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Sheikh Hamdan’s blue and white lightened a sombre summer

One of the many memorable themes of a truncated Flat campaign has been the success enjoyed by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

Performances by such stars as Battaash, Mohaather and Nazeef has helped the owner have arguably his best ever season.

With five domestic Group Ones, more than 100 winners and a strike-rate of 20 per cent, plus big-race wins abroad, it has been a year to remember for Sheikh Hamdan – albeit one tempered by the effect of the pandemic.

“It’s been a horrible year for everybody globally, let alone just us, but on the track we’ve been very lucky,” said Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager Angus Gold.

“We’ve had a very good year. It’s been as good a year probably as we’ve ever had, at least for 30 years.”

Gold reflected on a Flat racing year shortened for obvious reasons but at the same time blessed with many memorable performances, supported by a stern resilience and determined will to keep the show on the road.

Racing was suspended from March 18 to June 1 – but just two weeks into the season came Royal Ascot and a first-day treble in the familiar blue and white colours to help light up a dark 2020.

“We’ve been very lucky on the track, and it started fantastically well at Ascot. It’s hard enough to get one winner there, but to have six was extraordinary,” said Gold.

Sheikh Hamdan's racing manager Angus Gold reflected on a successful year on the track
Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager Angus Gold reflected on a successful year on the track (Mike Egerton/PA)

“The first day was amazing. Probably what was so good was the sheer number of good horses we had. Normally you rely on two or three. This year we were winning Group races with a number of different horses, which obviously makes a big difference.”

For Gold there were so many good performances. However, Mohaather’s effort in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, when he finally got his Group One, stood out.

“I suppose the highlight of the year was Mohaather in the Sussex. He got a big one, and he hadn’t had much luck before then,” he added.

“It was great to get his day in the sun.

“Battaash was tremendous and held his form through the year. Enbihaar was good again. She did brilliantly, and Nazeef came from being a handicapper last year to winning a Group One.

“We only kept her in training because we thought she could definitely get some black type, so to go from a Listed to Group Two to a Group One was wonderful.

“We had a couple of nice fillies in France, Raabihah and Tawkeel, so that was tremendous as well – and then it was backed up with some nice two-year-olds as well, which was nice.

Minzaal wins the Gimcrack Stakes for owner Sheikh Hamdan
Minzaal wins the Gimcrack Stakes for owner Sheikh Hamdan (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gold is looking to this year’s juveniles to develop into Classic contenders for 2021.

“Owen Burrow’s Minzaal won the Gimcrack, Marcus’s (Tregoning) horse (Alkumait) won the Mill Reef and then there was the Horris Hill as well with a horse of Charlie’s (Hills) (Mujbar),” he said.

“It was across the board, which was the satisfying bit.

“That is what you need, and the older horses kept us going early.

“We were light on some Classic three-year-olds, but hopefully some of those two-year-olds from this year have shown enough to suggest they could make up into something next year.

“There’s a horse of Dermot Weld’s that was just beaten the other day (at Leopardstown) called Wuqood, who could be very nice.

Albasheer (right) finishing a close second in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster
Albasheer (right) finishing a close second in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“There’s a number of nice, more backward horses here. I still like Albasheer of Owen Burrows’. I think it all came a bit quick for him, but he’s a potentially nice horse in the making.

“There have been one or two that have shown up just recently – winning maidens, that sort of thing – who could go on.

“It was weird to have such a good year and yet we feel, not deflated, but not being able to enjoy it really with what’s going on the world. We’ve been incredibly lucky.”

Nazeef poised to take on stablemate Palace Pier in QEII

Nazeef will fly the flag for the fillies when she takes on the colts, headed by her unbeaten John Gosden-trained stablemate Palace Pier, in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

The four-year-old has progressed through the ranks, climbing from a maiden success all the way up to two Group One victories this season.

Those came against her own sex in the Falmouth Stakes and the Sun Chariot, so the British Champions Mile, sponsored by Qipco, will be her toughest task – but it is one connections feel she deserves to take.

