Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's Awzaan is being viewed as a strong contender for the 2,000 Guineas next year following an easy win in Group Two company yesterday in the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury. Awzaan now looks likely to contest the Group One Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October, a race considered to be the most prestigious challenge for two-year-olds in England. The Alhaarth colt, who was bred by Sheikh Hamdan through his Shadwell breeding operation, started the day as second favourite in the seven-strong field of two-year-olds on the second day of the Dubai Duty Free-sponsored meeting.
Most fancied was the Brian Meehan-trained Radiohead, who was stepping up from five furlongs to six following a good third against older horses in last month's Group One Nunthorpe Stakes. But it was the Mark Johnston-trained Awzaan who really lived up to his reputation and form book. Galloping away from them for an effortless five-length victory at Newmarket last time out, Awzaan extended his unbeaten record to three, putting in a mature performance under Sheikh Hamdan's jockey, Richard Hills, to win by a length and a half and making it look easy.
Angel's Pursuit, trained by Richard Hannon and ridden by Richard Hughes, was a well-run second, while the William Haggas-trained Quarrel, with Hills' brother, Michael in the saddle, came third Radiohead, travelling on the opposite side of the field to Awzaan, finished fourth. "He really is a lovely horse to ride and has a lovely turn of foot," said the winning Hills, who held Awzaan up at the back before making his move for the lead.
"It was a nice run and he didn't get caught between three and two [furlong markers] which was a danger because he has only had two runs. He's quite a mature horse." Asked about Awzaan's chances of contesting the Dewhurst Stakes, Hills said the colt's next challenge would be decided later. "We will speak to Sheikh Hamdan after Ramadan finishes. He's very fond of this horse," he said. In the US, Godolphin's Midshipman made a winning return to the track on Friday after injury ruled him out of a shot at the Kentucky Derby, one of the few thoroughbred prizes that the racing operation's founder, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has yet to claim.
The former two-year-old champion was acquired by Godolphin when Sheikh Mohammed's global breeding operation, Darley, purchased Stonerside Stable in Kentucky for an undisclosed amount last September. After a long lay-off, the Breeders Cup Juvenile winner, landed his dirt debut in an allowance race at Belmont Park under Garrett Gomez. "We felt we were sending out a pretty fit horse off of what he did all summer," said Saeed bin Suroor's assistant trainer, Rick Mettee.