“There is nothing more exhilarating than what I experienced at the Meydan Racetrack in Dubai in March. It was the most incredible day of my life.”
That’s Deb Mihaloff, breeder and owner (with her husband Alan Kirshner) of First Classs (Dahess x Toppoftheclass), winner of the $1 million Kahayla Classic, held on World Cup night in Dubai on March 26.
With his win in the Kahayla Classic, First Classs became the richest Arabian racehorse in the world this season, having won two $1 million races; the first was the inaugural $1 million Al Mneefah Cup on turf in Saudi Arabia on February 22, 2022. “Not only did he win both races, but did it within a month, on different surfaces and different tracks,” says Deb. “It makes me so proud to know that he is that versatile.”
Since November 2020 First Classs has been on lease to Noor Racing, which is owned by Nayef bin Saad bin Sharida Al Kaabi of Qatar, and trained by Alban de Mieulle. But his first win in Qatar didn’t come until December 2021.
First Classs was second in the December 2 prep race for the Qatar International Derby on turf, and on December 23 he won the Derby with Ronan Thomas in the irons. “Ronan rides him completely differently from his previous jockeys in Qatar,” says Deb. “Our U.S. trainer, Lynn Ashby, breaks all of her horses with a bosal. Some of the other jockeys he had in the Middle East jerked on his mouth, which made him throw his head up. It took a year to change the jockeys and change the equipment. Alban never gave up on the horse and neither did the partner, Mr. Nayef, so I felt very comfortable in renewing the lease in November 2021, even though they’d had no wins yet, and spent a lot of money getting him over there.
“Then we started to look forward to the Kahayla Classic,” says Deb. “Alban believed that First Classs could do it. After all, he grew up on the dirt. Alban and Nasser were on board. We got the invitation and he flew to Dubai on a military transport plane. Nobody was giving him much respect, and when we got there, we were given the slot to exercise between 3:30 a.m.-4:30 a.m.”
For trainer Alban de Mieulle, the win in the Kahayla Classic was a career first. “This was one race that I had been wanting to win, as I have won most of the other big purebred Arabian races here. The Kahayla Classic was missing from my record! I am delighted to have won this race for Qatar.”
Winning jockey Ronan Thomas said in the local press: “We went very quickly and when we came round the bend, I was confident. He came from America so he’s tough on the dirt and he’s improving. I travelled very easily and when I asked him for a turn of foot, he gave me everything.”
“We’ve had considerable interest in First Classs,” says Deb, “but at this time we want to run him in the $1.1 million Qatar Arabian World Cup in Paris this October, Europe’s biggest race for Arabian horses.”
When opportunities for well-filled high quality races in the U.S. waned, Deb began to look for opportunities in the Arab Gulf countries. “The Arabians have lost races in the U.S. in recent years,” she says. “Unfortunately, the horsemen wanted to stay local and not think about racing’s big picture. They did not support Delaware Park, so Delaware couldn’t fill the races. We had so many fabulous times at Delaware over the years, and so many great, great horses ran there.”
First Classs’s recent performances, along with the promise shown by his older sister, Iridesse, who is in training with Ernst Oertel in Dubai, UAE, and running under Cre Run colors, was just what Deb needed to put some of her mares in foal this year after not breeding mares for the past five years. “Now that First Classs has stepped up, and Iridesse is over there, who knows, I may send some more over to race. I also own another sister, as well as their dam, who I just bred back to Dahess.”
Since Deb is now established as an owner in the UAE and running horses in her silks, she is looking forward to partnering on other horses of Cre Run breeding. “I believe in sharing the dream of ownership, and I have leased and part leased many horses who went on to be U.S. champions,” she says. “This business model is growing globally and I’m excited about this next chapter in the Cre Run legacy.”
The love and passion that Deb and Alan have poured into Arabian racehorses has paid off with 40 years of success on racetracks and in endurance. Most recently, they are the breeders of the 2021 Tevis Cup winner, and #2 ranked endurance horse in the U.S. right now, Treasured Moments (DA Adios x Hidden Treasure), owned by Jeremy Reynolds. In April 2022 Treasure won the 100-mile Broxton Bridge ride in Ehrhardt, South Carolina, and thanks to her 2021 Italian National Championship, she is qualified for the 2022 World Championships in Italy.
“When you consider that both First Classs and Treasured Moments were bred and raised by Cre Run, and to have that kind of quality, well…I don’t know of another farm that’s done it in the endurance and racing world at the same time.
“People need to realize what these Arabians are capable of doing,” adds Deb. “And what’s cool is everybody was talking about how First Classs flags his tail when he runs. You just know he’s an Arabian!”
Maintaining type in Arabian racehorses is a point of pride for Deb. The sire of First Classs, Dahess (Amer x Danie Du Cassou) is a blend of desert and French lines, and was known as a versatile runner, having won in several countries on both turf and dirt.
First Classs’s dam brings in more athletes at the classical distances. For instance his maternal grandsire Genuine Monarch is by the *Wiking son Monarch AH. First Classs’s maternal grandam, Top Ofthe Line is by the great American runner By Golly, and carries lines to The Real McCoy and Abu Farwa. As Deb says, “Look at how all that pretty McCoy breeding stayed! I want people to understand that even in these show horses you can find racing blood.”
In some ways, Deb’s entire career with Arabian racehorses pointed to this moment – a story now unfolding halfway around the world, 36 years after she and Alan created their Arabian breeding program. They’re what you call stayers.