Author: Howard Wright
There was no substitute for experience at the Dubai International Arabian Races event staged at Newbury on Sunday 28 July. Trainer Julian Smart and jockey Olivier Peslier, veterans in the Arabian sport these days, registered two winners from two runners, while Hungerford Primary School, perennial entrants in the Arabian Rainbow competition, waltzed away with first prize to the delight of their many supporters. The Rainbow competition, which involves schools local to Newbury painting a life size model of an Arabian horse, has become a popular and highly prized event, thanks to the generous and genuine support of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, the day’s patron and principal sponsor through his Shadwell operation. It was hard to discern which gave Sheikh Hamdan more pleasure, watching the two winners who carried his colours or inspecting the 14 runners for this year’s Rainbow competition in company with his chief adviser Mirza Al Sayegh, a keen driving force behind the project. The decision to award first prize of £2,500 and an iPad to Hungerford Primary School was greeted with whoops of joy from the teachers, parents and children who gathered around their exhibit, which reflected UAE and British cultures. Children aged between eight and 11 were responsible for decorating the model, and they will get the chance to decide on which art projects the prizemoney is spent when they return after the summer break. Al Sayegh was spot on when he exclaimed: “The competition just gets better every year.”
On the track, chief honours went to Smart, who boasts a fine career in the Gulf, including spells in Abu Dhabi and Oman, and Peslier, the multiple Champion Jockey in France whose CV includes three wins in the Kahayla Classic. They teamed up first to win the DIAR International Stakes for 3yo over 7f with Methgal, and then doubled up in the day’s feature race, the Shadwell Dubai International Stakes, with the evergreen 8yo Gazwan. Winner of the race four years and second in 2017, Gazwan came back from a break of nearly four months to record a very easy success by six lengths over Melabi, with Mehdaaf Athbah and Taidhg O’Shea a further five lengths away third. Thomas Fourcy, Melabi’s trainer, had earlier gone one better when Kair Al Cham, ridden by Jean-Bernard Eyquem, took the UAE Embassy in London International Stakes over 1m2f very easily.
There was another success for French training when Bayan, saddled by Frederic Sanchez and carrying the Abu Dhabi based colours of Yas Horse Racing Management, made all the running under Ioritz Mendizabal to take the Shadwell Arabian Stallions Hatta International Stakes over 1m2f for fillies and mares. As well as collecting the first prize of £17,500, Bayan earned a £2,000 bonus for winning one of several prep races staged around Europe, an initiative that has had a huge impact in stimulating overseas competition at the meeting. Bayan, a 4yo, broke her maiden in the prep race in Rome in April before winning a Group Two in Toulouse, and is clearly on the upgrade. Sanchez was opening his DIAR account, and a similar honour was claimed by owner and trainer Peter Deckers and jockey Anna van den Troost, who registered a first Group One success for Belgium with Conchita DA in the Jebel Ali Racecourse Za’abeel International Stakes over 6f.
Conchita, aided by her energetic partner, belied her lowly mark in the ratings but there was no fluke as they raced home two and a half lengths clear of Macallan from Sweden. Sheikh Hamdan’s two winners came in handicaps, through Al Azeeza, trained by James Owen and ridden by the owner’s number one Flat jockey Jim Crowley, and Thamaraat, trained by Philip Collington and to whom Tadgh O’Shea switched to fortunate effect when his original mount was declared a nonrunner. However, there was another winner in Sheikh Hamdan’s colours, which were carried for the first time in an Arabian race by Bryony Frost, whose exploits over jumps and engaging personality have shot her to prominence in double quick time.
Through her enterprising agent Johnno Spence, Frost acted as an ambassador for the meeting and although her two rides at either end of the card were unsuccessful, she charmed her way around the crowd, notably among the younger group of racegoers, many of whom would never have been on a racecourse before. As well as attracting top horses through valuable prize money, DIAR has become a date in the diary for many families in the Newbury area, drawn no doubt by the persuasion provided by goodie bags and noteworthy free competition. The name of Bryony Frost can now be added to the list of attractions.