Arabs are a breed apart but deserve their big day

Thoroughbreds' distant relations take centre-stage before a big Newbury crowd
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Despite perceptions, most people involved at the sharp end – that is the practical end, the hands-and-bottom-on end – of racing are there because they actually like horses. Not the by-product of betting on horses, or even cheating with horses to maximise earnings, but the horse – equus ferus caballus – in all its complex and varied physical and mental manifestations.

Some like horses because of the speed, power and sheer thrills they engender; it has been said that riding a high-class Thoroughbred over a line of fences is the best fun you can have with your pants on. Some like them because of the challenge they present; just ask trainer William Haggas, whose skill in finding the key to the quirky mind of the sprinter High Standing was rewarded at Newbury on Saturday with a fourth successive victory on the upwardly-mobile gelding's road towards the top.

Or his colleague Richard Hannon, whose unerring eye for a future athlete among countless hundreds of immature frames viewed during the long round of autumn yearling sales yet again identified a bargain from the basement in the shape of Monsieur Chevalier. The bonny little colt, who cost just 17,000 guineas and took his earnings to £141,000 two days ago, was an extraordinary seventh winner of the Weatherbys Super Sprint for the team at East Eversleigh.

Although punters may have time for nothing but Thoroughbreds, love of horses just for themselves generally extends across both breeds and disciplines; true horsemen keep their minds open. Derby-winning trainer John Dunlop has owned a succession of champion show hunters; Henrietta Knight, successful three times in the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Best Mate, is an expert with Connemara ponies.

And, as well as top-class thoroughbred stallions at his Shadwell Stud in Norfolk, Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum stands some top-class Arab progenitors. His more athletic brother Sheikh Mohammed, whose day job is as ruler of Dubai, is one of the bums-on brigade; he had regularly ridden in, and won, cross-country and cross-desert endurance races.

The legacy owed to modern racing by the Arab breeds is well-documented; all Thoroughbreds can trace their lineage to one of the three founding fathers of the breed: the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk.

The link is now distant – the Darley Arabian, foaled in 1700 and brought to Yorkshire as a four-year-old from Aleppo, is the 23-greats-grandsire in the direct male line of Monsieur Chevalier (the same relationship as Henry III, born 1206, has to the Prince Of Wales) and, as one of 33,554,432 names in that particular generation, has little genetic relevance today.

However, despite the shift in the sands of time, the Maktoum family are proud of the heritage and yesterday at Newbury were responsible for a race meeting with a difference, a day entirely devoted to purebred Arab horses.

The best of their type turned up to perform in front of one of the Berkshire track's largest crowds of the summer. And if that last superlative must be tempered by the fact of free admission and generous prizes for assorted competitions involving all age groups the PR job will have been well done should some return for mainstream sport in the future.

If the horses were different yesterday – Arabs are smaller than Thoroughbreds with dished faces, long flowing manes and banner-carried tails, some of their human attendants were familiar. A race is a race, as jockeys Richard Hills, Tadgh O'Shea, Richard Mullen, Steve Drowne and Richard Kingscote were happy to demonstrate.

In the three Group One contests, though, all were put in their place by the French. Across the channel, Arab racing is taken more seriously than here – most provincial meetings cater for it and the difference showed.

Sheikh Hamdan, one of the day's principal sponsors through his Shadwell operation, had to wait for the sixth race for a winner, the O'Shea-ridden five-year-old Al Mannsoub, trained in Newmarket by Gill Duffield.

The owner's grand No Risk Al Maury, with Hills in the saddle, was narrowly denied a hat-trick in the day's feature, the International Stakes, going down with honour to the best Arabian mare on the planet, the magnificent dapple grey seven-year-old Al Dahma, winning her 14th top-level prize.

The finish was a thriller, with the first four almost in line abreast, but the time of the mile and a quarter contest put evolution in perspective. A field of Thoroughbreds would have finished a furlong ahead.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Syrian (2.45 Yarmouth)

This son of Hawk Wing, a half-brother to juvenile winners over 7f and a mile, has shown himself to great effect on the Newmarket gallops and can make a winning debut for his in-form stable.

Next best

Lovely Thought (7.50 Windsor)

With blinkers back on and with the champion jockey in the saddle can put a dreadful run at Newmarket behind her and fulfil the promise of earlier performances at Yarmouth and Newbury.

One to watch

After three promising runs, Truly Asia (Roger Charlton) is now eligible for handicaps. The three-year-old beat all bar one at Newmarket on Saturday and with form figures of 432, the next step should be the logical one.

Where the money's going

Cima de Triomphe (Luca Cumani) is 12-1 from 16s for Saturday's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes with Coral after confirmation that he will run in the Ascot showpiece.

*Chris McGrath's nap

Mr Freddy (9.00 Beverley)