The nine-race program at the Qatar Equestrian center on January 12 featured Arabian stakes for sprinters, milers, and stayers, all on turf. A Texas-bred veteran was one of the stars of the program.
TM Thunder Struck (Majd Al Arab x Bonnett by Burning Sand), is long removed from his American roots. These days, he makes racing headlines in Doha, Qatar, and, to a lesser extent, in Europe. The seven-year-old has been a reliable runner for owner Umm Qarn Racing of Qatar and trainer Alban De Mieulle. In the $82,385 Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani Cup at 1,600 meters, or a mile in Doha on January 12, TM Thunder Struck prevailed by five lengths in his best performance in a year.
TM Thunder Struck, who was bred by Todd Moak in Texas, did not race in the United States. He was a winner in his first season in Qatar in 2013-14, and improved noticeably in 2015, finishing third in the Group 1 Prix Dragon at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris. During the winter and spring of 2015-16, TM Thunder Struck won the Group 2 Qatar National Day Trophy and Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani Cup in consecutive starts in the winter. In the spring, he was second in the Kahayla Classic in Dubai and ended his Middle East campaign with a win in the Group 2 Qatar Gold Sword in April.
There was a brief 2016 campaign in Europe, including a third in the Prix Dragon at Chantilly, before a return to Doha for the current winter season. The Sheikh Abdullah Cup was TM Thunder Struck’s third start of the Qatar winter campaign, and his first win.
Ridden by the famous French jockey Olivier Peslier, TM Thunder Struck was well-placed throughout, stalking the pacesetters. With about a half-mile to go, TM Thunder Struck was within a length of the lead. He took the lead with a quarter-mile remaining and quickly pulled clear. Peslier hand rode his mount to the wire.
Ba’sil (Amer x Somra by Dormane) was second for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar and trainer Julian Smart. Ba’sil won the Group 2 Clarendon International Stakes at Newbury, England, in August, 2015.
On the same program, Majeed won the $137,308 Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani Trophy at a mile, which was restricted to Qatari-bred runners. Majeed, who races for Umm Qarn and De Mieulle, was second in the Group 1 Doha Cup in Deauville, France, last August.
Umm Qarn had a memorable January 12 program, with Yazeed (Munjiz x Al Dahma by Amer) winning for the first time in the $68,654 Sheikh Abdullah Silver Cup for four-year-olds at 2,200 meters or 1 3/8 miles. Yazeed is a horse to follow on pedigree alone. His dam, Al Dahma, was a brilliant racehorse, winning Group 1 races in England, France, and Qatar.
The Sheikh Abdullah Silver Cup was Yazeed’s second start. He was third in the Qatar Derby Trial in December and was part of a field of eight in the Sheikh Abdullah Silver Cup. Ridden by Peslier, Yazeed was fourth or fifth on the inside for the first half of the race, stalking the pace while showing patience for an inexperienced runner.
Peslier had Yazeed in seventh with a quarter-mile remaining when he moved his mount to the outside for running room. Yazeed quickly caught the frontrunners and won by a half-length over Ebraz (Amer x Massamarie by Tidjani) who races for Sheikh Mohammed and Smart.
A win in a stamina-testing race at 1 3/8 miles suggests Yazeed will play an important role in major stakes at longer distances this year.
Also in Qatar on January 12, Almuheet (AF Albahar x Maboud by Manganate) won the $54,923 Arabian Sprint Championship at 1,100 meters, or 5 ½ furlongs. Almuheet is the opposite kind of racehorse from Yazeed, a speedball who tends to run in races at a mile or less. Owned by Al Jeryan Stud and trained by Jassim Mohammed Ghazili, the six-year-old Almuheet was second in the 2015 Qatar Derby at a mile. The Sprint Championship was his first stakes win.
Ridden by Jean-Pierre Guillambert, Almuheet raced in midpack in a field of 12 until early stretch when he moved into the first three with a wide move. Almuheet did not have an easy time in the stretch. As quickly as he took the lead in the final sixteenth of a mile, he was challenged by Istibdad (AF Albahar x Mari Chou by Tornado de Syrah) who is also trained by Ghazili. The two ran as a team to the finish with Almuheet winning by a short head.
Istibdad won the 2016 Arabian Sprint Championship when the race was run in March. Similar to Almuheet, who was bred in Belgium, Istibdad has run primarily in Qatar in his career.
