Abu Dhabi kicks off the new racing season in spectacular style on Sunday with the inaugural running of the world's most valuable Purebred Arabian race, the 1.2million Euros Group 1 Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown.
A powerful and maximum field of 16 has assembled for the 1600m highlight, with runners from America and Europe joining their illustrious local counterparts.
Heading the home challenge is Shaikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Manark, winner of the Dubai Kahayla Classic at Meydan on Dubai World Cup night on his most recent outing.
Trained by Erwan Charpy, he is the mount of the owner's retained jockey, Dane O'Neill. He has won two of his three local starts, both on dirt, but does also have four turf victories to his credit in Europe. "We are really looking forward to the race," said O'Neill. "Obviously it is a very strong field but he is a good horse and has been working very nicely in his preparation. Meydan is obviously a different surface and left-handed as opposed to Abu Dhabi which is turf and right-handed but it should not be an issue. We are hoping for a big run."
Nacer Samiri saddles his first runners this weekend, including both Thakif and Shateh in the big race. Szczepan Mazur rides the latter but the former, with Harry Bentley sporting the silks of Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, seems to be hopeful.
They won the equivalent race on the card last year when chased home by Shateh.
Eric Lemartinel is another locally-based trainer doubly represented with Gerald Avranche aboard Abu Alabyad for Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, joined in the field by the unbeaten Abhaar.
Representing Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, he will be ridden by Tadhg O'Shea as he seeks to make it six wins from as many starts and already has three course and distance victories to his name.
The six-race card also features both the finals of Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies' (IFAHR) World Championship and Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak Apprentice (IFAHR) World Championship.
Twelve apprentices and now 13 lady jockeys from around the world have qualified to contest the races through a series of qualifiers staged throughout the summer.
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