Ronan Thomas and First Classs champions of The Al Mneefah Cup for Arabian horses

First Classs ridden by Ronan Thomas. Photo: Cidinha Franzão

Ronan Thomas rode the perfect waiting race on First Classs (USA, Dahess x Topoftheclass) to crown a superb evening for himself and Qatari-based trainer Alban de Mieulle when winning the US $1m Al Mneefah Cup presented by The Ministry of Culture.

First Classs jumped well from an inside draw and sat in third place just behind race favourite, the French Group One winner and placed Soko (Nieshan x Tornado De Syrah) and Tallaab Alkhalediah (Jalood Alkhalidiah x Siehame). He travelled easily throughout the 2,100m contest, relaxed on the rail. Coming off the turn, First Classs came smoothly up to join the Olivier Peslier-ridden Soko, still on the bridle.

The racing field was already under pressure behind the first two, and when Thomas asked First Classs to lengthen, he flew to lead and galloped easily to the line for a two-length victory in front of the H Alalawi-trained Soko. The M Dagash-trained Dergham Athbah (GB) (AFf Albahar x Mandragore Al Maury) was further two and a quarter lengths in third under Fernando Jara.

Thomas had plenty of experience on the improving five-year-old Arabian, the pair having won the Qatar International Derby for four-year-olds in December, and was sure his mount would be able to handle the step up in trip. The pair travelled easily off the pace throughout, making their move in the final stages to collar long-time leader Soko (FR) and finish two lengths in front, with Dergham Athbah (UAE) staying on for third.

A winner of a Grade 3 at Lone Star Park in his native America for his breeders Alan Kirshner and Deb Mihalof of Cre Run Farm at the age of three, he arrived in Qatar for his new owner, Nayef Saad bin Sharida Al Kaabi, in December 2020. Once there it took a while for him to find his feet, but his trainer is a master at allowing a horse time to develop and realise his potential.

First Classs ridden by Ronan Thomas. Photo: Cidinha Franzão

“The race went perfectly!” said Thomas after the race, “I rode him confidently as he has really good form. First Classs won the Qatar International Derby (Gr2 PA) at Doha in front of a good horse in Abbes (TM Fred Texas). Today, he took the lead easily and showed a magnificent acceleration. I never touched him with the whip. First Classs was well-named today!”

First Classs is a son of one of the most versatile Arabian racehorses and sires, Dahess, who was also trained by De Mieulle to win six Group 1PA races and later set the record for the highest-priced Arabian to be sold at the Arqana Purebred Arabian sale when purchased for €1,050,000 in 2007.

Alban De Mieulle, trainer, First Classs: "He travelled very well. Soko was in front with the Al Khalediah horse on the inside. We thought it would be run at a faster pace but no, not too fast, but he was travelling so easily behind and he was waiting, waiting and then came on the outside. I’m very pleased."

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