Author: Stephen Molyneux

THE FIRST line last week stated welcome to 2021, what can possibly go wrong? Well it seems the positivity was wildly misplaced, as already the world is spiralling more out of control, if that is at all possible, than was the case in 2020. Doug Watson would certainly echo those sentiments, with the news filtering through last Thursday that he would have to withdraw all his weekend runners, and presumably will not be allowed to have runners for the next week, or possibly two, either.

(Editor: may now be this week but who knows?) Disastrous in the wider scheme of things certainly not but with so much work having gone in to getting horses to peak for the next three months, you can forgive everyone at Red Stables for having a bit of self pity. Particularly Pat Dobbs, Sam Hitchcott and Dane O’Neill who will have all missed rides, and quite possibly winners.

Let’s hope they can be back sooner rather than later and at least Doug is not missing carnival weeks which he would have been contesting had this been a normal year. As we know, there is no normal any more. In the absence of Watson, Ali Rashid Al Rayhi and Salem bin Ghadayer dominated last weekend and the pair have emerged as unlikely leaders in the trainers’ championship.

Particularly Al Rayhi who has done very well with what I would describe as limited resources, getting the best out of each and every runner although things will get tougher from here on in as they rise up the handicap. It could just be purely coincidental, but judged on my stalking of Ali Rashid Al Rayhi’s stable on Instagram courtesy of assistant Jilani Saddiqui, it appears they are using the training track (Tapeta) far more in a morning than they would have done in years gone by.

It mirrors what Musabbeh Al Mheiri has done over the last couple of years as well and maybe they believe training on the Tapeta is easier on the horses than the dirt. The dirt has certainly looked hard work on race nights, backed up by slower times than we would normally expect, so perhaps there is something more than just coincidence to a good first half of the season for Al Rayhi who, going into Sunday’s racing, is just one winner shy of his tally from the whole of the last campaign.

Something that hasn’t really entered my head before is the entry and declaration days we have here in the UAE and whether they should be staggered, particularly now we are racing four times a week on a regular basis. The reason it has now come to the forefront of my mind is that there were eight non-runners at Abu Dhabi on Sunday, a fairly abnormal amount it has to be said but one that had me thinking that is declaring on a Tuesday too early for meetings on Saturday and Sunday?

On the one hand, it is good to know where we stand a good way in advance, particularly working in the media where print deadlines often fall early in the week. In fact I will be a bit surprised if the editor of this particular publication doesn’t delete what I am saying as Wednesday declarations would throw a spanner in his particular works!

(Editor: As if I would) On the other hand, a lot can go wrong with a racehorse between a Tuesday and Sunday leaving the situation such as the one at Abu Dhabi. I am sure it becomes a bit of a headache in the ERA offices on a Tuesday morning as well with four meetings to organise so entering on a Monday, declaring on a Tuesday for Thursday and Friday meetings with Wednesday declarations for Saturday and Sunday could be something worth considering?

Stephen Molyneux
Dubai Racing Channel