There were two derbies in Qatar in the finals days of December. The American-bred Ateej (AF Albahar x Sahara Croixnoire by *Ala Croixnoire) won the $100,000 Qatar Derby at 1,600 meters on December 28. Ateej is at the start of his career for owner Fahad bin Abdullah Al Attiyah and his family and trainer Thomas Fourcy. After going winless in three starts in France in 2016, including two second-place finishes and a third, Ateej had his breakthrough performance in the Qatar Derby on December 28, his stakes debut.
Ridden by Adrie de Vries, Ateej was last with a quarter-mile remaining although the field of nine was separated by about four lengths. In early stretch, de Vries guided Ateej into a clear path toward the outside of the field. Ateej closed steadily through the final furlong to take the lead late and win by a half-length over Ebraz.
The win was overdue, Fourcy said. “He had never won, but he was progressing every time and today he showed class,” Fourcy told the press.
The quality of the race was confirmed when Ebraz finished second to Yazeed in his next start two weeks later.
Umm Qarn’s Tayf (Amer x Djelmila by Manganate) won for the third time in 2016 in the $150,000 Qatar Derby at 2,000 meters or 1 ¼ miles on December 29. Earlier in the year, he won the Group 3 Prix Dormane at La Teste, France, in July, and a conditions race in Qatar in November. Along the way, there were several notable losses — second-place finishes in the Group 1 Qatar Derby at Chantilly in June and the President of the United Arab Emirates Cup at Doncaster Racecourse in England in September, a race recognized as the U.K. Arabian Derby. In the fall, Tayf was third to the top-rated Al Mourtajez in the $1.1 million Qatar Arabian World Cup at Chantilly in October.
The Qatar Derby on December 29 was obviously a step down from that level, but did serve its purpose. The race was restricted to four-year-olds, and was the last chance to run in an age-group race in the calendar year. Peslier rode Tayf for de Mieulle and the colt was the most high profile runner in a field of 11.
Tayf was patiently ridden. Peslier had Tayf in sixth-place finish with a quarter-mile remaining and timed his rally with the colt’s past losses in mind. Tayf took the lead in the final sixteenth and won by a neck over Mith’haf Athbah (Amer x Karouj by Karmah).
The timing of the finish was vital, de Mieulle said. At Doncaster, Tayf pulled himself up late after he made the lead. “It is necessary to come at the last moment, otherwise he tends to stop, thinking that the work is finished,” de Mieulle said. “Olivier Peslier did very well.”
De Mieulle described Tayf as “still immature, but has a lot of resources.” Group 1 races are planned for later in the winter.
The first major Arabian race of 2017 in the United Arab Emirates was the first round of the Maktoum Challenge at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai on January 5. AF Mathmoon won the race at 1,600 meters, which is a prep for the $1 million Kahayla Classic on March 25. AF Mathmoon won the 2016 Kahayla Classic.
AF Mathmoon had his third start of the 2016-17 UAE season in the first round of the Maktoum Challenge. AF Mathmoon was fifth to RB Burn in the $1.27 Sheikh Zayed Jewel Crown on turf in Abu Dhabi in November, and was second in the Group 2 Bani Yas Stakes for sprinters at Meydan on December 1.
A return to a longer race at Meydan was a better fit for AF Mathmoon, who races Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai and is trained by Musabbeh Al Mheiri. AF Mathmoon was ridden by champion British jockey Jim Crowley in the 11-runner Maktoum Challenge. Crowley had AF Mathmoon behind the leaders for the first half-mile before taking the lead with more than a quarter-mile remaining.
AF Mathmoon dominated the final furlong, drawing away to win by an eye-catching 8 ½ lengths over the American-bred RB Burn (Majd Al Arab x Burnie Gee PW by Burning Sand).
“I was in a bit of a pocket at one stage, but when we found racing room I was keen to go for home as he stays well,” Crowley said. “He actually surprised me the way he quickened. He was by far the best tonight.”
The Maktoum Challenge was the first race for RB Burn since the win in the Sheikh Zayed Jewel Crown, the world’s richest Arabian race. Chances are AF Mathmoon and RB Burn have not seen the last of each other this season in the United Arab Emirates.
Steve Andersen is a correspondent for Daily Racing Form.