The 2015 HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Apprentice World Championship race series got off to a brilliant start at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington on Sunday with 18-year-old Australian Ben Thompson hogging all the limelight.
After two days of incessant rain the skies seemed to finally clear up and it was a great afternoon of racing at the Kentucky Horse Park, which also staged the season’s biggest Steeplechase races with a large crowd in attendance.
This important race series organized by the HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival is open to Apprentice jockeys with the winners of each of the eight races staged around the world racing in the finale in Abu Dhabi on November 8 to decide the Apprentice World Champion.
And clinching the first berth was the young Melbourne-based Aussie who rode the Sam Vasquez-owned Es Mi Cielo to a smart win over Zells Bells ridden by Julie Burke of Ireland.
The two horses were involved in a battle down the hill but turning for home Thompson’s horse Es Mi Cielo, a full brother to the record-breaking Sammy V, proved his class to win with much to spare in the 10-horse field.
Burke on Zells Bells finished second ahead of another Vasquez runner CR Ardiente under UK’s Jack Gilligan while Portugal’s Manuel Fernandes steered Onyewu to a fourth place finish.
“This is my first race outside Australia and also the first time I was ever riding an Arabian horse. But he was superb and I am so very happy with this victory,” Thompson said.
“In Australia I have heard that Kentucky is a ‘Horse Heaven’ and after coming here I know why. It truly is and this win here makes it all the more special. Now I am looking forward to Abu Dhabi,” he said.
“There was a lot of talk in Australia about my participation in this HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Apprentice World Championship and I am happy to return with some silverware!” the young winner said.
Trainer Renee Lafleur, who saddled six of the ten runners, said she was expecting CR Ardiente to do better but added that Es Mi Cielo was given a good ride by the Australian. “Es Mi Cielo is a full brother to Sammy V and he showed his class today. It was a great race and I have to thank the HH Sheikh Mansoor Festival for this Apprentice Race Series which is very important for these young jockeys,” she said.
Adnan Sultan Al Nuaimi, Director General of Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, Ms Lara Sawaya, Executive Director of the HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival, Chairman of the International Federation of Horse Racing Academies (IFHRA), Chairman of Ladies & Apprentice Racing Committees in the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing Authorities (IFAHR) and Denise Gault, Chief Steward of the Arabian Racing Cup gave away the trophies.
“This is the first time the Festival has staged a race here and it was been a very different and enjoyable experience. It has been a huge learning experience for the Apprentice jockeys and we hope the remaining seven races before the final in Abu Dhabi will be able to boost them,” said Ms Lara Sawaya.
“The Festival’s next stop is in Warsaw, Poland where the important annual World Arabian Horse Racing Conference will be held. That will be a very hectic and busy weekend and we are now fully prepared for conference, which is now being held for the 6th consecutive year,” she added.
The HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival is sustained by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and coordinated by Abu Dhabi Sports Council in cooperation with Emirates Racing Authority, IFAHR, Emirates Arabian Horse Society, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare with The National Archives as the official partner and Emirates airline as the official carriers and sponsored by Invest AD, Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), Al Awani General Enterprises, Kabale, Al Wathba Centre, the UAE’s General Women’s Union, the HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy, Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition 2015, Dr. Nader Saab Switzerland, Al Wathba Center, Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, Eastern Mangroves Suites-Abu Dhabi by Jannah, Yas Channel, Omeir Travels and Racing Post.