x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Arabian racing casts its net even wider

Bumper crowd expected at Ascot Racecourse to watch the President of the UAE Cup, as the seven-race series gains credibility over bigger audiences as organisers promote UAE's brand.

Nayef Al Khalidiah, ridden by Christophe Lemaire, front left, on its way to a victory at The President Of The UAE Cup in Ascot in 2009. More than 30,000 spectators are expected to visit Ascot this year.
Nayef Al Khalidiah, ridden by Christophe Lemaire, front left, on its way to a victory at The President Of The UAE Cup in Ascot in 2009. More than 30,000 spectators are expected to visit Ascot this year.

The President of the UAE Cup will enjoy its biggest day on the world stage tomorrow when more than 30,000 spectators converge on Ascot Racecourse.

Three years ago the race was first held at the track that boasts Queen Elizabeth as its patron but falling attendances recently mean that tomorrow's bumper crowd will be the largest that has witnessed a President of the UAE Cup race.

After Frankie Dettori partners Rewilding against four other rivals in the £1 million (Dh5,941m) King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, the purebred Arabians will go to post for the penultimate contest in this year's seven-race series.

The series began in Abu Dhabi in February when Seraphin Du Paon limbered up for his Kahayla Classic victory with a win in the opening race. After four further races in as many countries, today's 2,000m contest is staged before the traditional hiatus in respect of Ramadan, ahead of the final leg in Moscow on September 4.

"In the last two to three years the series has really blossomed," said Neil Abrahams, the racing secretary of the Emirates Equestrian Federation, who sponsor the series. "It has been very effective in bringing top-class Arabian racing to a wider audience."

This year Baden-Baden, in Germany, and Churchill Downs, the scene of the Kentucky Derby, joined the list of tracks in the series.

It marks a shift in gear for the series, which has struggled to gain traction globally since it was set up in 1994 by the late Sheikh Zayed.

"We are raising the profile of Arabian racing but Arabian racing is now also gaining in credibility," Abrahams said.

"We have a long-standing relationship with Germany, and have sponsored races there for a while.

"Baden-Baden was the best track in Germany but it recently went through some financial troubles. This year we expected a crowd of only 8,000 and around 15,000 turned up."

Recently, the focus of the series has been adjusted slightly. Originally intended simply to promote the Arabian breed around the world, races like the Dubai International Day at Newbury last weekend, the President of the UAE Cup races and the Sheikh Mansour festival are now considered vehicles for promoting Abu Dhabi and the Emirates as a whole.

The series emphasises aspects of life in Abu Dhabi, with Etihad Airways as an active sponsors. At the tracks, henna painting, falconry displays and traditional crafts from the UAE are often on display.

Despite this success, much work remains to be done. Although the race is run immediately after the feature event, the sense of anti-climax when compared to one of Europe's premier all-aged middle distance championships is tangible. Television rights do not allow the race to take place immediately ahead of the King George.

In contrast, Meydan Racecourse consider the opening slot on the Dubai World Cup card as the natural position for their Arabian race, the Kahayla Classic.

sports@thenational.ae