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Peslier and primary schools star on Sheikh Hamdan’s big day

07/08/2018
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Triple dead-heat: judge Jane Green didn’t declare one at Newbury’s Dubai International Arabian Races on Sunday, but the smiles on the faces of Sheikh Hamdan, Olivier Peslier and Brigadier Abdi Al Shahwarzi, and the teachers and pupils of Welford and Wickham Primary School certainly did. It was impossible to split their delight, on a day when the longest, hottest British summer in recent memory finally broke, with murky drizzle throughout, but joy abounded among public and professionals alike. Sheikh Hamdan, whose Shadwell Stud director Richard Lancaster earlier warned that the team assembled for the meeting sponsored by his patron was ‘not as strong as usual,’ won three races.

Peslier, the multiple Champion Jockey in France who now qualifies for veteran status, won four, three of them for Brigadier Al Shahwarzi’s Royal Cavalry of Oman operation. And the Welford and Wickham Primary School entry took the afternoon’s most competitive ‘off track’ event, the Rainbow Stakes. Founded in 1984, when it was run at Kempton, the event has established itself as the most important single raceday in the Arabian calendar since its move to Newbury in 1997.

Dates have changed over the years, and there must be a case for another switch that would unclutter the crowded summer schedule of top class races, and individual race and event sponsors have dipped in and out. Even the unpredictable British weather has intervened too many times to count. But the popularity level among the local community has rarely wavered, much to the pleasure of Sheikh Hamdan and his closest advisers. Free admission, free gifts and prize draws galore are obvious magnets for families who might not otherwise set foot on the racecourse. But the most satisfying attraction depends on imagination and not a little hard work.

The Rainbow Stakes, a competition in which local schools from West Berkshire and Hampshire decorate a life size model of an Arabian horse, was introduced in 2009. With a field that has grown to 13 and the introduction a couple of years ago of a cash award for each entrant, it has provided more than £100,000 in prizes, and next year will be more valuable, after Sheikh Hamdan, on inspecting this year’s runners, decided to increase the rewards, so that every entry will earn at least £1,000. Explaining the competition, Sheikh Hamdan’s chief adviser Mirza Al Sayegh said: “We want a new generation to have a feel for the horse, and to show people in the Newbury area the beauty of the educational process and to keep the memory of the day alive.”

Spreading the word about UAE culture is a by product of the process, and the aim has not been lost on those taking part in the Rainbow Stakes, where the level of forethought and skill has been perceptibly lifted over the years. This year’s winner, guided by headmistress Katie Dickens, her deputy Lynn Valentine and built on the efforts of children aged from five to 11, took the form of a black stallion, decorated with sparkling accuracy to depict the Dubai skyline on one flank and the London equivalent on the other. While the horse itself will stand proudly in the school grounds, its £2,500 prize will be spent on the library. Whether the shelves will one day be graced with the Olivier Peslier Story remains to be seen, but for the moment the 45yo maestro shows no signs of closing the book on his riding career.

In fact, he seems to be enjoying a resurgence, and his four timer was a perfect example of why. He needed the assistance of the stewards to set the ball rolling on the Royal Cavalry of Oman’s French-bred Tahirwah in the DIAR International Stakes over 7f, but this was an open and shut case for the officials, after the Italian combination of rider Carlo Fiocchi and Zoe Di Gallura shut the door by hanging into a gap that had been open less than a furlong out. Switched around his wandering rival, Tahirwah made up all but a fast diminishing nose of the deficit and was in front two strides past the post.

The stewards and their professional colleague ensured that the rightful result was posted. Peslier required no such intervention as Al Chammy, representing the same connections of the Royal Cavalry and trainer Said Al Badi, completed a double in the Group 1 Jebel Ali Za’Abeel International Stakes over 6f, smoothly coasting past Ahzar 100 yards out to win by almost a length. Switching to the Abu Dhabi colours of Sheikh Mansoor’s Yas Horse Racing Management team in the Group 1 Shadwell Arabian Stallions Hatta International Stakes over 1m2f, Peslier made it a hat-trick with a similarly silky performance on Joudh. She collared pacemaking Almaa about a furlong out and although Sharesa challenged close home, Peslier did not even resort to the whip to land a cosy success for French trainer Didier Guillemin.

And so to the feature race, the Group 1 Shadwell Dubai International Stakes, also over 1m2f, where normal service was resumed and, after a brief battle with Al Mouwaffak, Nafees completed four in a row for Peslier, three on the day for the Royal Cavalry and a first win in the race for French trainer Charles Gourdain. In doing so, Nafees repeated recent placings with runner-up Al Mouwaffak, albeit at the reduced margin of a length and a half, and to some degree earned one back on Reda, winner of last year’s Kahayla Classic, where Nafees ran below expectations, but here only fourth of the six runners. Another UAE connection emerged in the concluding 7f handicap, won by David Turner aboard Mersal for Beverley Deutrom, who also has a Dubai base at Ruwayyah, in the familiar silks of Pharitz Arabians.

For once, Sheikh Hamdan did not have a representative in the feature race (nor the Za’Abeel International, come to that), but he did elsewhere, and despite the reservations about the relative strength of his team, they ensured he made three visits to the winner’s enclosure. More than that, his squad dominated the spaces for placed horses in each. Seven runners in the opening Emirates Premier Handicap over 1m put a strain on the distinguishing caps department, with only the purple variety left in the locker room, and perhaps the least expected, Taqdeeraat, starting at 20/1 and ridden by Harry Bentley, was followed home in the familiar silks by Rafeef, Anfaas and Al Kaaser.

No And No Al Maury, from the family of Sheikh Hamdan’s dual Dubai International winner No Risk Al Maury, also the first ever winner at Meydan, trotted up by ten lengths under Francoise Xavier Bertras for French trainer Damien de Watrigant in the UAE Embassy in London International Stakes over 1m2f. His owner’s Emiraaty and Tadhg O’Shea picked up second place for trainer James Owen, whose colleague Phil Collington was on the score sheet when Saleemah, ridden by Sam Hitchcott, was a narrow winner in a 1-2-3 for Sheikh Hamdan in the Rotana Hotels & Resorts Premier Handicap over 1m4f. As a well known northern trainer used to say: ‘Small fish taste good,’ and three strikes for Sheikh Hamdan was a reasonable reward from relatively low expectations. There’s always next year, which is what 13 or more schools in Newbury will also be thinking about.

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