meydan on Thursday, two of whom were ridden by Shamaal Nibras’ jockey, Pat Dobbs, who rode three winners [two for Watson] on Thursday.
Watson said: “Shamaal Nibras was gelded over the summer so it was very pleasing to see him win so well first time out, especially as my horses were needing their first run on the whole.
“He is in great form and should run very well but the second and third are entitled to have improved for their seasonal debuts also.”
It is interesting Watson mentions seasonal debuts; Cross Grain, the mount of Richard Mullen for Satish Seemar, has won first time out in all three seasons he has raced and looks a very interesting rival here.
The main Purebred Arabian contest is the Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup, also over 1600m and Thakif, winner in 2014, looks the one to beat.
Trained by Majed Al Jahouri, he carries a penalty but is a genuine Group One performer who, facing just seven rivals, should be able to get to the front under Harry Bentley.
A total of 301 applications for 260 candidates have been received for this year’s Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, representing the largest number of nominations received in the 13 years since the awards were founded.
“Seeing the nominations rise each year is fantastic as it shows the racing industry is becoming more and more appreciative of these amazing awards,” said Brough Scott, chairman of the judging panel.
“His Highness Sheikh Mohammed has done many fine things through Godolphin, but few better than the ongoing commitment to the Stable Staff Awards which are now established in all major racing territories around the world.
“We have also seen a rise in the number of nominations from Jump yards and Studs which is extremely pleasing, the awards are for everyone and every team in the sport – large or small, north or south, jump or flat.
“Judging the nominees is a difficult task but an immense privilege and I feel lucky just to be a part of the awards.”
Over the course of the next few weeks two judges per category will bring the nominations down to a shortlist of just 10 nominees per category.
The shortlisted nominees will be announced in mid-December.
Once shortlisted the nominees will have a phone interview with both judges of their category. After this the judges will have to bring the shortlist down to just three finalist nominees per category.