This year’s President of the United Arab Emirates Cup, a Gr 1 for Arabian horses 4 and over, was once again run on Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Day, that track’s most important racing Saturday after the Kentucky Derby. June 14th is an annually designated “Downs After Dark” event, with races running throughout the evening under the lights. This year’s President of the UAE Cup went off about 10:48 pm.
The mile and a sixteenth race for a $100,000 purse, the Cup attracted some good talent this year, some pretty evenly matched and all good enough to go when they made the turn for home. The early favorite, Valiant Boy SBFAR, last year’s winner of this race won it once again. It was Valiant Boy’s first race of the 2014 season following four wins in a row last year at Houston, Delaware Park and Churchill Downs. Owned by Guy Neivens, Valiant Boy SBFAR was ridden with determination in the UAE Cup by jockey Joe Rocco, Jr. and trained for the race by Liz Merryman.
Initially we believed that Valiant Boy’s best competition for the race would be Grilla, at eight, the oldest and most seasoned veteran in the group. Grilla has lifetime earnings of over $230,000 and won his last race in March. He set the pace in the Gr 1 HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup Stakes in Houston and led the seven furlong race wire to wire, winning by 6 & 3/4 lengths. Bred, owned and trained by Bill Waldron, Grilla can be very tough. Grilla took the lead right out of the gate in the UAE Cup but went wrong entering the first turn and was quickly pulled up and vanned off.
Almost every horse in this race took a turn in front. Burning Fleet, owned by Joe and Betty Gillis and trained by Darley Trainer of the Year Ron Martino, was leading the pack in the UAE at the half. His owners brought him to Churchill because he won the Grade 2 Texas Six Shooter Stake in Houston 4 months ago. Diane Waldron’s RB Champagne Taste took over the lead from him at the three-quarter. This very game youngster stalked the pace and dug in on the stretch to give Valiant Boy SFBAR the best “run for the money” he got on Saturday night to finish second. RB Champagne won the Diamond State Stakes at Delaware Park a week before the UAE Cup and raced a week prior to that as well. He’s now won three and placed second in six of his last nine races.
Paul and Kathy Smoke’s big, strong chestnut colt, Smoke House, in training with Randy Nunley, Delaware Park’s Leading Trainer in 2014, ran a strong second throughout the UAE race right into the stretch, took the lead briefly on the second turn and then settled for fourth at the wire. He was the Darley Colt/Gelding of the Year in his age group in both 2012 and 2013. Brute, like Valiant Boy SBFAR, is owned by Guy Neivens but he is trained by Lilith Boucher and was ridden Saturday night by the gregarious, winning Churchill jockey, Calvin Borel.Thoughlightly raced in 2013, Brute won his first race of the 2014 season the end of May at Delaware Park and appears to be a real “comer”. He saved ground through most of the race and closed strongly and gamely at the finish for third.
Rounding out the field, In X Hess was second to Valiant Boy in last year’s UAE race at Churchill. Owned by Cre Run Enterprises LLC he is trained by 7-time Darley Trainer of the Year, Lynn Ashby. In X Hess is a not a big horse, but sports a very big heart and has proven more than once that he can run and stay the course.
The big story of the evening was Valiant Boy SBFAR, obviously healthy but coming off almost a year’s layoff, without a prep race, and competing in good company. Not quite ready for “prime time” Valiant Boy’s run in the stretch was an effort for him, and both he and jockey Joe Rocco exuded style coming down to the wire, offering up the last few strides of the race to win on heart and Class.
Founded in 1874, Churchill Downs fabled twin spires are synonymous with horse racing’s finest traditions. The Arabian breed, forefather of all Thoroughbreds will be running its third race historically at this most fabled horse racing facility.
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