January 2024



The Middle East has been a happy hunting ground for British trainers over the years, and a strong contingent of runners from Britain will challenge the best races in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the weeks to come.

The first Group 1 meeting of 2024 in the Gulf region takes place today with the running of the Jebel Hatta on Fashion Friday at Meydan Racecourse, a race won by Roger Charlton and David O’Meara in recent years. SPIRIT DANCER (GB), who won the Group 2 Bahrain International Trophy in November, will fly the British flag for Yorkshire-based trainer Richard Fahey and owner-breeder Sir Alex Ferguson.

Two Group 2 contests and a Listed race also feature on the card, and no less than seven trainers based in Britain are represented. VAFORTINO will line up in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort over 1400 metres for Kevin Philippart De Foy. The six-year-old gelding won the Listed Business Bay Challenge at Meydan in December, providing his young trainer a first big win outside of Europe.

Philippart De Foy spoke to Great British Racing International about the success in December and the step up to Group 2 level:

“It was very important to win the Listed race in Dubai last December. We thought we picked the right horse to take to Dubai for the Carnival. He finished his season in Europe with a good win in a Listed race at Redcar and he backed that up at Meydan overcoming a bit of traffic and stayed on very strongly.

“The horse has settled into his routine at Meydan very well and his training has been good. My team out here has done a great job. I saw the horse when I landed and I could not be happier with him. He is in a good form and is moving well, so I am looking forward to the race.”

On Vafortino’s owners, Philippart De Foy said:

“This horse is the first one this group of international owners has ever had. It is the first yearling they purchased. We won the Victoria Cup at Ascot, a Listed at Redcar and a Listed at Meydan. So, Vafortino is very important to them. It was their first-time racing at Meydan in December and they had a great experience. They were over the moon, they never thought they would win at Meydan until it happened.”

Asked about his aspirations for this season, Philippart De Foy added:

“We had a great second half of the season with big wins at the Ebor meeting and in Newmarket. I was very pleased with the end to 2023 and we now try to build up on that and target bigger races in 2024. We are evolving in the right way and our goal is to be competitive at the big meetings in the UK and also globally like here in Dubai, which is one of the most important meetings of the year.”

Trainer Robert Cowell also bids for Group 2 success at Meydan today with CLARENDON HOUSE (GB) in the Blue Point Sprint.

Cowell, who trains in Six Mile Bottom located just outside of Newmarket, spoke to Great British Racing International after landing in Dubai on Thursday evening:

“We thought a lot of him last year, which is why we upped him in class back at home, but for one reason or another it didn’t work out. We gelded him and he had some time off, and then he won both of his last two starts. He broke the track record at Southwell so we feel he is now back to the sort of form that we expected from him. He has done really well since his last run. He only arrived in Dubai around 10 days ago but he is very fit and we are excited to see him perform.”

When asked about future plans for Clarendon House, Cowell said:

“Everything after tomorrow will depend on how he runs. There are plenty of races back in the UK and we will consider all options. I have had a good chat with the team at Middleham Park Racing and they are keen to look at multiple races for him. We should keep him in Dubai for the time being but probably not for World Cup night because it is six furlongs and I do not think he will stay, so we will potentially look at Super Saturday. But we will take one run at a time and assess him after this first Meydan run.”

Reflecting on past success for his yard in the UAE, Cowell added:

“The first winner we had here was a filly called FOREVER PHOENIX (GB) owned by Mr John Greetham. She was a lovely filly who won a handicap at Nad Al Sheba and then MONSIEUR JOE and PROHIBIT (GB) won at Meydan some years later. We have had some wonderful times. We love coming here with chances because it is nice for the owners to get a bit of a reward as well when they travel their horses. I am very excited to be back in Dubai for the Carnival and it is nice to have horses to run in this calibre of races.”

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