The Arabian Racing Organisation (ARO) 2022 season ended with new leaders across the board, marking a new era in UK Arabian racing. Athbah Racing secured Leading Owner, Philip Collington was Leading Trainer, Tadhg O’Shea was Leading Jockey and Ekleel Athbah was the Leading Horse. Outside of the main categories, Paul Simmons’ Zayin Arabian Stud was Leading UK Breeder, whilst Laith Al Khalediah became Leading Sire.
With the passing of HH Sheikh Hamdan and the dispersal of his Arabian racing stock, it was inevitable that his 19 year dominance of the sport in the UK would end. It was however fitting that one of the leading buyers of his young horses, Athbah Racing has assumed the top spot and will help to extend his legacy further into the future. However the majority of their runners this season were Athbah homebreds, and all trained by Phil Collington from his base in Newmarket. Their principal winner, the Leading Horse, Ekleel Athbah, ended her UK season on a high when winning the Royal Cavalry of Oman International Stakes (Group 2PA) at Newbury in August. Athbah and Collington also had further black type success with Bayan Athbah, who secured back-to-back wins in the HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Cup (Gr3PA) at Haydock Park.
Accepting the ARO Leading Owner Award that this year has been generously sponsored by long term UK supporter the Royal Cavalry of Oman, Athbah’s racing manager Abdul Moniem Ahmed Ali commented: “We thank HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed for his leadership, daily management, financial and emotional support. We dedicate this honour to him as a token of our appreciation from the entire team at Athbah Racing.
“We thank our great trainer Philip and his team for their dedication and hard work this season, and also Genny Haynes, William McFarland and Debbie Burt at ARO for their time and efforts despite all the challenges this year. Athbah Racing is delighted that its’ story began in the United Kingdom with their racing and breeding operations, we feel like we are in our home.”
Collington who won his first leading trainer title in 2018, had a long association with Shadwell Arabians as a jockey and trainer. Along with half of Sheikh Hamdan’s string, he also inherited a handful of Athbah horses on the retirement of his mentor and doyenne of the sport, Gill Duffield in 2015. However this year’s success was not entirely down to Athbah’s support as one of his winners was Lujain, bred by Shadwell Arabians and now owned by John Elliott, who had provided Collington with his first winner as a trainer, as well as supporting him in his riding days.
Of his success this year Collington said: “It’s been a fantastic season and obviously it’s nice to be leading trainer again, along with the Group success we’ve had as well. Of course with the quality of horses we have now, we should be producing Group winners and winners across all levels. We’ve got some lovely young horses going into next year and they look very progressive.”
They also received the ARO Leading Horse Award, sponsored by The Arabian Racehorse magazine, for Ekleel Athbah. Collington continued: “We felt from the beginning of the year that she could be as good, if not better than Bayan Athbah. It was only her race inexperience that held her up. She’s very professional at home and she was unlucky not to get off the mark sooner, but she’s ended the season as a Group winner. She’s had a bit of a break as we’ve moved yards, but she’ll have a prep race either in France or Belgium in January with the goal of going to the Al Mneefah Cup at the Saudi Cup meeting.”
Integral to their success was ten times UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O’Shea, who partnered Ekleel Athbah and Bayan Athbah to their 2022 UK PA Group successes. He will be presented with the ARO leading jockey trophy later this year at the HH Sheikh Mansoor Festival Jewel Crown meeting, a race which Athbah and Collington also won in 2019 with Mashhur Al Khalediah.
Speaking from his winter base in Dubai, O’Shea said: “It’s an honour to be crowned leading rider in the UK. Arabians are how it all started for me, winning on Danidor for the Maktoum Royal Family in 2001 at Jebel Ali. Thankfully I’ve ridden some of the best Arabians throughout my career and it’s been great to ride for Phil and Athbah Racing again in the UK this year. I congratulate them on their success and that of Ekleel Athbah, she’s a lovely filly who is improving with every run, hopefully she’ll go to the Al Mneefah Cup.”
This year ARO was delighted to be able to reinstate their UK Breeders Scheme, giving financial rewards to British bred horses finishing in the first three of any non-Group race. The top three British breeders were then rewarded with their choice of stallion nomination, generously sponsored by Shadwell Arabian Stallions, with Simmons selecting AF Mathmoon, Mrs Skepper selecting the No Risk Al Maury and Steve Blackwell selecting Madjani.
Accepting his award, which also included a trophy and photographs sponsored by The Arabian Racehorse magazine, Simmons said: “It’s lovely to be recognised having been involved for 20 years. The horses have done well this season with Zayin Zyperion winning and Zayin Angkor Centurion being placed at Group level for a second time. I was delighted with Zikada Zayin’s third on her final start and look forward to her progressing further next year.
“It’s fantastic to get a free covering from Shadwell. I will probably use AF Mathmoon on Zephyrella Zayin, as I’ve already got one of my mares in foal to him this year and I’m looking forward to using him again.”
Stable Staff were not forgotten, in the addition to the individual Best Turned Out Awards throughout the year provided by Baker McVeigh and Racing Welfare, Racing Welfare also continued with their overall awards for the season. Brian Watson and Brendan Waterworth of Racing Welfare presented cheques for £125 to the leading yard of Pete Hammersley and individual awards to Sue Wileman (large yard), and to Izzy Brown (small yard).
Genny Haynes, ARO Chief Executive Officer commented: “ARO warmly congratulates all our worthy winners this year and thanks the Royal Cavalry of Oman, Shadwell Arabians, Racing Welfare and The Arabian Racehorse magazine for their generous sponsorship of our awards this season, along with our associate sponsor, Equine MediRecord.
“We thank our regular participants, as well as those new to Arabian racing this year, the British Horseracing Authority, all the racecourses, and of course our race sponsors, The Royal Cavalry of Oman, Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club, the Emirates Breeders and Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons whose continued support of our racing we are most grateful for. In particular, we also thank the Sheikh Mansoor Festival and their Wathba Stallions Cup series for a five-race increase in their sponsorship, a brilliant boost for our grassroots owners.
Concluding she said: “Though we sadly lost one of racing’s greatest supporters in Her Majesty The Queen, we were delighted to join with the Royal Cavalry of Oman in planting a Silver Birch tree to honour her Platinum Jubilee at Newbury. It was a fitting choice as the Silver Birch symbolises rebirth, new beginnings and growth. Whilst ARO has faced many challenges over the last three years, we see 2022 as the start of a new era and aim to use this season as a platform to build a secure future for Arabian racing in the UK.”