ARGUABLY the second biggest fixture of the season here in the capital with feature races for both the Thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians this HH The President Cup fixture is, as ever, eagerly anticipated and sure to be fiercely contested with both big race reigning champions returning to, their connections will hope, successfully defend their crowns. The legendary Alanudd won the 2200m Group 1 HH The President Cup on no less than five occasions, 1994 then each renewal between 1996 and 1999 so hat-trick seeker Al Zahir has a little way to go to emulate her.However, he could become the second most successful horse in the race’s illustrious history; since it was inaugurated he, Ezil and Madjani are all dual winners having won consecutive renewals.
Trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for Sheikh Hamdan, the 7yo entire and Jim Crowley have landed the Dh1.5 million winner’s prize relatively comfortably in each of the last two years. However, he did have the advantage of a previous outing, actually three last season, before landing this whereas he is making a belated seasonal return here. For the Al Asayl team, Sheikh Khalifa and Eric Lemartinel, Abu Alabyad is seeking to regain a title he once held, in 2015 when awarded the race by the stewards having passed the post in second behind Thakif who subsequently tested positive for a prohibited substance. Now a 10yo, he has not won since and was fifth in the course and distance prep three weeks ago.
His stable companion, Darius Du Paon, was third in that prep and is another regular in this contest which has been, in the past, the most valuable Purebred Arabian event staged worldwide. Third last year was his best previous effort in this but he was a staying on fourth when beaten just over a length in the 1600m Dh5 million Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown. A 7yo entire, he has not won since landing a 1600m conditions race, here at Abu Dhabi, in November 2018 when chased home by Goshawke, the stable star of Abdallah Al Hammadi and Al Ajban Stables. The 6yo entire enjoyed his finest hour in the 2019 Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R2, on the dirt at Meydan, when it was contested over 2200m. That was in January 2019 and he has not won since, finishing fourth just last week trying to defend that crown over a trip reduced to 1900m.
Fourth in this last year, this will be his sixth run of the season, third in 2020 so he will certainly not be caught out for lack of race fitness. Fatigue could be a concern though but he does appear a tough, hardy horse. Rmmas landed the aforementioned prep for Sheikha Fatima bint Mansoor Al Nahyan and Jean de Roualle, chased home by Harrab, then trained by Ana Mendez but now in the care of Majed Al Jahoori, trainer of the aforementioned Thakif. What must have been becoming a frustrating season for trainer Fawzi Nass burst into life last week, his first victory of the campaign, a Dubai World Cup Carnival winner no less, followed by a pair of maiden winners on Saturday. Those who believe in ‘London Bus Syndrome’, that is you wait for ages then many materialise at once, will be fancying the chances of his Legendary Lunch following up last year’s victory in the 1400m Listed Thoroughbred equivalent.
The 6yo Dragon Pulse gelding is seeking a first success since but is unbeaten in Abu Dhabi, having also won a 1400m handicap on his capital debut last January. Two appearances at the 2020 carnival have not been inspiring, beating a total of two of 22 rivals but, certainly for the first, he appeared he had enjoyed too many lunches, be they legendary or not before returning just a week later. That second outing was just over a month ago, so he has had a nice break to freshen up and should go well under what appear his optimum conditions. However, only Diffident, in 1996 and 1998 has won this, inaugurated in 1994, twice so a successful title defence would be a small piece of UAE racing folklore.
Should he fail to fire, a case can be made for Satish Seemar duo Light The Lights, who has the highest official rating in the field but is winless since his only previous Abu Dhabi jaunt, a victory in the 2200m Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship, the biggest Thoroughbred race of the season, and Riflescope.The latter, a 7yo gelded son of Raven’s Pass is probably more likely to appreciate this 1400m trip and beat Legendary Lunch, albeit over 1200m on turf at Meydan in receipt of weight, just over a year ago.For Sheikh Hamdan, Ali Rashid Al Rayhi, who has landed this prize four times for the owner, each year between 2014 and 2018, saddles Taamol.
A 6yo Helmet gelding, he was never sighted when tenth in this last year but, over 1600m in December’s Listed The National Day Cup, his only other capital sojourn, he landed the spoils in style. For the record, his three other career victories have all been over 1400m, including a Meydan dirt handicap in November 2018.