by Steve Andersen
The winning streak spans five races over 21 months, from August 2015 to May of this year. In major stakes in France and England, Muraaqib has amassed a record pushing him close to the top of Europe’s tough purebred Arabian circuit.
On May 14 at Deauville, France, Muraaqib (Munjiz x Tashreefat by Bengali d’Albret), owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum of Dubai, won his first start of 2017 in the $110,000 President of the United Arab Emirates Cup, also known as the Coupe d’Europe des Chevaux Arabes. The President of the UAE Cup was the first Group 1 race of the year on the European calendar and could foreshadow a much-anticipated match-up between Muraaqib and Al Mourtajez, the top-rated older horse in the world. Al Mourtajez did not start at Deauville, but there will be plenty of chances for a showdown between the two runners in major stakes in France or England this year.
Muraaqib’s win at Deauville confirmed he remains in peak form, even though he does not race very often. The five-year-old has won 6 of 7 starts in his career, which began in France in the summer of 2015. Muraaqib lost his stakes debut, a second in the Group 1 Qatar Coupe de France des Chevaux Arabes in Chantilly, France, in June 2015, and has not been beaten since. He won consecutive Group 1 races in the second half of 2015 — the Al Rayyan Cup and Qatar Total Arabian Trophy des Poulains — to be rated the top three-year-old that year.
Last year Muraaqib won both of his starts, including the Group 1 Shadwell Dubai International Stakes at Newbury, England, in July. He was expected to start in the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Chantilly last October, but did not race again through the year. Durability is a concern.
The President of the UAE Cup at Deauville drew a field of seven, with Muraaqib the even-money favorite despite his recent absence. The race was run at 2,000 meters, or about 1 ¼ miles on turf, on a right-handed course.
Muraaqib was ridden by jockey François Xavier-Bertras who had his mount well placed early along the rail behind pacesetter Mehdaaf Athbah. Bertras was patient, waiting until the early stretch before he urged Muraaqib, who had ample room with 300 meters to go as the field began to spread apart.
Mehdaaf Athbah was a stubborn leader, though. Bertras gave Muraaqib a few reminders with his whip before taking the lead for good in the final furlong and winning by a neck. Mehdaaf Athbah was a game second, and finished four lengths clear of third-place finisher Prada T, a six-year-old mare.
The close finish was not a surprise for trainer François Rohaut. “You will never see this horse winning by 10 lengths,” he told the press. “When he hits the front, he says, ‘Okay, the job is done.’ He is not like Al Mourtajez.”
Muraaqib was bred by Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stud. While the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Chantilly in October should be a long-term goal, there are plenty of stakes that will be considered in coming months, notably a return to Newbury for the Dubai International Stakes in the summer. The race at Goodwood, and Group 1 races at Deauville in August could also enter the discussions.
Rohaut knows what is on the horizon. “I think it is time to have a go against Al Mourtajez,” he told the press in Deauville. “I don’t know his program and I do not know our program. Sheikh Hamdan will decide.”
When and if the matchup does occur, two of the best Arabians in Europe will finally meet.
The French season began in earnest in April, with leading races at Toulouse.
Khataab (Amer x Djelana by Al Sakbe), who races for Al Shaqab Racing, finished two lengths in front of Mehdaaf Athbah in the Prix de Carthage at 1 ¼ miles on turf at Toulouse. Prada T was fourth in that race. Khataab has won three of four career starts at Toulouse, including the Group 2 French Arabian Breeders’ Challenge Classic last October.
On April 29 at Toulouse, Al Shaqab had a group stakes win when Almaa prevailed in the Group 2 Prix de l’Elevage for four-year-old fillies. Almaa (Amer x Nyriad by Dormane) has won two of three starts and is a filly worth following in the older female division.
Almaa was second in her debut last year and won her first start of 2017 in March. In the Prix de l’Elevage at 1 ¼ miles on turf, Almaa finished a length ahead of Muneera (Dormane x Hamiya by Al Hasim) in the field of five.
Steve Andersen is a correspondent for Daily Racing Form.