Round two of the 2023-24 Bahrain Turf Series produced two thrilling races with victory in both divisions, sprint and middle-distance, going to internationally trained horses.
The George Scott trained Rocket Rodney, owned by HH Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa’s Victorious Racing, returned to form when taking the Al Riffa Cup, although his owner, trainer and jockey were denied a famous double when their Isle Of Jura could not peg back Lucander, trained by George Baker, in the Al Dana Cup.
The two top-weights, Isle Of Jura and Lucander, served up a fantastic finish to the Al Dana Cup, with the seven-year-old Lucander prevailing by the narrowest of margins to deny Isle Of Jura a second win in the Bahrain Turf Series. Back in third was the gallant Box To Box (trained by Hugo Palmer), delivering a 1-2-3 for the internationals.
Afterwards, a delighted trainer George Baker, together with his owners, welcomed back Lucander, who was twice a winner in Bahrain last season, saying: “These horses, you travel the world to find them, and then when you find them, you travel the world with them.”
He added: “That was a huge thrill, what a horse he has become. Last year was amazing, but this more than matches it. He’s tough and he’s game and Patsy (Cosgrave) gave him a beautiful ride. He really stuck his neck out, I thought we were going to be done in the shadows of the post.
“He’s just been a superstar for us. He has won off a rating of 100 today, so we will have a think in the morning about which way we go from here.”
Half an hour before Isle of Jura was narrowly beaten, his connections were cheering home a surprise winner.
A prolific performer last year, including when runner-up at Royal Ascot, Rocket Rodney shot back to form in the Al Riffa Cup to give owners Victorious, trainer George Scott and jockey Callum Shepherd their second win in this season’s Bahrain Turf Series. Rocket Rodney led home a clean sweep for the internationals with Brazen Bolt (trained by John Quinn) and Anthem National (Philip Kirby) finishing second and third respectively.
Victory in the sprint division was a poignant one for trainer George Scott, as he revealed the key role Rocket Rodney has played in getting his career back on track.
“He (Rocket Rodney) has been a great friend of Shaikh Nasser’s and myself and he really helped kick start my career again last year. He was the first horse Shaikh Nasser had with me and Shaikh Nasser has been very patient, so it is lovely to have the horse back and for him to win a Bahrain Turf Series race.
Referring to the delay at the start of the race, Scott added: “He’s got a great mind. He’s not a typical sprinter, he would walk around quietly all day. Then, once the race was underway, we were stuck on the rail but it was probably a good thing because by the end he really needed the line, so if he had got out sooner, he may have got tired. He has thrived here in the last couple of weeks so that gave me hope.”
Even so, the win was a welcome surprise for jockey Callum Sheppard, as Rocket Rodney put behind him an unplaced effort in round one of the Bahrain Turf Series sprint division.
Callum Shepherd said: “That was a little unexpected, though we hoped he would run better. It is just great for him to get his head back in front. He was a prolific juvenile, and it is really good he has gone and won today and done so in these circumstances.
“The step up in trip helped and we got a nice tow into the race. I thought I might get through up the rail, but when I pulled him out, he has picked up the leader nicely.”
Running from December through to February, the Bahrain Turf Series provides opportunities for internationally trained runners (rated 85-100) to compete against local Bahrain based horses across ten races. Each race is worth $80,000 with bonus prizes for the horses accumulating most points in the two divisions, sprint and middle distance.
Launched in 2021-22, this season is the third edition of the ten-race Bahrain Turf Series. The series runs alongside the domestic programme in Bahrain with international horses competing in the series also eligible to run in other Bahrain Turf Club races open to imported horses.
The full result of the Al Riffa Cup can be viewed here and the Al Dana Cup result can be viewed here. The next two races in the 2023-24 Bahrain Turf Series are run on Friday 12th January.