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Rainbow Stakes adds to Newburys international flavour

Author: Howard Wright

17/08/2017
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G Rey skies and the ever present threat of rain, on a day typical of this summer in Britain, could not dampen the spirit of enthusiasm at Newbury for the 36 running, and one of the best renewals, of the Dubai International Arabian Races (DIAR). th And it was hard to distinguish who had the bigger smiles: Sheikh Hamdan or the teachers and pupils of Falkland Primary School, as the result for the big race of the afternoon (well, the big race for many in the 8,000 crowd) was announced. The Rainbow Stakes, so called because it involves schoolchildren up to the age of 11 from the Newbury area painting life size models of an Arabian horse, has become the ‘off course’ highlight of the meeting, and Sheikh Hamdan himself did the judging this year.

Introduced in 2009, alongside the vast array of giveaways and free prize draws that make this a unique racing experience, the competition has awarded around £90,000 and helped school projects whose scope ranges from providing vital equipment to ensuring completion of much needed infrastructure facilities. With prizes of £2,500, £1,500 and £1,000, plus an iPad, for the first three ‘past the post’, and £500 for each of the other entrants, the level of competition has increased year by year, emphasising the Sunday fixture’s popularity among the community in close vicinity of Newbury.

Explaining the background behind the concept, Sheikh Hamdan’s right-hand man Mirza Al Sayegh, vice-president of the Al Maktoum Foundation and chairman of the Newbury organising committee, said: “We want to kill two birds with one stone; to approach the younger generation and tell them about the Arabian horse, and to show the public how much the committee is close to them through community work.” The aims have been achieved magnificently, and with 14 ‘runners’ this year’s field was not only the biggest ever assembled but also the best in terms of imagination shown by the pupils, aided no doubt by their teachers, several of whom had clearly studied past form and were determined to capture Dubai’s heritage.

Falkland Primary School, a couple of miles from Newbury town centre, had obviously done their homework, and their horse was illustrated with a clever mix of influences from Britain and Dubai. The clincher, though, was probably the prominently displayed Arabic lettering, translated as ‘happiness’, which cannot have failed to draw Sheikh Hamdan’s attention, for if one race meeting in the British calendar exudes happiness, this is it. Frustratingly, happiness was not translated to the racing itself for Sheikh Hamdan, who was kept out of the winner’s enclosure by a succession of victories for Britain, France and Holland, including a double for the Royal Cavalry of Oman, which emphasised the international nature of the meeting, and he drew a rare blank at the fixture he has sponsored and supported as patron since its inception in 1982. Persistent rain at the beginning of the week, and the effects of a Thoroughbred meeting only 48 hours before, led to the official going being described as ‘soft, heavy in places’.

It was definitely heavy going for some of Sheikh Hamdan’s team, none more so than his biggest hope, Muraaqib, who was attempting to repeat last year’s win in the featured Shadwell Dubai International Stakes. Given a patient ride by Sheikh Hamdan’s No.1 jockey Jim Crowley, Muraaqib made up some ground from last place three furlongs out but never threatened to finish closer than fourth. “He might not have truly stayed the trip in this company, but he definitely didn’t enjoy the going,” Crowley reported. There were no such worries for the winner, Lightning Bolt, who must have gained many coincidence supporters in the crowd, as a sea of Shadwell and Jebel Ali racecourse umbrellas were raised to shelter from the rain that finally arrived as the field went to post. Piloted by the French veteran Olivier Peslier, Lightning Bolt held on by half a length from the strong finishing, Richard Mullen-ridden 2016 winner Gazwan, to give enthusiastic Dutch trainer Karin van den Bos, who also bred the 5yo, the most important success of her career.

Peslier dashed off to catch a plane back to Deauville immediately after the trophy presentation, leaving Van den Bos to light up the winner’s podium with her Usain Bolt impression. She was completing a double for the Dutch, after Pat Dobbs drove out Pronto T, trained on the beach in Holland by owner and breeder Gerard Zoetelief, to take the Emirates NBD International Stakes. Half a length behind Pronto T came Sheikh Hamdan’s Foaad and Crowley, who also had to settle for second place in the Jebel Ali Za’abeel International Stakes with Barnamaj, but this time they had only a distant sight of the winner, Lwsail, who came home ten lengths clear in the hands of Julien Auge. Previously untried over the 6f trip, Lwsail made light of the ground conditions to gain his first Group One win for French trainer Thomas Fourcy. Francois Rohaut, trainer of Foaad and Barnamaj, completed a run of seconds when Karimah and Peslier failed by a fast diminishing short head to catch Sylvine Al Maury, who became the only one of four 2016 big race winners to repeat the trick in the Shadwell Arabian Stallions Hatta International Stakes for fillies and mares.

The joint or top-rated mare for the past two seasons, Sylvine Al Maury was making her seasonal debut after injury, and her gallant success under jockey Jean-Bernard Eyquem paid a huge tribute to the skill of French trainer Elizabeth Bernard. Racing in the colours of the Royal Cavalry of Oman, Sylvine Al Maury completed a double for the team led so enthusiastically by Major Gen. Abdul Razak Al Shahwarzi, which last year won the Sheikh Hamdan Special Recognition Award given to an individual or organisation that has made an outstanding contribution to Arabian racing and breeding during the previous 12 months.

The first leg of the Omani double went to Riyam, trained by Said Al Badi, who took the Emirates Equestrian Federation International Stakes in remarkable fashion, giving 19yo amateur Ellie Mackenzie a win on her first ride at the DIAR meeting. Victory looked assured as Riyam went to the front two furlongs out, before defeat stared the partnership in the face when Tadhg O’Shea loosened his grip on Shomoos Athbah to take the lead 120 yards from the finish. But Shomoos Athbah decided he had done quite enough for one day, and as he put on the brakes, Mackenzie’s ‘never give up’ determination got Riyam back in front near the line for an unlikely half length win. “He’s a fantastic horse and I couldn’t ask for more,” Mackenzie exclaimed, leaving O’Shea, who had begun the card with a win for Shomoos Athbah’s trainer Phil Collington on Cheik Rouge, to rue the occasion. “That’s Arabians for you!” said O’Shea, who could be excused for wishing that Shomoos Athbah had shown a fraction of the enthusiasm demonstrated by the pupils from Falkland School.

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