Qatar-based trainer favourite to succeed in feature race with rival Alban de Mieulle deciding to stay at home, writes Geoffrey Riddle.
Smart has hopes on Mkeefa at Newbury horse racing event
It may have been a flippant remark from Alban de Mieulle last month but it appears that Julian Smart once again has the Dubai International Arabian race day at Newbury Racecourse on Thursday night at his mercy.
The Qatar-based French trainer revealed to The National last month that he would have no runners in the European showcase event for Purebred Arabians and suggested that Smart would clean up across the only eight-race card in the world that has three Group 1 races purely for Arabian runners.
Smart has entered nine horses this year, including Mkeefa and Rathowan, the two highest-rated Purebred Arabians in the official world rankings at the end of last season.
Mkeefa was a hugely impressive winner of the Shadwell Farm Hatta International Stakes last season, and benefited from a well-timed ride from Richard Mullen to defeat seven rivals.
The five-year-old mare once again is ridden by Mullen and faces only five other runners in the Shadwell Dubai International Stakes, the feature event of the night, in which Rathowan also runs.
Djet Taouy, the Dutch raider who won the President Of The UAE Cup event at Newmarket last month, will be ridden by Adrie de Vries while Tidarbret, ridden by Tadhg O'Shea, and Forgehill Cosaque, partnered by Steve Drowne, form the home defence.
The field is completed by Al Hibaab, owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, the patron of the event, who is aiming for his 12th success in the Group 1 contest.
It is a disappointing turnout for the £50,000 (Dh284,970) purse and the absence of De Mieulle owes much to the fact that Dubai day this year has been sandwiched between two €50,000 (Dh243,540) races in France.
Tabarak, trained by De Mieulle, who is based in Chantilly during the summer, was second in the Group 1 Doha Cup at Deauville a week ago and, along with Smart, has entries in the prestigious Group 1 Prix Kesberoy at the seaside racecourse on Saturday.
Tabarak was ranked fifth last year while the up and coming Mushrae, who was the second-highest rated three year old last season, was third.
To underpin the strength of the race Al Mamun Monlau, the ninth-best horse in the world, was fourth.
Last year when the Dubai International Day was run as the season-ending finale, in September, 90 horses were declared for a card that was run in squall-like conditions.
Tonight, when the weather is set to be fair, 63 horses are entered. The Private Banking From Emirates NBD International Stakes, in which Smart runs the recent winner Al Atique for a purse of £10,000, features just two other runners.
It appears as if quality has declined, also. Whereas last year five of the world's top-10 Purebred Arabians were declared in a defining final day for the then 30-year-old event. Today, Newbury will host only four of the top 25 Arabians.
"Last year we were overwhelmed by the numbers and quality that we had," Amanda Smith, the racing manager of the Arabian Racing Organisation in Britain, told The National.
"Alban De Mieulle is a notable absentee but it is understandable that he, and other French trainers, wanted to remain at home."
Smart is responsible for three of the top four rated horses on the £158,000 card. Mkeefa and Rathowan aside, he also runs Aziz, who was ranked sixth, in the Group 1 Jebel Ali Racecourse Zabeel International Stakes. Tidarbret was ranked 24th last season.
Not since 2009 has Smart failed to saddle the winner in one of the three Group 1 races on the card.
Smart won the Group 1 Shadwell Dubai International Stakes last season with Mu'azzaz in addition to Mkeefa's success.
He won the Dubai International with Asraa Min Albarq and the Zabeel International Stakes with Aziz in 2011 and struck with Jaafer in the big one the previous year.
Despite playing down his chances yesterday, it was possible to detect that Smart was at least hopeful of continuing his fine form at the meeting.
"I'm not disappointed, personally, that Alban stays in France," Smart said from his satellite yard at the historic Weathercock House in Lambourn, Berkshire, where he has 22 horses for the summer.
"It is always nice when he leaves us alone.
"I am never confident in this game but very hopeful. Mkeefa and Rathowan were first and second in the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Longchamp in October and have held their form in Doha.
"Mkeefa needed the run last time when beaten at Hereford by Al Atique and Aziz. I'm there to be shot at."
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