By Nicholas Godfrey
Ex-Irish Simsir, a 20-1 outsider with British bookmakers, landed the second edition of the £500,000 Bahrain International Trophy in a dramatic finish at Sakhir racecourse on Friday. Here’s some stuff you might like to know …
What’s going on?
Local knowledge counts as Simsir strikes
Former British champion apprentice Lee Newman, currently based in Bahrain, excelled on Fawzi Nass-trained longshot Simsir for a hometown victory over a cosmopolitan field in a thrilling second edition of the £500,000 Bahrain International Trophy.
In simple terms, Newman nicked the race on the four-year-old, chasing stiff early fractions set by front-running Coolagh Forest (another local) before establishing a clear lead in the Sakhir straight that his higher-profile rivals – among them five G1 winners – were simply unable to overcome.
“Every week I’m winning races here,” grinned Newman. Maybe so, but they aren’t usually worth £500,000 against the best riders in Britain.
The winning post came just in time for Simsir as his better-fancied rivals gained ground hand over fist close to home in a lunge for the line – but all too late and to little avail.
Frankie Dettori, who had excuses after an awkward start, launched a desperate bid down the centre of the track on the favourite Global Giant alongside last year’s Irish Derby winner Sovereign under Ryan Moore.
There was a short head between the pair at the line – with the runner-up a neck behind the winner. Another stride or two and the result would have been different.
‘I think the jockey won the race’ – Fawzi Nass
Credit where credit’s due, as winning trainer Fawzi Nass readily acknowledged. “I think the jockey won the race,” said Nass, who has flown the Bahraini flag on the international stage for many years.
“Lee Newman gave him an absolute peach. He knows the track very well and that’s why we opted for him, he’s been riding really well in Bahrain for the last two years and he judged it really well.”
Nass seemed genuinely surprised by the shock result – not least, presumably, because his stable’s No.1 choice was clearly Port Lions, unbeaten in six previous races since going to Bahrain, his victories including a $1m event on the Saudi Cup undercard. He finished fourth this time, barely a half-length behind his stablemate in a tight finish.
Off the plane and on the mark
A four-year-old gelded son of Zoffany, Simsir has been in Fawzi Nass’s yard for barely a month since leaving Ireland, where he was trained by Mick Halford.
Carrying the colours of the Aga Khan, he won three of his nine previous races, notably a 1m2f handicap at the Dubai Carnival in February. He now carries the colours of Shaikh Nasser’s Victorious operation, one of the dominant forces in Bahraini racing.
Lee Newman’s carbon copy
Lee Newman deservedly earned the plaudits as he gained the most valuable success in a career interrupted by weight problems and a broken neck, among other things.
However, nobody could claim his front-running tactics were anything like a surprise after last year’s inaugural running because this wasn’t far off a carbon copy.
Locally trained outsider Rustang finished third in 2019, having parlayed his tactical speed into a six-length advantage entering the final furlong before his petrol ran out and he was caught by French-trained Royal Julius.
Rustang was beaten only about a length. His jockey? Newman, of course, the Scottish rider having been handed the race only minutes before the race after an injury to Gerald Mosse.
Awkward start costs Global Giant
There was a lot riding on the John Gosden-trained Global Giant, not only sent off favourite with international bookmakers but also laid out for this race for several months as he carries the colours of Shaikh Isa, a major figure in the creation of Bahrain’s showpiece event.
Such a narrow defeat in such dramatic circumstances must have been agonising indeed, although the writing may have been on the wall from an early stage as he hit the side of the stalls and was marooned further back than his jockey Frankie Dettori would have liked.
Forced to race wide and late thereafter, his dilatory thrust failed by a neck. “Obviously we’re a bit gutted he didn’t win,” admitted Gosden’s representative Rab Havlin. “But he’s run great – probably run faster than anything else in that last two furlongs so we’re really proud of him.”
The result must have been even more galling for the Gosden team as Havlin had partnered Godolphin’s Turgenev to a narrow defeat 12 months previously. He was a beaten favourite too.
Deirdre down the field as she says goodbye
Hugely popular Japanese mare Deirdre bowed out with a lacklustre performance on the final start of her globe-trotting career as she finished eighth under Hollie Doyle.
More international races in the offing for Bahrain
Organisers of Bahrain’s showpiece racing event have reiterated their ambition to stage further international races in the future with a 6f sprint in the pipeline for 2021.
A more pressing ambition, though, is proper Group-race status for the Bahrain International Trophy itself.
“We’re working on plans and we’ll apply for Group status for more than one race,” said Shaikh Salman bin Rashid Al Khalifa, executive director at the Rashid Equestrian and Horseracing Club. “I honestly believe with the horses we’ve managed to attract, it’s very possible,” he added.
Shall we talk about it?
Lee Newman (Simsir’s jockey): “It wasn’t a tough defeat last year because we shot a bit high. We were certainly the underdog today but that wasn’t the way Fawzi described the horse to me when he offered me the ride and thank God he did. I think he saw something in me and the horse.
“I took the bull by the horns at the five-furlong pole and kicked on from there. It’s a track that you can do that at if your horse is a galloper and he is that.
“He still has improvement in him, he has more to give. Anyone who looked at his form properly would tell you he’s proper horse. He’s no stranger to the big stage and neither am I but we were underdogs.
“It is down to Fawzi for putting his trust in me as he could have asked any jockey from anywhere in the world, but he asked me. I am delighted.”
Fawzi Nass (Simsir’s trainer): “Obviously a dream come true. I’m usually an invitee in some other country so it’s nice to do it at home. To win such an amazing race is an absolute thrill. He has done it so bravely. Mick Halford always assured me that he likes it firm and he was right.
“For me, it was the jockey’s race. I think the jockey won the race; Lee Newman gave him an absolute peach. I thought he committed early in the straight, but he proved me wrong!”
Rab Havlin (stable representative for John Gosden, Global Giant’s trainer): “Obviously bitterly disappointed but at the same time very proud of the horse. Frankie said he just didn’t break that well and obviously the winner was in the breakaway group from the bend and it’s hard to make ground up in that last flat 2½ furlongs.
“He’s run great – probably run faster than anything else in that last two furlongs so really proud of him but obviously a bit gutted he didn’t win.
“He’s proven he was the right horse to come for the race. We thought this track and ground and everything would suit him. It’s a shame we couldn’t pull it off for Shaikh Isa but hopefully we can come back next year.”
• Visit the Bahrain Horse Racing Authority website