Head of President Sheikh Khalifa's Al Asayl Stables saw RB Burn, who rides again this year demoted to second last year for interference
Eric Lemartinel out to regain Group 1 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Crown Jewel
Eric Lemartinel is looking to set the record straight in this year's Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Crown Jewel race in Abu Dhabi after seeing RB Burn stripped of victory in controversial fashion last time out.
Lemartinel is double handed in the Dh5 million Group 1 contest, the world’s richest race for Purebred Arabians, with Mawahib and RB Burn, winner in 2016 and demoted to second place last year despite finishing first past the post.
Muraaqib, trained in France by Francois Rohaut and ridden by Jim Crowley in the silks of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, was promoted as the winner following a stewards’ inquiry for interference.
The decision did not go down well with Lemartinel. However, with the passing of time, he says he has moved and has his sights set on regaining Abu Dhabi horse racing’s most coveted prize.
“They [Mawahib and RB Burn] are both coming in to the race in good shape but this year it is much stronger with some very good horses flown in from overseas,” he said.
Lemartinel has racked up 97 winners, including a career best 37 last season, in his first three years as head trainer for President Sheikh Khalifa’s Al Asayl Stables. All in all the Frenchman has saddled 235 winners, including 11 Group 1 prizes since his arrival in Abu Dhabi in 2006.
The new season saw Lemartinel’s runners get off to a bright start. He saddled a double in last week's opening meeting and lines up 11 across four races in Friday’s second meet, also at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.
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The Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Crown Jewel is the highlight of the six-race card, with Lemartinel facing several challengers.
One to watch would be Fazza Al Khalediah, winner of 10 of his 11 starts, including the €1 million (Dh4m) World Cup on Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Day at Longchamp in his last start on October 7.
The other overseas challengers in the 14-runner field are likely to come from Azhar, Al Shamoos, Joudh and Wadeeaa from France, British-trained Shomoos Athbah and Al Chamy representing Oman.
Rmmas, trained in Al Ain by Frenchman Jean de Roualle and ridden by two-time UAE champion jockey Richard Mullen, comes into the race on the back of a hat-trick of victories.
Pat Cosgrave, who replaced the UAE champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea at Al Asayl Stables, rode a winner on his first ride for President Sheikh Khalifa and will be aboard RB Burn.
“I know Pat, he’s won many races and a good jockey,” Lemartinel said. “He had a good season last year. He does exactly what Tadhg did for us previously.
“At Al Asayl we work as a family. We have quality horses in training, the facilities are excellent and a top-class team at hand. My job is to keep producing results.”
In the Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship, the main supporting race, Lemartinel has six of the 10 runners.
The former jump jockey will have a special attention in the race as one of his horses, Bainoona, will be ridden by his daughter, Marie.
A dental surgeon in her native France, Marie Lemartinel has ridden eight winners as an amateur rider.
“She was lucky to be drawn to ride one of my horses,” Lemartinel said. “She’s a pretty good rider and has a good chance, like my other five runners.”
Lemartinel has 70 Arabians in training this season and rates his top five in the stable as RB Burn, Mawahib, Darius Du Paon, Abu Alabyad and Ellal, a three-year-old colt that won on his racecourse debut.
“Our objective will be to win as many Group 1 races as possible and send out as many winners we can,” he said.
Training in a stable predominantly made up of Arabians means Lemartinel is denied the opportunity to become the UAE champion trainer. While that doesn’t worry him, the lack of more races for his younger horses does.
“I have 21 three year olds in the stable and they don’t have many races in the first half of the season,” he said.
“For instance, I can only enter my horses in two or three races in the seven-race cards in Al Ain in both November and December. That’s a huge blow for a stable that has only Arabians.
“The race programme is drawn up in June, at a time when you don’t know the type of horses that arrive in the stables. It’s not just me but a majority of the trainers face this problem.
“I wish the governing body [Emirates Racing Authority] of the races can wait until September to see the kind of horses that each trainer will have and draw up the schedule accordingly.”