WARSAW // Forget Poland's history and tradition regarding Arabian purebreds. When the final race of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup gets under way in the Polish capital this afternoon, the favourite is undoubtedly representing the Middle East more than he is Central Europe.
Muqatil al Khalidiah last month won the previous event in the three-race cup series, in Den Haag, Holland. And with David Badel, the French jockey, in the saddle again, the five-year-old from Saudi Arabia is expected to repeat that 20,000 (Dh93,000) success at Slucewiez Racetrack today. He is predicted to hold off the challenge of Celtics, the Polish Derby winner, and the Dutch-owned Periander. The cup series is part of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan's Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival, which started in April in Toulouse, France, and aims to develop the reputation of Arabian thoroughbreds across the globe.
Since the festival's opening event - won by the French colt Scoubidou De Carrer - it has also visited the United States, Holland and Germany. This afternoon's race, however, marks the first time such an event has taken place in Poland. The country has a long-standing history of Arabian thoroughbreds that dates to the 16th Century when the Polish army defeated Ottoman cavalry in Austria and dispossessed them of their pure-bloods.
Arabian horses were seen as lighter and more agile than what the Poles were accustomed to and were used in warfare for the next 400 years. Abdullah al Qubaisi, the director of communications at Abu Dhabi Authority of Culture and Heritage [ADACH], said his organisation is so enamoured with the Polish relationship with Arabian purebreds that they are already thinking about future races being held here.
"I'm aware that Arabian horses are very popular in Poland," al Qubaisi said. "And with the country having a long association with horses I'm confident it will be a huge success. "For this reason, I'm also confident the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup race will be the first of many races to be staged here." The winner of the Zayed Cup will be determined through a points system that rewards the first five horses to cross the line.
With Scoubidou de Carrer not competing in today's final race, Periander, who finished second in Toulouse to claim four points, and Muqatil al Khalidiah, the five-point leader, are realistically the only two horses that can claim the combined 40,000 bonus. "This is the richest race ever staged in Poland for purebred Arabians," said Lara Sawaya, the director of the series. "One of the main aims of the cup is to encourage more international horses to travel to Poland and by offering such a large bonus purse is our way of helping to grow the number of Arabian purebreds that travel to this country."
Sawaya said she expects the event to return to the country for the next three years at least. The 15-horse race will be over 2,600 metres and will also feature Marwin El Semai, Bachi Bouzouk, Theoretically, Kentaur Kossack, El Weiron, Vasylikossack, Velentino, Ermis, Aakebe, Farah Basel and Djelana. firstname.lastname@example.org