Foaled in Ireland on March 29, 1980, Habibti was a daughter of Habitat, a sire renowned for speed and precocity, out of Klairessa, a full-sister to D’Urberville, who won the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1968. As a yearling, she was bought for 141,011 guineas by Kuwaiti Mohammed Mutawa – ‘Habibti’ is, in fact, an Arabic term of endearment, which translates as “my darling” – and subsequently put into training with the late John Dunlop at Castle Stables in Arundel, West Sussex. She would be ridden for most of her career by Willie Carson.
Unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile, including the Lowther Stakes at York and the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh, both over 6 furlongs, Habibti started her three-year-old campaign in the Fred Darling Stakes, over 7 furlongs, at Newbury. Despite starting favourite, she weakened in the closing stages to finish fifth of nine, beaten 5 lengths, behind Goodbye Shelley. Stepped up to a mile, Habibti was fourth past the post – subsequently promoted to third – in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and only ninth, on soft ground, in the Irish equivalent at the Curragh just over three weeks later.
However, John Dunlop took the – what, in hindsight, proved to be inspirational – decision to switch her back to sprinting and Habibti next lined up, against the older horses, in the July Cup, over 6 furlongs, at Newmarket. In that race, she met the prolific four-year-old filly, Soba, trained in Yorkshire by David Chapman and dubbed ‘Queen of the North’ after winning 11 races, including the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood, in her three-year-old season, for the first time. Ridden by regular partner, David ‘Dandy’ Nicholls, Soba forced the pace on the far side rail at Newmarket, but was overwhelmed in the closing stages by Habibti, who produced a strong finishing burst to win comfortably by 2½ lengths.
The following month, the pair met again in the Nunthorpe Stakes, or the William Hill Sprint Championship, as the race was known at the time, over 5 furlongs, at York. Soba was, in fact, 2lb better off at the weights and strongly fancied to beat Habibti, who was tackling the minimum trip for the first time. The fillies dominated once again; Soba led by two lengths or so approaching the final furlong, but in the closing stages was soon joined, and passed, by Habibti, who was eased down close home to win, comfortably, by 1½ lengths, with a yawning 6-length gap to the third horse, Fine Edge. In fact, not only was Soba beaten, but also later suffered the ignominy of being disqualified and placed last, after causing interference early in the race.
Habibti emphasised her dominance of the European sprinting scene by beating Soba twice more in 1983, by 7 lengths in the Vernons Sprint Cup, back over 6 furlongs, at Haydock in September, and by a length in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp, over 5 furlongs, in October, breaking the course record in the process.
At the end of her three-year-old campaign, Habibti was awarded a Timeform Annual Rating of 136, which was, at the time, the highest awarded to any filly or mare aged three years or above since Timeform ratings were first published in 1948. In fact, Habibti remains the joint highest-rated filly or mare, alongside Allez France and Black Caviar, of the Timeform era. She was, unsurprisingly, named Timeform Horse of the Year in 1983.
Related stories: John Dunlop's Most Notable Horses
Related stories: Kyllachy Win Nunthorpe Stakes For Henry Candy 2002