by Steve Andersen
Noëlle Derré photos
Fear the fillies. That is a logical approach to take in recent years when attempting to predict the winner of the $55,000 Al Rayyan Cup for three-year-olds at picturesque Deauville racecourse in northern France.
Fillies won the Group 1 race in 2014 and 2017. On August 10, two fillies – Lady Princess (General x Nacree Al Maury by Kesberoy) and Um Taj (Al Mamun Monlau x Dyala by Amer) — finished first and second against four males in the race on turf at 2,000 meters, or 1¼ miles. A third-place finish by the colt Mounjared Al Cham gave trainer Thomas Fourcy a sweep of the first three positions.
The fact that Lady Princess won the Al Rayyan Cup in only her second start made the victory all the more impressive. “Lady Princess had the best race,” Fourcy told the press. “She is certainly very good.”
Lady Princess was ridden by Christophe Soumillon in the Al Rayyan Cup, a race historically known as the Prix Kesberoy.
Owned by Sheail bin Khalifa al Kuwari, Lady Princess won her debut in a seven-furlong maiden race at Toulouse in April for then-owner Lisa Deymonaz. The filly was sold to her current owner in a private transaction after that race.
At Deauville, Lady Princess raced in the middle of the field until early stretch when Soumillon urged the filly. She took control of the race quickly and was clear of her rivals, winning with her ears pricked. In the stretch, Soumillon lost the whip when it fell from his left hand. He didn’t need it anyway. “She is able to relax before a superb acceleration,” Soumillon said. “I had the ideal race.”
Um Taj was beaten by two lengths by Lady Princess. Owned by Al Shaqab Racing, Um Taj has been second in two stakes. She was runner-up in the Group 3 Prix Razzia III at La Teste in her stakes debut in July. Al Shaqab Racing also owns third-place finisher Mounjared Al Cham (Azadi x Al Moutawakila by Al Sakbe).
Fourcy said Lady Princess is versatile and can handle distances ranging from a mile to 1½ miles. Lady Princess is supposed to be good. She is a half-sister to the multiple group stakes winner Mister Ginoux, who won the Group 1 Qatar International Trophy in Qatar in 2015.
“It is up to her to show that she is possibly even better than he is,” Fourcy said. “What she did is very beautiful.”
Fourcy has enviable depth in his three-year-old division, with the two $110,000 races at Saint-Cloud Racecourse in Paris on October 4 not that far off. He felt he had a strong team earlier this year and has watched them perform to expectations in recent months.
Last fall, Sheail bin Khalifa al Kuwari of Qatar won the Qatar Arabian Trophy des Pouliches at Saint-Cloud (for three-year-old fillies) with Easter de Faust. The same race is the target for Lady Princess. The owner said at Deauville that the long-term goal is to race Lady Princess in Qatar over the winter.
Akoya won the Group 1 Doha Cup for older horses for his third group-level stakes win in the last year in the race prior to the Al Rayyan Cup. Akoya (Muqatil Al Khalidiah x A L’Ombre Del Sol by Tornado De Syrah) has raced throughout Europe in a career that began in 2017. A five-year-old, Akoya improved rapidly through his four-year-old season in 2018, winning races in Denmark, France, Italy (twice), The Netherlands, and Sweden and finishing second in Morocco.
The well-traveled runner has had fewer starts this year, but a high level of success for owner Landgoed Waterland and trainer Karin van den Bos. He won the Group 3 President of the United Arab Emirates Cup in Italy in June, and was third in the Belgium division of the President of the UAE Cup at Ostend in July.
The Doha Cup at 1¼ miles was Akoya’s most significant win and his first start in a Group 1-level race since a fifth-place in the Qatar Derby at Chantilly, France, in June 2018. The Al Rayyan Cup was Akoya’s first start in France since that race. His only other win in France was a minor race at Toulouse in June 2018.
Ridden by Theo Bachelot in the Doha Cup, Akoya stalked the pace to early stretch before taking the lead in early stretch. Bachelot urged Akoya in the final furlong to avoid a late threat from Marid who was beaten by a neck. “He is able to go very fast for 150 meters as he did at the beginning of the straight, and that’s where he made the difference,” Bachelot said. “That was enough to win.”
Van den Bos said the distance of the race was key for Akoya. He needs a longer race to display his best. “The horse was in great condition, and I had to find a race before Deauville,” she said. “That’s why I (ran) him in Ostend on 1,600 meters, where he was beaten. He enjoys running, both in training and in competition.”
Second-place finisher Marid (TM Fred Texas x Al Dahma by Amer) won the 2018 Al Rayyan Cup for owner Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Third-place finisher Khataab (Amer x Djelana by Al Sakbe) races for Al Shaqab Racing and was second in the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris last October. Khataab won the 2017 Al Rayyan Cup.
Van den Bos said the Qatar Arabian World Cup on October 6 is the main goal in the autumn for Akoya, who will face many of the same rivals from the Doha Cup. The Qatar Arabian World Cup will be the richest race in Akoya’s career, and the distance of 1¼ miles should be ideal.
Steve Andersen is a correspondent for Daily Racing Form.