By Nicholas Godfrey
The inaugural running of the Bahrain International Trophy produced a thrilling climax as French-trained Royal Julius thwarted a strong British contingent to claim the £500,000 contest with a powerful late rally down the outside.
Royal Ascot runner-up Turgenev took second, three-quarters of a length behind the winner, with locally trained Rustang a further head away in third -ahead of Hunt Cup winner Afaak.
A cosmopolitan field descended on the Arabian Gulf for a landmark contest described locally as the most important day in the history of racing in Bahrain, which had never before hosted a race with overseas runners.
But as the sun set behind the grandstand at the Rashid Equestrian and Horseracing Club (REHC), based at Sakhir about 30km south of the capital Manama, a famous home victory was on the cards as front-running Rustang established a huge mid-race advantage.
With former champion apprentice Lee Newman deputising for Bahrain’s top rider Gerald Mosse – taken to hospital with suspected leg injuries after a fall earlier in the day – Rustang was still fully six lengths ahead as they entered the final furlong in the Bahraini twilight.
However, the 2,000-metre (1m2f) event was 50 metres too long for the former Richard Hughes-trained gelding, who succumbed close home as the John Gosden-trained Turgenev hauled him back – only to be overwhelmed himself as much-travelled Royal Julius charged home from the rear to register a historic success for Marseille-based trainer Jerome Reynier and former French champion jockey Stephane Pasquier.
“He was so far away I couldn’t even see him on the screen!” said the trainer, who won the Prix Dollar at the Arc meeting with Skalleti.
“He’s a little star,” added Reynier, who trains the six-year-old son of Royal Applause for owner Jean-Jacques Biarese.
“He’s consistent when he has the right conditions, but sometimes he doesn’t give 100 per cent if things are not going so well for him.
“The French style of racing, when they go really slow and quicken up in the last furlongs, is why we’ve been to Italy and Qatar.”
Reynier targeted the new Bahrain race as soon as it was announced in the summer.
“We gave him two months off after the race to get a bit of freshness, because he’d been racing since Doha in February,” he added.
“We thought everything was good for him here – the fast ground, the right-handed track, and there was some pace in the race.
“There’s quite a tight turn on to the finishing straight – but it is a long straight, so he can come from behind.
“You can’t be too hopeful when you see this kind of opposition, but the conditions made the difference. He is a small horse – but he has a big heart and a great mind.”
Rab Havlin, who rode Godolphin’s Turgenev into second, was full of praise for both his horse and his surroundings.
“This is a lovely track, and it’s been a great experience,” said the jockey.
“I’m really happy with my horse. They went a good, solid gallop – and we travelled into the race beautifully.
“But he’s never been on ground that fast – he kept at it but he prefers to get his toe in a little more. But fair play to my lad – he showed a lot of guts.”
Of the remaining British-trained visitors, Pivoine took sixth, followed immediately by Coolagh Forest and Aquarium in seventh and eighth.
Mountain Angel was last of the 13 runners, the locally trained Euginio having been withdrawn before the start after he reared up on leaving the parade ring.
In an incident with a tragic outcome, the former Richard Hannon-trained five-year-old suffered a serious head injury and had to be put down.
:: Bahrain’s champion jockey Mosse had to go to hospital when he was dislodged as his mount bolted to the start before the fifth race.