Author: Stephen Molyneux

I have been asked the same question by several people from overseas now, and that is why are the field sizes so small at Meydan and Jebel Ali? There were 54 runners covering the six Thoroughbred races at Jebel Ali on Friday, the same number of runners at Meydan last Thursday and 59 across seven races at Jebel Ali’s opening meeting. So basically an average of nine per race, which isn’t bad, particularly when you factor in Musabbah Al Mheiri and Rashid Bouresley are yet to have runners, and Zabeel were notably quiet at Jebel Ali last week. So, no need to panic is the simple answer, but there have been certain types of races that simply haven’t attracted the numbers and should be ‘done away with’ in future in my opinion. They are the conditions races that have been for winners of no more than one race (attracted six runners, reduced to four at Jebel Ali’s opening meeting) and a similar contest for winners of no more than two races (attracted five runners last week).

These are also only open to 4yos and upwards, so basically horses that have been around for a while, so really if you haven’t won two races by the time you are four (nearly five) you shouldn’t be having races framed for you is what I think. What’s more, these races will invariably attract runners with contrasting ratings and varying degrees of ability, the differential 72 up to 97 on Friday yet those two horses had to carry the same weight. Now, in the interest of equality I will point to Mystery Land winning the other race to have taken place this season that has fallen in to this category, he the exact type that novice events should be catering for having only had the one start when successful on debut, and you could argue the extra experience is valuable before he heads into handicaps. But, even with him, there must have been a temptation not to run given he was rated 75 up against a 97-rated horse who, as it transpires, doesn’t handle dirt, and he is almost certainly in the minority being such an inexperienced horse at his age. Whilst on the subject of race programming, Jebel Ali’s next meeting sees a handicap for horses rated 70-85 that have not won since 1 April 2018!

I am not sure I understand the need for such specific conditions. Most maiden winners get rated in this bracket, yet many will not be able to run in this race given they will probably have been off the mark in the last two years, yet horses that they have beaten can run because they haven’t won a race! I don’t pretend to have any experience when it comes to race programming, and the ERA do listen to the requests of trainers and assess the types of horse that are here in the UAE, but surely keeping things simple is the best way to go. There are also plenty of maiden races in the early part of the season, two to cater for the different age groups on most cards and there is a clear need to get these horses rated so they can have more options in handicaps.

This, in time, will naturally make the handicaps more competitive so I pose the question why aren’t all horses rated after two runs (instead of the normal three), a bit like is the case with the juveniles/3yos as they are rated as soon as possible to give them the opportunity to run in the Guineas? The covid pandemic rather forced the hand of the handicappers in the UK this season and they were allotting marks to horses of all ages after just the two runs, citing the shorter season and fewer opportunities as reasons for ensuring more horses were handicapped earlier. Well, the UAE season is short enough as it is, so why not get horses rated sooner, do away with the amount of maidens we have, and introduce more handicaps that are generally far more competitive and interesting to watch? Just a thought.

Stephen Molyneux
Dubai Racing Channel