“She’s done us proud all year,” said Angus Gold, racing manager to owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

“Obviously, she had a couple of setbacks in terms of Goodwood, where they felt she didn’t come down the hill, and it was horrible ground in Deauville, but she bounced back to form the other day.

Nazeef has more than paid her way this season
Nazeef has more than paid her way this season (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“She is very tough, and has a great attitude. John says all she does is eat and sleep, that she doesn’t over-exert herself at home and so doesn’t take a lot out of herself – hopefully she’s still in good form.

“At his time of year you never know, but they are happy with her. She handles easy ground. If it got really bad, I don’t know what would happen.”

Sheikh Hamdan’s other likely runner, Molatham, has something to find on ratings, though he does have smart form.

Trained by Roger Varian, the three-year-old colt won the Group Three Jersey Stakes over seven furlongs at Royal Ascot and was third behind Wichita in the Group Two Park Stakes at Doncaster last month.

“He’s a nice horse,” said Gold.

“He’s going to have to step up a couple of gears to get involved in something like this, but he won the Jersey well on the same track.”

Nazeef shines in Sun Chariot victory at Newmarket

Nazeef doubled her Group One tally as she returned to winning form in the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket.

John Gosden’s filly, striking on the eve of stable star Enable’s bid for a historic third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp, produced a determined late challenge under Jim Crowley to beat Half Light and Cloak Of Spirits by a length and a half and a neck.

Nazeef (17-2) had capped a winning sequence of six in succession when she struck for the first time at the top level over the July Course in the Falmouth Stakes three months ago.

That was over this same distance of a mile, before she twice came up short at 10 furlongs in the highest grade at Goodwood and Deauville.

But Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s four-year-old appeared to relish rain-softened conditions on her return to Newmarket, challenging inside the final furlong to see off the runner-up, who had been supplemented for the race by French trainer Henri-Alex Pantall.

Gosden said: “They had a 100 millimetres of rain in Deauville and it was like an ice rink – she couldn’t get her foot in, so Frankie looked after her. She came out of the race well and we were able to come here back to a mile.

“I think she gets a mile and a quarter, but she got confused and lost her balance a little coming down the hill in the Nassau to run on late and be third. She is a grand filly that is very brave.

“For Newmarket this is soft, it is quite testing by our standards here. I think she asserted well in the last 50 yards. She is a tough filly.

“She was in handicaps last year. She won a handicap in great style at Chelmsford last backend. We decided then, with permission of her owner-breeder Sheikh Hamdan, to keep her in training to win a Listed race, which she did immediately in the Snowdrop.

“She then went on to the Duke of Cambridge, then the Falmouth and then the trainer got carried away – but she will get a mile and a quarter – and then to win this one her.

“It has been a fantastic year for her. I think it was a career best. In the Falmouth it was heads and necks and she battled by a neck. She is gritty and an assertive filly.”

Gosden will now consider the options for Nazeef with her owner.

He added: “It’s up to the owner-breeder and he may decide to send her to the breeding sheds. He may decide to run her next year or have a run in America. I think the key thing is the next 10 days – she will tell us if she wants to do any more or not.

“You never think you are going to go from a Chelmsford handicap to knocking off two Group Ones at Newmarket, but she is a willing filly to train. She is quite lazy in her work and looks after herself.

“She is not one of those horses that wants to over do and I think that is a big factor with her.

“Those are the options – retire, race next year or Breeders’ Cup. I’m pretty sure she has a QEII entry and that is another one you can look at. We will put them all on the table and see what we want to do.”

Crowley was similarly thrilled and said: “That’s two Group Ones on her now. She ran very well in the Nassau, she just got outpaced that day.

“It was a great performance. John gave her a break and she has come back tip top. It was a very good race today – it was a proper Group One, so it was lovely to win it.

“She handles the ground. She isn’t ground dependent, but she seems to act well with that bit of cut. She has progressed very well and has exceeded expectations by improving all the way.

“It is lovely to get another Group One on the board.”