ABU DHABI // A showdown between Il Grande Maurizio and Mutheeb for the President Of The UAE Cup, a Listed race for thoroughbreds, is the highlight of a six-race card on Sunday night at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.
Il Grande Maurizio is seeking a fourth successive victory but will be wary of the son of Danzig. The two faced off in the Prep race two weeks ago over the same 1,400-metre trip and, though Il Grande Maurizio won, Mutheeb was seen doing his best work towards the end after overcoming traffic problems.
It was also the former Godolphin runner's first race on turf in more than two years and an eye-catching first run in Abu Dhabi, after a solitary success in nine starts at Meydan Racecourse since January 2010.
"He is versatile and ran a very good first race for the season," said Musabah Al Muhairi, Mutheeb's trainer. "He didn't get a clear run on that occasion. And from that evidence, I would like to think he has strong claims for the prize, of course with a bit of luck. It looks a wide-open contest, so there is more than one horse to beat."
Al Muhairi has three entries for two different trainers, and Mutheeb is the choice of Richard Hills, the retained jockey for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.
Happy Today is Al Muhairi's second runner in the race. He was well beaten behind Canwinn in his first start at Meydan after his arrival in the UAE. He was a winner of one race from five starts when trained by Brian Meehan in the UK.
Fityaan is the third Al Muhairi entry and will be ridden by Darren Williams. Tadhg O'Shea is onboard Finjaan and will wear the silks of Sheikh Hamdan.
Finjaan and Marching Time are trained by Doug Watson, and the American said: "Both are very well and have a chance. Luck in running is going to be important in such a competitive-looking race."
Il Grande Maurizio, unbeaten in three starts this season, would be the one to beat in the field that also include Jaasoos, who was unlucky when finishing second behind the seven year old by King Charlemagne in the National Day Cup on November 27 in Abu Dhabi.
Il Grande Maurizio "has been a real star this season as we hoped he would as he is a horse we always really liked", said Ali Rashid Al Raihe, the UAE champion trainer, who leads the trainer's title race with 19 winners, four more than Watson. Il Grande Maurizio is drawn the widest of the 13-runner field. Al Raihe said: "He remains in good form at home and, with luck from a bad draw; hopefully he can go very close."
Jaasoos was drawn the widest in his last start but starts from the No 1 gate this time. The seven-year-old gelded son of Noverre poses the biggest threat for both Mutheeb and Il Grande Maurizio.
"He was very unlucky as he had to come around a wall of horses. We at least have a better draw this time but it looks a very hot race this year," said Dhruba Selvaratnam, his handler.
In the Abu Dhabi Championship, the main supporting event and also with Listed status for three-year-old Purebred Arabians, Mestor remains on course for a hat-trick.
The chestnut son of Mahabb has won both his races over the course and distance with ease, and could give the trainer-jockey combination of Al Raihe and Royston Ffrench a heady start 30 minutes ahead of the top thoroughbred race.
5pm Abu Dhabi Fillies Classic
5.30pm Abu Dhabi ColtsClassic
6pm Abu Dhabi Championship
6.30pm President Of The UAE Cup
7pm Wathba Stud Farm Cup
7.30pm Al Reem Island Maiden
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