x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

French fancies carry Sheikh Hamdan hopes at Newmarket

Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid is having his French runners lead a raid on the 2000 and 1000 Guineas, and Dunaden and Masked Marvel will carry weight penalties in the Jockey Club Stakes.

Christophe Soumillon, above aboard Cirrus Des Aigles, will ride Abtaal on Saturday and Mashoora on Sunday in the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas, respectively, for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.
Christophe Soumillon, above aboard Cirrus Des Aigles, will ride Abtaal on Saturday and Mashoora on Sunday in the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas, respectively, for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.

Newmarket // The fear in England is tangible.

While the country is embroiled in an immigration row that will require volunteers to man passport control at Heathrow airport in the lead-up to the Olympics, the racing fraternity here are terrified that their first two Classics of the season have been stamped for export this weekend.

Aidan O'Brien, the Irish trainer, looks to have a strong hand in Saturday's 2000 Guineas with Camelot.

Maybe, also trained by O'Brien at Ballydoyle, is regarded as the most likely winner of Sunday's 1000.

Yet it is Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, so long a great patron of the sport in Britain, who could help take both titles to France.

Abtaal, a strapping colt bought for US$325,000 (Dh1.2 million), has been prepared to the minute for Saturday's mile contest by Jean-Claude Rouget in Pau. Mashoora, another impressive purchase, is set to showcase her ability Sunday.

Christophe Soumillon, the Belgian jockey, will ride both.

If the appointment of the champion rider of France seems controversial from the outside, the Shadwell camp do not see it that way.

Paul Hanagan was unveiled to much fanfare as Sheikh Hamdan's new stable jockey in February following the retirement of Richard Hills. Last week, John Dunlop, who was the first trainer in Britain the minister of finance ever appointed, said that a retained jockey should always ride an owner's horse regardless of whether he had sat on it or not.

Yet according to Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan's racing manager, the reigning champion jockey in Britain was never considered for either ride.

"There's nothing behind why Christophe rides," Gold said. "He has ridden the horses before, and if we have an Irish horse we have an Irish jockey and if we have a French horse we have a French jockey.

"We like the people who do the work at home to ride them - it's Sheikh Hamdan's way. Paul's doing a fantastic job and is working his socks off."

Sheikh Hamdan last won the 2000 Guineas with Haafhd in 2004 but since then he has suffered a poor return on his investment. He did not have a runner last year, and in 2010 Awzaan finished 15th to the French colt Makfi, whom Gold had sold as a cast-off.

Finjaan and Ouqba were respectively ninth and 11th a year before that and Alfathaa was 13th in 2008.

Of those runners, only Ouqba had a run in the lead-up to Newmarket.

Both Abtaal and Mashoora have advertised their well-being on a racecourse this season, however, and in a year when only a handful have proved they have trained on that is a precious commodity.

Britain endured the wettest April in history and the going is likely to be soft in the Rowley Mile.

Camelot has never raced in such conditions, while Thursday's final declarations saw the withdrawal of Parish Hall, Jim Bolger's Dewhurst Stakes winner, due to turf concerns.

Abtaal, on the other hand, has raced only on going good or softer, while Mashoora's victory in the Group 3 Prix Impudence was achieved on good to soft and her sire, Barathea, is adept at producing soft-ground performers.

"Abtaal's coming along fine," Gold said. "I saw him on Saturday when he and Mashoora worked and he looked really well.

"He is a horse that has had a bit of racing as a two year old and has been out this year so he will be a lot more streetwise than some of them."



A new chapter in the extraordinary story of Dunaden will be opened Saturday when the Melbourne Cup winner takes on seven rivals in the Jockey Club Stakes.

Dunaden's exploits around the world last season formed part of a sweeping year for Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, whose Qipco Holdings sponsored the inaugural season of the British Champions Series.

The six-year-old horse was bought by the Sheikh's bloodstock adviser, David Redvers, on the advice of the trainer Richard Gibson. The price tag was reportedly less than £50,000 (Dh297,000), and after victories in the Geelong Cup, the Melbourne Cup and the season-ending Hong Kong Vase, Dunaden has amassed £3,343,470 in career prize money.

"We must thank Richard Gibson for finding that horse for us," Sheikh Fahad said. "When they sent me the video he was just a handicapper. He has really surprised us. I've been to see him and he has improved this year."

Johnny Murtagh will be in the saddle tomorrow but the Irishman is only keeping the plate warm for Craig Williams. The Australian rider, who rode Ortensia to victory in the Al Quoz Sprint in March, partnered Dunaden in Geelong and Hong Kong and will be riding at Royal Ascot, should Dunaden make it to the Ascot Gold Cup in June.

The Jockey Club Stakes is a Group 2 race, and as a result of Dunaden's victories in Australia and Hong Kong he is to carry a five-pound penalty in the 12-furlong contest.

Masked Marvel, the St Leger winner trained by John Gosden, also has to carry a penalty.

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