Chengdu, China: Royston Ffrench rode a first- and-last-race double, while Dubai trainers Ali Rashid Al Raihe and Musabah Al Muhairi claimed two wins each at the inaugural Dubai International raceday at Jinma Lake Racecourse in Wenjiang, a district in the Garden City of Chengdu on Sunday.
The first running of the Chengdu Dubai International Cup raceday, staged as a partnership between the Meydan Group and the Chengdu Municipal Government, comprised five turf races and represented a first for international horseracing since it was contested by horses prepared by Dubai Racing Club trainers and ridden by UAE-based jockeys.
Ffrench ensured a personal piece of racing history when he drove the five-year-old Albayan, trained at Meydan Racecourse’s Grandstand Stables by Al Raihe, over the line in the opening event, the Wenjiang Sprint over 1200m.
Albayan, a maiden in 11 previous starts, raced clear in the final 300m and came home four-and-a-half lengths ahead of topweight Global City, ridden by Richard Mullen.
Ffrench and Al Raihe later closed the programme by winning the richest race, the Chengdu Dubai International Cup presented by Longines over 2218m, which had a total purse of RMB1.5 million (Dh886,755), with bottomweight Mutual Force, who got into the handicap when the weights were raised at declaration stage.
Ffrench took the lead as soon as the pace settled and Mutual Force stayed on dourly to win by a length and three-quarters from one-time Royal Ascot winner, Pisco Sour (Ted Durcan), with his Satish Seemar-trained stablemate Layali Al Andalus (Mullen) the same distance away in third.
French said: “I’m very happy to be here, representing the UAE and Britain, and delighted to have ridden a double. I’ve ridden all over the world in the last 17 years and the facilities here compare favourably with anything I’ve seen elsewhere. Everyone who’s been involved deserves great credit.”
Between the Ffrench-Al Raihe successes, Al Muhairi kept up the good run his horses have enjoyed during the UAE domestic season by winning the Guangsha Handicap over 1400m with Special Boy (Gerald Avranche) and the Wenjiang-Meydan Classic presented by Longines over 1600m with Colour Guard (Sam Hitchcott).
Special Boy, who took the lead in the last few strides of the afternoon’s closest finish, was followed home by fellow topweights, Maltese Cat (Tadgh O’Shea), who went down by a neck, and long-time leader Hacienda (Pat Dobbs), who was a further length and a quarter behind in third.
Hitchcott, who rode Colour Guard in one of 16 races when he was trained in Britain by Mark Johnston, sent the lightly-weighted 6yo to the front before the field turned into the 400m straight and drove him out to beat Need To Know (Ffrench) by two-and-a-half lengths, with Centrifugal (Dobbs) a length-and-three-quarters away third.
The Meydan Mile provided a milestone for trainer, Erwan Charpy who saddled Citizen’s Charter (Jesus Rosales) and FA’IZ (Avranche) to finish first and second, separated by a length and a half. That victory marked Charpy’s 500th career success, adding to 492 in the UAE and seven in France.
Charpy, who started training in France in 1992 and moved to the UAE two years later, said: “I could never have imagined I would train my 500th winner in China, but it’s been great fun, a great day, and we should compliment everyone who tackled the challenge of putting the event together. They have done a great job.”
The race meeting was organised by the Meydan Group in partnership with the Chengdu Municipal Government, the Chengdu Sports Bureau, the Wenjiang District Government and the China Guangsha Group.
Dubai Racing Club’s Chief Executive, Frank Gabriel said: “I would like to thank all the trainers, jockeys and stable staff for their dedicated preparation, and to thank everyone involved in the partnership with Meydan Group for their tremendous support.”