As ever, a large variety of Dubai Duty Free entertainments attracted the crowds to Newbury Racecourse’s two-day Dubai Duty Free International Weekend on Friday, 22 and Saturday, 23 September. Racegoers visiting the Arabic-themed Dubai Duty Free marquee sampled complimentary Arabic coffee and dates and leapt at the chance to win fabulous prizes including free entry into the Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise and Millennium Millionaire prize draws.
The meeting featured the prestigious £90,000 Group 2 Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes over six furlongs, on the Saturday, for two-year-olds. In recent years the race has seen the take-off of the careers of such as Ribchester, Harry Angel, Kessaar and Dark Angel, before becoming top class stallions. This renewal was a triumph for tradition.
“Obviously we always try to find something good enough for this race named for my father’s great horse,” said a smiling Andrew Balding after Array held off a pack of challengers, including stablemate Spanish Phoenix who finished close fourth.
“We hadn’t won the Mill Reef for a few years (over twenty),” observed Andrew, “So this is very welcome.”
The market got it right and Array went off favourite in the select field. Array relishes making the running and was allowed his head by Oisin Murphy. The colt is from the family of Frankel and Balding hopes his stamina will stretch to a mile next year when both trainer and jockey were of the opinion that Array would be an even better prospect.
The seven-race Saturday card commenced with the Group 3 £70,000 Dubai International Airport World Trophy five furlong sprint which went to the meeting’s lone Irish raider, Thunderbear. His young trainer Jack Davison has a small string near Fairyhouse racecourse and conceded, “This is a big result for me”. His three-year-old, under Richard Hannon’s jockey Sean Levey, went off outsider of the five-runner field. But Thunderbear had won at a big price on an earlier visit to the UK as well as running well at Royal Ascot.
Davison gave the impression he’ll be back to Britain – on his way up the training tree.
Two valuable handicaps came next and Hughie Morrison’s Not So Sleepy, aged eleven and returning from almost a year off, made all under Oisin Murphy in the one mile five furlongs £70,000 Dubai Duty Free Autumn Cup Handicap.
“He works on his own and they left him alone,” said local trainer Morrison. “You know he ran here as a two-year-old in 2014, and finished last. He’s run in the Champion Hurdle – he might go hurdling again though we’ll think about the Cesarewitch at Newmarket next month. It’s character horses like Not So Sleepy that make this game what it is.”
Ralph Beckett saddled two winners on the card the first being The Dubai Duty Free Handicap over ten furlongs and worth £75,000.
“Balance Play has got the hang of racing now,” said Beckett who is enjoying a stellar season, his best ever, and has a leading Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe candidate in Westover. “York last time with this horse was a disaster because we thought he would handle the fast ground and he didn’t. Today this soft stuff was right up his street. We might go for the November Handicap next. He’s also in the Sales.”
The big crowd stayed on for the seventh race The Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Handicap over eight furlongs and worth £15,000 saw City of York complete a treble – off bottom weight. David Simcock was making hay while the sun shone – which it did throughout the afternoon – taking advantage of his lowly mark – which will surely be revised next time.
The whole day’s weather had been in complete contrast with the first day of the Dubai Duty Free International Weekend. Earlier in the week Newbury 60mm of rain had hit the Berkshire track and more followed in a series of heavy showers on Friday prompting a number of trainers to withdraw their runners as the ground turned very testing. A host of yellow Dubai Duty Free umbrellas provided a colourful backdrop.
Yet the racing was spectacular and experienced jockey Pat Dobbs, who rode two winners on the day for Richard Hannon, wasn’t complaining. “It’s soft enough to get through it – not the awful tacky stuff that tires them out,” said Dobbs.
There was certainly no evidence Sheikh Mohammed’s homebred Godolphin two-year-old Movie Maker was slowing as he flew six lengths and more clear of his field in the opening Henry Ponsonby Memorial Maiden Stakes. Trained by Saeed bin Suroor the grey colt in the blue colours had performed well on his Lingfield debut and here Movie Maker earned himself a trip this winter to Dubai to continue his development.
The second race on the Friday, the £20,000 Dubai Duty Free Full of Surprises Fillies Conditions Stakes was also won in style – by Richard Hannon’s Serene Seraph. “We think the world of her,” said Hannon. “We could come back to Newbury for the Radley Stakes and I’d love to think she could make Newbury her second home by winning the Fred Darling (Dubai Duty Free Stakes) here next year and then taking on the One Thousand Guineas.”
In the £12,650 Dubai Duty Free Nursery Handicap Boyfriend completed a double for Hannon and Dobbs – but this result was much closer. Boyfriend won by a neck. It was his first victory after four defeats but this was the first time he had encountered soft ground – and he relished it. Boyfriend was also Newbury’s most successful trainer Richard Hannon’s 100th winner of the season.
Feature race of the first day was the £40,000 Dubai Duty Free Cup Class 1 Listed race over seven furlongs. The anticipated result was victory for either of William Haggas’s two runners, Aldaary owned by the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Estates or Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum’s Al Mubhir. Though starting first and second favourites they were surprised by outsider Popmaster who usually plies his trade in handicaps but who invariably runs well at his home track.
Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of Dubai Duty Free said, “We are extremely proud of our partnership with Newbury Racecourse which is now in its 28th year. The Dubai Duty Free International Weekend is one of the highlights of our European sponsorship portfolio and we are enjoying another fantastic renewal featuring many of racing’s biggest names.”
When Newbury Racecourse welcomes Dubai Duty Free back for the Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials weekend next April, the track will have a new Chief Executive and a new Clerk of the Course. Respectively Julian Thick and Keith Ottesen, are moving on after fruitful stints. They have helped maintain the Newbury’s high standards, which Dubai Duty Free will continue to embellish.