The best was very much saved to last at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club on Sunday, officially highlighted by the only Thoroughbred race and final race on the card, a 1400m handicap, victory secured in a driving finish by Hakeem, denying the desperate late lunge of Prompting.
Sporting the world famous blue and white silks of his main employer, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum for trainer Ali Rashid Al Rayhi, Jim Crowley settled the winner about halfway among the capacity field of 16 who, on the whole, raced in a compact field. They made ground to challenge early in the straight before grabbing the initiative with about 150m still to run. Connections may have hoped for a smooth success, but Adrie de Vries and Prompting started to gather momentum, closing all the time, but the line appeared in time for Crowley’s mount, the duo still a neck ahead as they flashed past the winning post.
Homebred, the 7-year-old gelded son of Exceed And Excel was scoring for the fifth time and second locally, his previous UAE victory posted over 1600m on the Meydan turf in February last year.
Crowley said: “These Abu Dhabi handicaps are not easy to win as they are always very competitive with such big fields, most of whom hold some kind of chance coming into the race.
“We had the inside draw which has worked out well because I was able get a nice position and he responded well when I asked. I was happy to commit because he stays further and I think we were always holding on.
“I have now won on this horse three times, twice locally and once in Britain, at Southwell on the all-weather, when he was trained by William Haggas.”
The opening 1600m handicap for fillies and mares, due to be contested by a capacity field of 14 before a late withdrawal, was won in quite taking fashion by turf debutante Nadhra, previously a maiden after three attempts on dirt at Al Ain. Homebred, the 4-year-old filly was held up towards the rear by Fabrice Veron before making stealthy progress as the field descended on the home turn. Pulled slightly wide leaving that bend, Veron’s mount picked up nicely to hit the front inside the final 100m and win going away for Eric Lemartinel and HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Veron said: “I was actually a little bit disappointed by her last time at Al Ain, but she is a filly I have always liked and has not let me down here.
“She probably did not like being surrounded by other horses then and I was able to take my time today, but she was a lot more professional here and is learning.
“The switch to turf has certainly not harmed her, but I would be happy to try her again on dirt; I think she has plenty of ability and is going to be a nice filly next season.”
The maximum allowed field of 14 then contested a 1400m maiden but very few were ever able to get competitive with the first two home probably occupying those positions from the outset.
However, it was AF Dars and Tadhg O’Shea who landed the prize for Khalid Khalif Al Nabooda and Ernst Oertel, the UAE Champion Jockey having stalked Basima Al Wathba throughout the majority of the race before hitting the front without 175m remaining. The race was soon over, the homebred 4-year-old colt building on his debut, over 1000m here at Abu Dhabi, when fifth seven weeks ago.