EAGERLY awaited as the first of the seasonal Thoroughbred features in the capital and thus initial big such race on turf in the UAE, the 1600m Listed Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup has attracted a mouthwatering cast. Championship, winner of the race in 2016 when it was simply known as the National Day Cup, has clearly not been the most straightforward for handler Ahmad bin Harmash to train and has only been seen in public on eight occasions since. The now 6yo gelded son of Exceed And Excel followed his Abu Dhabi victory with three big efforts at the 2017 Dubai World Cup Carnival, culminating with victory in the 1600m Group 2 Zabeel Mile. Sadly injury ruled him out of the Group 1 Dubai Turf but he showed he retained plenty of ability at the 2018 carnival when, on the middle of his three runs, narrowly denied a successful defence of his Zabeel Mile crown. His second run of the 2019 carnival and most recent racecourse appearance was a well beaten eighth in that same race. If anywhere near his best he will be very hard to beat but surely his bigger targets are at the 2020 carnival so Bin Harmash may well have left plenty to work on and the trainer has a fascinating contender in the form of Golden Jaguar. A 3yo Animal Kingdom colt, he made a winning debut in January over 1000m at Jebel Ali before, on this turf bow, landing the 1400m Meydan Classic Trial before second in the 1600m Listed Meydan Classic itself.
Last, back on dirt, in the UAE Derby, he was third on his seasonal reappearance in a 1400m conditions race at Jebel Ali. With that run under his belt and back on turf, he looks sure to go well. Ajwad was a revelation for Rashed Bouresly last season, registering the first of four wins throughout the campaign with a 1400m handicap victory here at Abu Dhabi off a mark of 87. His fourth victory, when last seen in public, was over 2000m on the Meydan turf from a lofty perch of 102. When Championship landed this race in 2016, he was chased home by Shamaal Nibras behind whom he had previously finished third in the prep race. Trained by Doug Watson for EERC (Emirates Entertainment Racing Club), the 10yo First Samurai gelding won the 2018 Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile and has been a great servant to connections.
In a competitive renewal, Watson also saddled Gabr, a 4yo Intello colt who has had just the one local outing, when sixth in the aforementioned 2000m turf handicap at Meydan won by Ajwad. Formerly with Sir Michael Stoute, he has won twice, most recently the Listed Foundation Stakes over 2000m at Goodwood in September 2018. For Satish Seemar, Hot Scot Racing Stable and Michael Quinn, Riflescope steps up to this trip for just the third time and second in the UAE. The 6yo Raven’s Pass gelding was a fine second, staying on strongly, in a 1400m Jebel Ali conditions race, an effort which suggested this step up in trip is well worth a go. Over the same 1600m, the Purebred Arabian equivalent, the weights in the Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup are headed by BF Mughader, penalised for his victory in the Group 1 Abu Dhabi Championship..
Trained by Ibrahim Al Hadhrami, the 6yo entire is making his seasonal return whereas Sharaf Al Reef already has a run under his belt this season. Now a 10yo, he was well beaten on that occasion, in the course and distance prep race, but trainer Abdallah Al Hammadi has his string in much better form now. That prep was won by RB Torch, saddled by Eric Lemartinel for Sheikh Zayed and obviously a big danger here in a race he won last year.