International Trophy Is Just The Start For Bahrain

Lord Glitters and Jason Watson in Bahrain | Emma Berry


SAKHIR, Bahrain–Old habits die hard. Neil MacKenzie Ross may have been Clerk of the Course at Sakhir racecourse in Bahrain for the last seven years but even in 24-degree heat at 7am, the British ex-pat was easy to spot in the green wellies in which he doubtless completed plenty of laps of Lingfield when he filled the same role at the Sussex course.

“There is quite a thick dew,” he said with a defensive grin as he awaited the arrival of the 14 runners for Friday's Bahrain International Trophy for their morning exercise on the pristine turf track.

Just ahead of the horses, the chairman of the Rashid Equestrian and Horseracing Club, Shaikh Isa Bin Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, appeared on course to greet the growing team of international visitors at Sakhir racecourse for the big race.

In just its third year, the early highlight of Bahrain's 27-meet racing calendar has been elevated to Group 3 level for the first time in 2021 and it has attracted a cast of runners from Bahrain, Britain, Ireland, France and Germany which fully befits that status.

There are few people more passionate about the development of horse racing in Bahrain than Shaikh Isa, the grandson of the King and a lifelong equestrian who also has horses in training in Britain. Following Friday's meeting, his focus will turn to the impending start of the new 10-race Bahrain Turf Series which it is hoped will draw similar international participation. 

“I was worried when I saw Neil's wellies this morning,” said a smiling Shaikh Isa at the draw for the International Trophy. “As it was in year one with the Bahrain International, it was a strong race but people I felt were just testing the water, and now I feel they have taken the plunge in year two and year three. The Turf Series is also going in that direction.”

Worth a total of £500,000, this year's Bahrain International Trophy has drawn four Godolphin entries from three different trainers. Charlie Appleby, fresh from his Breeders' Cup treble and en route to being crowned champion trainer in Britain for the first time, fields two of those, the current favourite Zakouski (GB) (Shamardal), winner last month of the listed Ben Marshall S. on his first start for 261 days, and the 7-year-old four-time Group 1 winner Barney Roy (GB) (Excelebration {Ire}). The latter notched the first of those top-level wins at three in the St James's Palace S. when trained by Richard Hannon and, following a stud stint shelved through infertility, he joined Appleby's stable in  2019 and added a trio of Group 1s to his record last year in Dubai and Germany. 

Godolphin's French-trained Magny Cours (Medaglia d'Oro) is currently second-favourite for the 10-furlong contest on the back of some consistent performances this season, including a last-start win in the G3 Prix Perth and a third-place finish in the Dubai World Cup in March. The 6-year-old, who will carry the red cap from stall 10, is set to become the first runner for Andre Fabre in Bahrain. The quartet in the royal blue is completed by the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained Dubai Future (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), who is the mount of Frankie Dettori. 

The betting may suggest otherwise, but the fan favourite for Friday's main event is the Turnbull family's striking grey Lord Glitters (Fr) (Whipper). The popular 8-year-old was last seen in winning action in the G1 Jebel Hatta in March but appears to retain plenty of enthusiasm. His trainer David O'Meara and jockey Jason Watson arrived in Bahrain on Tuesday evening, and Watson was aboard Lord Glitters as he pranced to the track in the company of Fev Rover (Ire) (Gutaifan {Ire}) some 12 hours later.

“He's an older horse now but the ability is still there and he thrives out in this part of the world with the heat in his joints,” said O'Meara after drawing gate 12 for his dual Group 1 winner. 

Fellow Yorkshire-based Fev Rover is one of two 3-year-old fillies in the field and her trainer Richard Fahey has also made the trip to Bahrain. He fared better at the draw with stall four for the Nick Bradley Racing-owned filly who was third in the 1000 Guineas.

“I'm delighted to get the opportunity to run this filly over a mile and a quarter on quick ground,” said Fahey, who added with a laugh, “I've been trying to find quick ground all season in Europe and every time I've entered her it's rained all week, so I'm just warning everyone it's probably going to rain heavily tomorrow in Bahrain.”

German trainer Andreas Suborics has recently taken over the training of Penja (Fr) (Camelot {GB}) from Jean-Claude Rouget after the Group 3 winner sold for €1.2 million to Jurgen Sartori at the Arqana Arc Sale. The 3-year-old will be reunited on Friday with Cristian Demuro, who has ridden her in all five starts in France this season. 

“She only arrived in my stable six weeks ago but she arrived in perfect condition,” said Suborics of Penja after drawing stall eight. “I couldn't be happier than I am with her at the moment. She had a good, fresh canter this morning and we have a good gate number. She will love the fast ground and there's nowhere else we can find good ground at this time of the year so everything is positive so far. Of course as a 3-year-old it is not easy to run against these older, experienced group horses but we are confident that she will perform well and if she is in the first four we will be happy.”

Ireland is represented by the Jessica Harrington-trained Cadillac (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}), who was ridden by Shane Foley during an easy canter on the turf and who has Richie and Emma Galway and Patrick Cooper among his support crew in Bahrain this week.

Pogo (Ire) (Zebedee {GB}) and Victory Chime (Ire) (Campanologist) boost the British challenge, representing the stables of Charlie Hills and Ralph Beckett respectively, while a strong local defence will be launched by leading Bahrain trainer Fawzi Nass, who won last year's International Trophy with Simsir (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}).

The leading light from Nass's trio of runners appears to be his recent recruit Emperor Of The Sun (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), the 4-year-old half-brother to Zoustar (Aus) who was previously trained by Donnacha O'Brien.

“I've only had him for a few days–for the last six weeks he has been with John O'Donoghue in Ireland so we have only got to see him here for the last five or six days but he seems fine,” said Nass, who will also saddle Naamoos (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) and Qaader (Ire) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}), while his compatriot A Jaleel Al Mallah fields the outsider What A Welcome (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}).

It is clear that the team behind racing in the Kingdom of Bahrain has its sights set on bigger things to come, starting with the launch of the £550,000 Turf Series on Dec. 10. But for now, International Pattern recognition is a source of satisfaction for Shaikh Isa.

“It's been three years in the works now and we now have our Group 3 status but we need to build on that,” he said. “We won't stop at just one Group 3.”

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