NEWBURY // Al Dahma, owned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani, stamped her authority as the best Arabian mare in training yesterday with a thoroughly convincing performance in the Group 1 PA Shadwell Dubai International Stakes. The queue stretched around the racecourse before the gates opened to Newbury's ever-popular International Arabian race day. It was for good reason, too, because in Al Dahma, No Risk Al Maury, and Fryvolous, the crowd witnessed the three best Arabian horses in the world.
Heavy rain on Friday, and further squalls yesterday had made the going tacky and stamina was essential after the Swedish challenger, Hespeshal, set a searing pace in the early stages of the 10-furlong contest. Al Dahma's jockey, David Bouland, was unconcerned though, and the Frenchman allowed the fierce headwind blowing down the track to tire out the early leaders. It was a tender ride. As Bouland's mount hit the front in the final furlong he allowed her just enough rein to hold off the persistent challenge of the Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned No Risk Al Maury, who had won the last two runnings of this race. Fryvolous was dead-heated for third with Al Fatih.
Although it was Al Dahma's 17th victory in 24 career starts, it was surprising to find Bouland so nonchalant at the breathtaking ability of Qatar's 2008 champion Arabian. "I don't think she was even 100 per cent this afternoon," Bouland revealed. "She only did what is asked of her, and I didn't ask her very much," he continued. Trainer Alban De Mieulle was equally phlegmatic about his seven-year-old. "She won easily today," said the Frenchman, who trains out of Chantilly. "She is never going to win by 10 lengths, she always only does enough."
De Mieulle, who won this race in 2006 with Majid Al Arab, confirmed that his mare was undercooked, and nominated the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Longchamp in October as the winner's next target. She is likely to improve, too. Al Dahma missed almost a year of racing, having suffered a multiple fracture to her front leg, but she won the Qatar International Trophy in February and followed up in the Coupe D'Europe at her home track last month.
"Today's performance will make her ready for Longchamp," De Mieulle continued. It was a good day for French-trained mares as 40 minutes earlier Quesche Du Paon, trained in the south of France by Jean-Francois Bernard, won the Group 1 PA Emirates NBD Hatta International. Once again, it paid to be held up off the pace, although jockey Gerald Avranche was further back than he had planned in the early stages after his five-year-old stumbled out of the stalls. Avranche held Quesche Du Paon on the stand side rail, but as the leaders began to tire, he unleashed a withering run down the centre of the track to win by a neck from the tiring Nokomys.
"It was lucky she fell out of the stalls," joked Bernard. "She needs to come really late in her races. If she hits the front, she stops. She's a wonderful filly though." Quesche Du Paon completed a clean sweep for the Middle East in the Group 1 races as the Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahan-owned horse, Dariya, put in a coruscating run in the Al Hai Group Zabeel International Stakes, the first Group 1 race on the card.
The five-year-old stood out in the paddock. In spite of Dariya sporting a sheepskin noseband and cheekpieces though, jockey Phillipe Sogord had a simple task and the pair easily accounted for Al Raai in the closing stages. The defeat of No Risk Al Maury must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Sheikh Hamdan, who sponsored the entire card. There was redemption, however, when his silks were carried to victory in the last two races by Al Mannsoub in the Jebel Ali Racecourse Premier Handicap Stakes, and Riko in the Jumeirah Group Handicap Stakes.