European class scored the winning goal on Friday evening when Timo Keersmaekers-trained Messi flashed home an easy winner in the Group 1 AED 5 million ($1.35 million) Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.
Under a confident ride by Pat Dobbs, sitting comfortably in third, then fourth on the backside, the grey Belgium-bred/owned/trained son of Dahess relaxed noticeably amid foes. Dribbling up three-wide with 600m remaining on the final turn to strategically keep his position, Messi then was asked by Dobbs as they straightened out with just under 400m to go and quickly had the goal line in sight. Opening up a comfortable lead that ultimately became 3 1/2 lengths at the finish, the nearly white Purebred Arabian landed his first G1 race–a feat made that much sweeter after a pair of unlucky seconds in top-level company at Paris-Longchamp this fall.
HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Meydan-based Al Zahir closed well to finish second, a nose to the good of Yas Horse Racing Management’s France-based Hayyan in third. Well-fancied Hajres and Somoud managed sixth and 12th in the 16-horse field.
The remarkable Messi, who is hitting his peak at age eight, has finished first or second in eight of his past 10 starts and won for the seventh time in 24 tries. Two starts back, he was second in the Arabian World Cup (G1) on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe undercard. Dobbs, based locally with Doug Watson’s Red Stables, was riding him for the first time.
The final time was 2:30.65 for 2200m, an increase in trip (from 1600m) for the affair, commencing this year.
“Once he got to the front, I knew it would take a good one to pass him,” Dobbs said. “He jumped super and got into a nice position. He was a little bit off the bridle, but once he got there, he quickened up like a proper horse. It’s is one of the best (races) in the world.”
Keersmakers added: “It’s a dream come true. I’ve been coming to Abu Dhabi and seen what’s happening and you think one day maybe you could have something like that. I’m really happy with what (Messi) achieved. I want to thank all the people involved with him. It has been a great year and I hoped he could close the year like he started the year and he did. I’m extremely happy.”
Thoroughbreds were on display in the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup (Listed) over 1600m two races prior on the seven-race card. The race turned into another eye-catching local win for HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Boerhan, who put his nose down when it mattered, pipping Medahim at the line. It was another short head back to Mailshot in third.
Ridden to perfection by Ryan Curatolo, the Nicholas Bachalard trainee won for the third time in nine starts, having spent his first seven with William Haggas in the UK. Curatolo, in his first UAE season, landed his first UAE stakes on the 4-year-old gelded son of world champion Sea the Stars. The victory boosted Boerhan’s rating to 100.
“He hadn’t run for a year (before his prep in November), then came back quickly, but obviously improved from the run,” Bachalard said. “Today we had a bad draw (16 of 16), so we decided to wait (drop him back) and have him finish. We got lucky at the end. We’ll give him a month or month and a half and look for a race in the Carnival with him.”
The midpoint of the card was the Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup for Purebred Arabians over 1600m, which turned out to be a perfectly executed exercise in teamwork by the two horses carrying the black silks of top owner-breeder Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and trained by Ernst Oertel.
When last-out G2 Bani Yas winner Jayide Al Boraq took the early initiative out of the stalls, he was quickly joined by Al Nabooda’s AF Sajanjle, who ensured an honest pace under Pat Dobbs. The two held their advantage until the real running started in the final straight of the one-turn mile–first tackled by Ihtesham, who was quickly overpowered by Al Nabooda’s more-fancied charge, AF Alwajel. Under the guidance of UAE leading jockey Tadhg O’Shea, the chestnut son of AF Al Buraq overpowered his foes, clearing by open lengths for his fifth win in 10 starts. It was the winner’s second Group win after his Liwa Oasis (G2) tally in March.
“What a horse and what a fantastic achievement,” O’Shea said. “(Al Nabooda) is so passionate about his horses and Ernst Oertel is the best trainer of Arabians in the world.”
All Images: Emirates Racing Authority